The birth story of Shanti Marigold
Updated: May 10, 2020
I felt Shanti's spirit come into the earth plane like a warm, golden ball of glowing light, and as I carried her around within me, I felt her strong, loving Taurean spirit from day one. As the sun made it's return into the springtime, I would often think of the John Denver song, "Sunshine on my shoulders." She hadn't told me her name yet, but during that time I was reading the book Moon, Moon by Anne Kent Rush, and it was rocking my world. It's pages were filled with the traditions of ancient moon cults from many cultures around the world, including my own, as well as accounts of astronauts who had landed on the moon and everything in between. I came across a passage that deeply moved me, and the quote was said by someone named Shanti. I felt it vibrate through my whole body. "Shanti." I had heard the name many times before. I knew someone with that name in high school, and throughout my many years of teaching Yoga, I chanted "Shanti Shanti OM," an infinite amount of times. Never, did it stick out as the strung-together syllables that would vibrate, as I called out to my youngest daughter... I asked her, "Is Shanti your name?" She kicked. I asked again. She kicked. I asked a third time. Kick. Shanti it would be. Immediately, I said to myself, "Shanti Marigold." Marigold- the flower that had been calling out to me... the flower of radiance... the flower of the gurus... the flower vibrating with soft power... the flower of the ancestors... the flower who's name origins come from "Mary's-gold."
REWIND: Exactly one year before getting pregnant with Shanti, I was pregnant. I was filled with excitement at the idea of giving my first daughter a companion. The book Spiritual Midwifery, had been my bible for years and years, not just for pregnancy and birth, but for life. I decided, however, that I would give birth to this child at the hospital. I wouldn't have ever considered this with my first daughter, but we didn't have the money for a home birth, and I didn't like the place we were living in to begin with. I went in for my first appointment to do the first check for the baby's heartbeat. An older man came in, which already caused my nerves to flare up, because I've never wanted a man to be involved with matters of my reproductive healthcare. With my crinkly paper gown on, legs spread, with feet in metal stirrups, he proceeded to perform a vaginal ultrasound. My heart sank into my stomach when (in what I felt to be a cold, sharp tone) he informed me that there was simply nothing on his screen, therefore no sign of life in my womb. How could that be? At 6 weeks pregnant, my womb was super swollen, already giving me the appearance that I was pregnant. I had concluded that this was, because I had been pregnant before, so I had popped out early. I was broken. He printed out the black and white photo of the nothing in my womb, and told me to "hold on to it," so that if I had any extreme bleeding or problems due to the false pregnancy, I could bring the photo in and they'd admit me quicker. I laid there with my leg's spread, shedding tears, and loathing this man who seemed to have no compassion for my situation, as he handed me my photo souvenir. I was to have blood work done and come back for another check in a week. I forget the details, but I returned for the check up, and the next thing I knew, I was told I needed a surgery to clear my womb of the empty sack. I got the surgery from the same doctor, woke up, went home, rested for a week, then returned to work. I received a message from the doctor that said, "It turns out you had a molar pregnancy. This is when your body is tricked into thinking you are pregnant, but something has gone wrong with the genetic information, and your body grows a (hopefully) benign tumor." This explained why my womb was so swollen, so early on. It contained a rapidly growing mass. He continued, "The good news is, you don't have Choriocarcinoma, which is the cancer. We got the results back from pathology. Call me back." Cancer? I had no idea that was even a possibility, and here my doctor was, leaving me a voicemail about it. I did my research on choriocarcinoma, and it's an extremely malignant cancer that can result from a molar pregnancy. My mind was racing, and I learned that I couldn't try for another pregnancy for 6 months to a year. I would need weekly blood work and eventually monthly blood work. This whole ordeal led me on a year long journey of reconnecting with my womb. I re-read the Red Tent. I re-read the Vagina Monologues. I re-read Cunt. I re-read all the books that opened me up in more ways than one during my teen and college years. There was something about going back and finding that part of myself in the books that had moved me at one time that was nourishing to me.
SHANTI'S STORY CONTINUES
May 18th... I was 8 days "over-due." While I wholeheartedly believe in the natural unfolding of the birth process, I felt that everyday that went beyond one week held the *possibility* of medical intervention, so I went to the acupuncturist. To my surprise, I started contracting on her table! I went home a full fledge believer in acupuncture and felt myself go into the quiet, pensive cave of darkness- not frightening darkness, rather the darkness of the fertile underground, where life's mysteries unfold and await to be birthed. Around 9 pm, some heavy contractions started to kick in. I dropped in to deep breathing, stretching, and eventually tried to go to sleep. HA HA Can anyone actually go to sleep while having contractions? With both of my birth experiences, I have yet to have those early-on kind of contractions you can sleep through. It was time to go to the hospital. By the time we walked to the car, I was screaming into the night, as I startled the entourage of alley cats, that congregated around my neighbor's door. We arrived at the hospital. I was screaming bloody murder, alarming the nurses who somehow appeared to be off-put by my moans, as if something was wrong. They are labor and delivery nurses. Were they really not used to this? Maybe, most folks tend to get pain meds before they get to this point? My mama arrived at the hospital. Her and my husband were my birth support, just as they were with my first birth. My dad was taking care of my elder daughter at home. We are a village- seemingly small but HUGE with the prayers and blessings of family and ancestors all around us. All the nurses seemed convinced by my screams that I must be near dilated to 10 cm. To be clear, my intention was to deliver this baby 100% natural, drug-free, and in sync with my wise woman, herbalist sensibilities. I had been working with nurse midwives throughout the entire pregnancy, but knew the likelihood of getting whichever doctor was on duty was high. They got me into a bed, and a female doctor came in to check me. SURPRISE - I was barely at 3 cm. The doctor and nurses sensed the intensity of the sensations flowing in and out of me and told me I better get up and walk, and breathe with, rather than fight against, the contractions. We've all heard these sentiments of how to deal with childbirth, but once you're in it, you're in it and you need those reminders to reel you back in. I was hell bent on having this baby naturally and getting her out of me as quick as I could. I reluctantly got up to walk the halls, with my support crew on my arms. They tried to comfort me as I screamed obscenities and stopped in desperation, when I felt a contraction creeping in. Every time I had a contraction, I felt the most INTENSE sensation pushing on my rectum. As I rode the wave of each one, I felt as though my bottom would split, and I'd tear in half. It was absolutely agonizing, and though I'd experiencedlabor before, this was a new sensation. I asked a nurse what this was all about, and she replied "Oh- the baby is positioned, so that she's pressing on your rectum when you have a contraction. That's not going to go away," in a very unsettling tone. As I roamed the halls, like a bat out of hell (not really... but maybe?) at the onset of a rectum-exploding contraction, I paused and relied on the strength of my mother, who held the weight of my entire body, arm to arms and made primal sounds with me. I decided it was time to get back to the room and have the doctor check me out again. It's important to note that I had some stored trauma from my first birth that I was very aware of.
*** A quick note on my first birth: A planned home birth.. Little 23 year old me dreams of a picture-perfect home birth in a room with saint candles and prayer flags.... having watched "The Business of Being Born" 75 times... having prayed to ancient midwife saints since I was a teenager... having held the words and ideals of Spiritual Midwifery as jewels in my heart... No pre-labor early contractions- pure intensity from minute 1... A 28 hour labor at my mom's home... When I finally got to 10 cm, I left my body when the flight or fight response kicked in... I was unresponsive to my family... I could not recite my name... I woke up in a hospital bed unaware I was giving birth until I saw a baby sweater and it all clicked ... I somehow came to and pushed her out after a 36 hour labor... Episiotomy and tearing... my baby girl taken to nicuu... my legs shaking uncontrollably for hours... highlighter-yellow coloring underneath my eyes... unnaturally bloated face and body... Upon nursing my baby for the first time, I fell asleep from absolute exhaustion and had to stop... months of sadness... My baby brought me absolute bliss, but felt I had wronged her by not being capable of birthing the way my ancestors had. 9 years later, it makes sense that she came into the world in such a wild way, because she's the most magnificent human I've ever known. ***
The doctor came in to check me, and she told me that I was at 6 cm. She looked at me and said that if I wanted to try and have an epidural, the time was now. I hesitated. Her words felt strong and soft at the same time. She saw my tenacity and determination and reassured me that it was ok if I decided I wanted it, and because I had waited so long, we were past the likeliness of pitocin. Pitocin was my perceived enemy in this process, which I wanted to avoid at all costs. I looked at my husband and said I wanted to do it. He looked back at me with doubting eyes, asking if I was sure, as I had so proudly declared that I was having a natural birth in the leading months. He was half worried I would regret making the wrong decision and half worried I would come back at him with the wrath of a full-blooded Italian woman, if he had let me make the wrong decision. I looked back at the doctor, and from a deep place within my being, I nodded my head and decided that "Yes," I wanted the pain medicine. I was at peace with what felt like a quality of softness that I was bringing into the birth, and I knew that I wouldn't regret it. I was fully embodied as I made my choice. I had been through such an incredible amount of physical, mental, and emotional pain in my last birth, and it had affected me deeply. My nervous system was shot for a couple years. My hormones went way out of balance, causing major weight loss. I wasn't able to embrace my daughter with ease, because I was exhausted on an otherworldly level. I beat myself up for months. There was a deep shedding that followed. It was all part of my process. But, for the first time in my life, I looked at myself with nurturing gaze and allowed myself to *not* have to be so tough. I'm a tough woman. I'm a strong woman. I'm a stubborn woman. I come from a long line of tough, bad ass strong women. There was something deep within me that had to soften- to accept- to let go. So, I decided to get the epidural. As I screamed into that last heavy contraction, the medicine shot into my spine. The spine that formed as I was a growing fetus- the spine that held me up through all of the triumphs and tribulations of my first 30 years- the spine that lit up with energy in my devoted Yoga practice- the spine that stored memories of love and loss and encoded spiritual memories and ancestral stories- received the experience of being flooded with anesthesia. I was at peace. I took a huge exhale. I was practicing a level of compassion that I hadn't wizened up to yet in my younger years. I'm sure some could argue that I could have found that softness within me without any medicine, but this was how it unfolded in this experience. Had I had a specific midwife or been at a more welcoming location, could things have turned out differently? Maybe. But it doesn't even matter. Birth is is initiation. Birth is sacred ceremony. Birth is a portal in more ways than one. However, after being a mom for 7 years at that point, I also knew that every moment that followed birth was equally, if not more, important- the forming of the relationship with your child- the experiences- the lessons spiraling between you and your child.
So, I chose to let go a bit and trust the way everything was coming to be in this specific birth, in this moment in time. I come from a line of unbelievably resilient folk, and this birth did not have to be my opportunity to prove that I am capable of carrying the weight of the ancients on my back. I already knew I could. This was my opportunity to find strength in release and a different kind of trust. I live my life in devotion to the plant beings, the ancestors, the saints, the old ways, the earth, the stars, and in line with the wise woman tradition of healing. Some folks might hear that and wonder how someone who practices "natural living," could come up with a reason why using anesthesia is in line with living with the earth and tapping into the natural resources within and around ourselves. In my opinion, that mode of thinking offers a limited lens and often gets us stuck in hypocritical ideologies that end up serving as self-constructed prisons. In Susun Weed's book "Healing Wise," she states that the only rule in the wise woman tradition of healing (the most ancient form of healing,) is that "there are no rules." She goes on to state, "Sometimes substances or techniques strongly associated with the scientific tradition are used by the wise woman; she understands these substances and techniques as nourishment not cures. It is not the thing done that indicates the tradition, but the thought behind the action." When I read this, it home so deeply. My choice to get anesthesia didn't come from a place of thinking I was incapable of performing a natural act or out of fear. I remember, despite my pain and my shifted consciousness, feeling so clear and embodied. I was nourishing wholeness. I was honoring the 23 year old young woman who went through a huge portal of fire years before. I wanted to drift in a peaceful state- I made a choice. I remember being astonished at the idea, that suddenly the next contraction was filled with ease. I unclenched. I took a breath. I was relieved and cared for. I deeply knew that the thought patterns that emerged after my first birth had already been dissolved and wouldn't return, because I made the decision from within the gentleness of my body.
A couple more hours passed. I lied in bed. I was drifting in and out of sleep and consciousness in the quiet. I felt the reassuring presence of my mom, my husband, and a nurse, who had a calm, nonjudgemental demeanor. After only a couple hours, a doctor came in to see if I was fully dilated. Low and behold, it was the male doctor who had seen me and performed my surgery for the molar pregnancy the year before. I had not seen him since. At first, I felt a trigger come up seeing him, but I relaxed in to it, as my process in this birth was all about compassion, letting go, and trusting my choices and the unfolding of the birth. I think there's something kind of imperative to my story, that this man ended up being the doctor that guided me in the birth. Would I have preferred a crone midwife with 2 grey braids? A wise woman? Absolutely. But, shedding the attachment to the perfect details of the birth helped me cling to the truth of the birth, which was that *I* was the portal for this exquisite soul of Shanti Marigold to come through. He checked me, and I was dilated to 10. No pitocin needed. Not much time had passed between being at 6 cm with intense pain and 10 cm. At this point, my dad brought my elder daughter to the hospital, because she wanted to be in the room for Shanti's birth. She came in, and doc told me it was pushing time. I personally (with 2 births,) find pushing to be the absolute best part of the labor. Maybe its the doer in me. It's the point where I can finally feel the energy move down and do something about the intensity. With my (then 7) year old daughter at my side, I began guiding Shanti's descent into the earth plane with my breath and force. I listened to doc's good advice on slow pushing, as not to tear, and she pretty quickly made her descent into the doctor's hands. He immediately put her on my bare chest, as my elder daughter went from tears of amazement and intensity to getting in the bed with us. Baby Shanti was so small and so alive, with her strong Taurean cry. Shanti took to the breast immediately, and I felt so full, having birthed a second daughter into the world. I was present. I was ok. For a second time, my Yoni had served as a threshold that brought a life onto the planet. My prana had guided her down, and it didn't matter that I had used anesthesia. I didn't feel like a lesser woman. I was confident that I truly knew what it mean to practice the wise woman tradition of healing. I practiced a level of compassion with myself I may never have before.
Referring back to Susun Weed's book "Healing Wise," she states, "Allowing the unjudging flow of compassion, in a Wise Woman way, we are challenged to remember that the perfect wholeness of each moment is ever-changing. There can be no rules." As a lover and devotee of the old ways, the wild plants that heal us, midwives, and beyond, I hope it is clear that I am not advocating the immediate use of scientific medicine over natural medicine. What I am advocating is the release of strict rules and ideologies that we cling to in order to feel safe- ideologies that become so tightly woven with our identity and picture of who we are, that we feel unsafe shedding them. Allowing myself to let go and use anesthesia in my birth- (which reads as an unglamorous birth story in the community of wellness,) allowed me to shed some of the pain, fear, and shame that was still within me from my first birth. With softness and ease, I was able to gaze at both daughters in bed with me, knowing that they, me, my mom, and all the grandmothers who came before, are magick birthing queens, who hold the infinite mysteries. As the Wise Woman way says, it's not about the choices you are making, but the energy behind them. Ina May Gaskin is one of my absolute heroes. Spiritual Midwifery is still my bible. But the thing is, my story is not separate from them. It nourished wholeness for me, my experience, and my daughters. Who knows what kind of ancestral healing spontaneously occurs when we make choices out of love and compassion, in true communion with the ancient ways of healing.