My dearest Leila Simone,
It was Friday, Feb. 26th, 2016 and my colleagues and I were finishing the last day of our week-long seminar on Human Trafficking. It was an intense week with 23 young women from Japan, Korea and parts of the US. I remember talking a lot about you and the kind of world I hope to continue building – one where all women and girls are safe, respected, and loved.
I had light contractions all day, but they stayed pretty light. And to be honest I thought they were just the usual Braxton hicks, until right before our closing session at 4:20pm my bags of water broke. No dramatic pop or explosion, just a nice flow of water came. And I went to the chapel and closed our time with song, prayer, and the ritualistic burning of what we created all week called the “Problem Tree” – a mounted visual of the impacts of human trafficking (the leaves) and its causes (the roots). It was powerful to baptize its burnt remains with hopes of this tree being transformed to bear instead good fruit. This was indeed hopeful.
And as I said goodbye to the participants, all beautiful and courageous women, one young woman from Korea approached and shared that the night before she saw me in her dreams.
“You saw me in your dreams?” I asked.
“Yes, in my dream,” she said. Then she described what she saw.
She said I just showed up in her dream. I was standing, standing tall. And I was holding my baby. I was holding you in my arms! I replied, and said, “Well you must have a special gift, because I am going into labor.”
“You’re going into labor?!” she said in almost disbelief.
“Yes, I am having a baby. My water broke just before our closing session.”
A few women around me overheard and joy spread. Excitement. And then it was rushing me out of the chapel so I could head home.
When I think about that moment, I begin to think she was like this divine messenger saying, “It’s time now. You’re ready, Chantilly. It’s time to become a mom. To enter a new space. A new season of life.”
And after the scare of a 35min ride in a yellow taxi cab, where my contractions were getting stronger in the middle of rush hour traffic, I made it home. Your Dad arrived shortly after and so did your aunty Ihotu, who would be our doula.
I ate, rested, and hydrated for the night ahead. And for a few hours I was just hanging out with Dad and Ihotu. Dad was prepping the kiddie pool in case I wanted to labor in water. We had chill music on. We were talking and even laughing. And right about 10pm is when I started getting into my serious zone. My body was doing more work to make room for you. Daddy was rubbing my back. Ihotu was massaging my hips. Shar, our midwife had also arrived and was patiently waiting through each contraction.
It was just about 1:30am when I entered into what they call “active labor.” My contractions felt like they were coming in continuous sets. The contractions reminded me of growing up in Hawaii, in the ocean, surfing. There were days when waves came in “close-out sets,” meaning they would come so frequently that even the channel to paddle through was closed by crashing waves. You had only one option. You had to duck-dive, which is to go under each wave to get through it. You had to essentially allow yourself to sink deep below the water’s surface to emerge on the other side. In our life of faith and spirituality, wise sages call this act, surrender. It’s giving in to a power, a force greater than yourself. It means to trust that I’d make it to the other side of this close-out set if only I allowed myself to be overwhelmed, but not overcome. Yes, that’s it. Overwhelmed, but surely not overcome.
I remember saying at one point, “They just keep coming. This one’s hard. These are really hard.”
And Aunty Ihotu told me very calmly and firmly, “Yes. They are hard, but you’re stronger. You’re stronger.”
And I duck-dived. Under, deep, and through. Again. And again.
There is so much mystery in this life, my dear Leila. Active labor really meant every part of my body was actively working with very little control or consent on my part. From the breath in my lungs, to the pumping of my heart, to the contracting of my uterus, every ligament, muscle, down to the hormonal and cellular level were actively working to give birth to you. You were actively working too! It makes me marvel at Nature. How we have spent so many years controlling and dominating Nature, I’ve come to believe birth as a lesson of respecting the way God created nature in such delicate balance. May we seek to be Nature’s partner and not Her conqueror – the way Shar was my midwife, who guided me naturally and gently. She didn’t force her way or force you to come the way she thought you should. I am so grateful for her gentle presence, her confidence in me and confidence in this natural process.
And finally around 3:30am something changed. I told Aunty Ihotu and Shar the contractions “felt different.” Intuitively I started squatting and swaying my hips. Apparently this helped swivel you down a bit more! I got on the bed to my side, but that didn’t feel right. The contractions weren’t waves this time; they were more like a downward tightening. At some point I was growling, from this really guttural place. And by 4:00am I said, “Get me off the bed. I need to push!”
Shar came in with the birthing stool, which was phenomenal. I sat and basically squatted. Daddy held me up from behind. His presence strengthened me. He held me up so I could rest between pushing. With each contraction I breathed deep, bore down, and pushed with all my might. Again. And again. Shar showed me your head at one point in a mirror. You were crowning! To be honest, I was in such a trance that I closed my eyes and focused on the next contraction to push you down and out. The pressure is what I remember most. I felt immense pressure as you came down. And within twenty-five minutes, Shar caught you! You gave two short cries, which emptied your lungs. And there you were – on my chest. Calm. Eyes open. Completely alert.
All I could say was “my baby. My baby.” (We hadn’t named you yet!) And all of those hours of laboring seemed to vanish like a distant memory. All I felt was sheer elation. Not even relief as if I was like, “thank God that’s over.” But joy. Pure joy. I heard a doctor once say, this feeling is the inner workings of the “love cocktail” – a combination of hormones surging through my body at delivery. The “love cocktail” helped us connect, bond and attach.
Giving birth is so far the hardest thing I have ever done! It required all of me to be present. To surrender to a process that I had very little control over. To be overwhelmed, but not overcome. As the Psalmist once said, “Weeping may endureth for a night, but joy cometh in the morning!” Leila, I am in awe at how completely transcendent and transformative this experience was. It has and continues to show me how I am, how we all are, far more powerful than we know. We are knit together by divine Love, and powerfully knit to one another in this deeply interconnected and interdependent reality. And what an honor that this experience of birthing you into this world will forever mark my passage into a deeper respect for the mystery of love and the miracle of life – your life forever bound to all of ours.
Leila Simone, thank you. I see God in you. And I love you.