Seasons are born from change. The Fall season of 2020 was no exception for my family. Nestled between the chilling winter news of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., and the horrifying reality that the Trump administration could last 4 more years, my fall labor started 4 days after the autumn equinox. As the leaves on the trees started to peel and turn the colors of pumpkins, pinecones, apples, and acorns, my baby ripened as corn or squash for harvest; and was gleaned in his family’s home by the warm hands of his dad in a festive September unassisted homebirth. The times were muddy, but clouded in a fog of oxytocin and birth, we saw bounty and celebrated instead. We invite you to re-reminisce with us this fall.
by Shayla Brown
Research has shown that gloomier conditions, like rainy or thunder-filled days, prompt people to feel nostalgic and that the emotion might also work to literally make people feel warmer.Leslie Nemo, “Why We Love Fall So Much“
This fall blew in like a mighty rushing wind–kind of how my 5th pregnancy unfolded—complete with twists and turns. And, like the onset of fall, the “gloomier conditions” around my fall birth prompted a certain nostalgia that, at its onset, felt warmer than the actual birth had been. In the same way fall brings together family and friends, my fall birth brought my sister and my mother under one roof to support and celebrate with me. This was unlike any of my other births, so their presence alone made my fall birth feel like a happier experience than it actually was.
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And then, I told my story
“Storytelling has always been foundational to our family histories and the sustainability of our community legacies.Dr. Andrea Mason, Ed.D, a doula and birth mentor.
I hadn’t realized that the journey to my fall birth had been a pilgrimage to finally birth in joy with my family of origin, or that finding that joy was like finding a needle in a haystack.
I just thought I had found it.
In reality though, what I’d found was the other side of the woods that divided my village of fear, doubt, and judgement, with a broader world of resources and development—like Ivory Walker at the end of the M. Night Shyamalan film. I imagine that: after coming into the knowledge of what her life truly was, after reeling from the trauma of venturing off into an unknown woods to save the man she loved, and after returning to settle into a life with him; living in that village was never quite the same again.
Into The Woods
In late September 2020 l went live on Instagram to share my 5th labor. I felt fully independent and in control of my birth plan this time. There were things I wanted to do so I made a list:
- progress labor through intercourse
- labor free of pain
- have a baby shower
- film labor
- navigate unassisted from pregnancy to birth
- labor and birth around family
We had been planting this seed for so long. We had always had a birth plan for each baby, but with each birth and the lessons we learned from it, we found ourselves relying on our “plan” less and less. With this baby, our 5th, our “plan” was actually more of a guideline. And our supply list served as a gentle reminder of what supplies my husband needed to gather from the store.
Because we would be driving at an extremely late stage of our pregnancy, this time we used our list to create a birth kit bursting with oils, teas, and items for cleanliness and safety. My most essential supply though, was my trust in my husband and his trust in what my body and I were as capable of doing. Between the two of us, we had everything we needed for a successful outcome for another beautiful brown baby.
“Let’s just picture it all going well.”–My husband, Erick Brown
Fruits of Our Labor
I stayed engaged with my audience, but at some point, it became apparent that these were the last moments I’d have with my older boys as a mother of 4. I sat with my husband and the kids in early labor partly for this reason, but also because I felt guilty leaving him stranded without me while I spent time laboring by alone. Eventually though, I talked myself into laboring secluded in the back where my in laws’ room was all set up for me. They had offered us the space after we explained to them why we needed to move back home, and my mother had finally offered to decorate it especially for this labor and birth–something I had desired for every labor before this one; a detail that added to my joy.
I got comfortable in bed and turned on the Clark Sisters’ movie. Erick had already covered the floor with plastic drop cloths and covered the bed with incontinence pads to protect both areas from blood and amniotic fluid. I was so happy that so much of my dream birth was finally coming true—so much so that my contractions didn’t even hurt! I felt safe, I felt loved, I felt accepted, I felt welcomed, I felt excited, and I felt like I was feeling all these things with all of the people I valued most! What I believe now is that when women can labor in this emotional and mental space of peace, calm, safety, and love, the process of bringing forth life doesn’t have to hurt.
After he put the kids to bed around 7 p.m., my husband came to be with me as I continued to labor pain-free. We were able to hang out and talk about our labor and about birth in general; and we both continued to share our journey with our social media audiences. The content was received well, and it felt good to have a supportive community encouraging me. What didn’t feel good though was the one comment under one of my posts made particularly to discourage me.
” That sure looks like a mucus plug to me and not bloody show but I hope you have a lovely birth!”–unsolicited white birth worker
I felt my face and neck get hot with immediate rage at her comment. What midwife would interrupt somebody’s labor like that? Her unsolicited, ill-timed, and ill-informed assessment of what was happening in my body was an exact example of the disrespect black women experience when we have the audacity to knowledgeably exercise authority over our lives. When I blunted her efforts to discourage me, she persisted, and our exchange descended into an argument.
My adrenaline built. Oxytocin was nowhere to be found and my contractions completely slowed down, as my mood shifted from positive to negative. Even worse, I started to doubt that I correctly assessed the start of my labor, and I began to worry that I had presented inaccurate information to my followers. What will they think of me and how stupid will I look when the labor I’m supposed to be in turns out not to be labor at all?
Increasingly, I shifted focus from managing labor to raging to my husband about the argument I was engaging.
“Comments like that,” he advised, “you don’t even entertain. Just block her.”–my husband
He was right. I needed to gather myself and in order to do that I needed to stop this back and forth with this lady who didn’t know me and who clearly didn’t know what she was talking about. I took his advice, and after I did, I felt silly for letting this woman take me this far off course.
Besides, there were so many other women–white, black, and otherwise–showering me with genuine support. It was a discredit to them to highlight her and lose focus of them.
Some hours later after my water spontaneously broke, we called my sister from her nearby hotel to come over and start filming. Once she got there, we talked more birth talk and looking back, I see now that I was so excited to have her there that I didn’t take any time to rest. I also felt pressure to speed birth along because I didn’t want to waste her time or keep her too long so I did a lot of active work trying to progress labor along. In hindsight, had I rested instead, labor would have progressed much faster–which is what happened when I finally did lay down…
Through The Ring of Fire
As the night grew longer, and the dark morning approached, our excitement dwindled, our fatigue increased, and I fell into a sappy mood. I finally laid down to get some rest. I’m not sure how long I was lying there in bed because I fell asleep hard; and I would have kept sleeping if I hadn’t felt my baby’s head slide down and engage in my pelvis.
I sat up straight in one motion. “I felt the head slide down,” I told my husband and my sister. They had both been lying down as well and scrambled to get back into place when I said that. My sister started filming again and my husband put on his gloves preparing to catch the baby.
I stood up to make my way to the portion of the floor at the foot of the bed where the drop cloth had been carefully and thoroughly laid. I couldn’t make it there though. When I stood up, I had one large contraction that stopped me and forced me to lean on the nearby dresser for support. The contraction was long and strong and I don’t think I realized at first that I was starting to push. Another contraction and I grunted helping my body push, but my fetal ejection reflex was in full control of what was happening.
“You’re not crowning yet,” my husband said for some reason.
Through helpless grunts I responded, “yes I am.”
More grunts and then finally he saw that head. I gave one big push and the baby was out and into my husband’s hands. Fluid gushed everywhere.
“So relieved,” I released breathlessly as I slumped over the dresser. “I just feel so relived.”
The one big bodysnatching push and the contractions before it had finally come to an end. I was grateful that most of labor hadn’t hurt, but the few painful moments I did experience were notably unpleasant.
“Aw, Shay, you did such a good job,” my sister commended me.
“I am never doing that again,” I responded.
Gather Round a Bonfire and Listen to Us Tell This Story
Savory chili, spiced lattes, burnt orange scarves, or bundled up quilts–grab whatever puts you in the fall mood and listen to us tell this story. Episode Ten is the last of the season so be sure to follow the Natal podcast and rake through the episodes starting from the intro or the prologue at the beginning.
AND… if your fall mood looks more like enjoying this sweater weather on the go, you can also grab a handful of your favorite nuts, seeds, or candy corn and listen to our story on your mobile Apple or Google device instead.
Indulge in Our Instagram Festivities
Speaking of an on-the-go fall mood, what better way to celebrate than tailgating outside a high school or college football game? If you’re reading this and craving a fall mood play by play recap, we didn’t exactly break into a homecoming halftime performance, but we did travel back home to birth near family and friends; and we did give our Instagram audience a show.
Flip through these Instagram fall mood highlights and experience autumn birth with us. Leave us comments and let us know what you think.
Meet Our Autumn Baby
In the wake of our baby’s golden hour, my husband and I reviewed our fall birth and in particular he shared his thoughts on partner support and why unassisted fall birth is a favorable option to him as a laboring dad.
Watch his reflections then share this with like-minded dad in your life.