On the other side of birth is rebirth.
Here I sit, in this moment, born again.
I knew when I was in my late twenties (I’m thirty-two now) that I wanted to have children one day. Dating in Los Angeles was a challenge and at the time, polyamory was all the rage. I was into monogamy. I wasn’t afraid to tell a guy on a first date, “Hi, my name is Alicia and I want to get married and have a baby.” Not with them per se, but eventually. Sharing my truth from the get-go was a great way to weed out the wild cards—why wait until the third or fourth date to find out that you have completely different goals or values? After quite a while of dead-end romances, as fun as they were, I realized that I needed to check in with myself. Ultimately, it was me, not them. I needed to fine tune myself before finding my person.
On a June morning three years ago, I naively walked out to the shore of Venice Beach for a first date. It was 9 am on a Wednesday and I had a thermos of rooibos tea prepared and two small cups handmade from a Panamanian gourd. I spotted Brendan ahead in the distance, sitting on the sand watching the surf roll in and out. He had the Jesus hipster look that 95% of Venice guys had at the time—a man bun and a beard. Yep, that was him sitting there with his hands wrapped around his knees waiting patiently. He saw me coming towards him and stood up to greet me. But it was awkward because I was still too far away and he’d have to stand there for a bit longer than would be cool so he sat back down, making it more awkward. That move of his was such a relief for me. Phew, he wasn’t too cool for school—I thought it was absolutely adorable. Finally, now just a few steps away from him, he stands up (again) to greet me. The moment our eyes met, I remember feeling that a weight had lifted, I could feel my heart smile. There he was, the man I’d spend the rest of my life with. I just knew. In that moment, I knew. And then before sitting back down and carrying on with our first date (and the rest of our lives together), I told Brendan that we should relocate to a better spot on the beach. He accepted my request and indeed, it was a much better spot. We then took our clothes off and bared everything but a swimsuit and jumped into the chilly early-June Pacific Ocean. We warmed up with tea afterward as we completed each other’s sentences on theories of the nonlinearity of time. ⠀⠀⠀⠀
A year and a half later, we got pregnant. We had just gotten engaged. I was in Los Angeles at the time and he was in Portland, we Facetimed and the first thing he said was, “You look so full of life!” I immediately started crying and told him, “Yes, you are right. I AM full of life. I’m pregnant.”
We lost the baby a few weeks later. It was super hard. We were devastated. It was then that we decided to start trying to conceive. Me getting pregnant brought Brendan a newfound sense of self. He could create life! Brendan getting that feedback from the universe was a paradigm shift in his life’s purpose. It was beautiful to witness him lean into a part of himself that he hadn’t accessed prior to us conceiving.
We were ambitiously trying to conceive while simultaneously planning a wedding. It was a heck of a lot to take on all at once. Every month, surrounding the time of my menstruation, I would get bouts of fear and stress because I wondered if and when I was going to bleed, and when I did end up bleeding, I experienced a deep feeling of loss. It was too much on me mentally and emotionally on top of wedding planning. It was June, I was ovulating, and I vividly remember telling Brendan that I thought we should wait until after the wedding. I am almost certain that is the very day we conceived Oscar.
We were ready. But nothing, and I mean nothing, can prepare you for what birth and parenthood is really like—not a person, not a book or podcast, nothing.
I was three months pregnant on my wedding day and I had bought my wedding dress before getting pregnant—the alterations were a real fiasco. Alas, the wedding was a success and my nausea miraculously disappeared the day before our ceremony. It was so beautiful having our baby there with us as we committed to unconditional love and continued soul growth. A true family affair.
We planned a home birth. It was what our heart of hearts desired—dim lighting, candles, whatever foods I craved, warmth, familiarity, our cat Luna, and our own bed. Oscar, this universe, someone, something, had a different plan. Luckily, we had planned months before to plan for the unplanned.
I wasn’t told until I was thirty-five weeks pregnant about this thing called “GBS” or Group B Strep. Which they said if I had, would require antibiotics. It’s a bacteria that’s found within 25% of all healthy pregnant people. But if a baby were to be exposed to this bacteria through the birthing process, a small percentage may develop meningitis. So there I was at thirty-five weeks, just finding out about this looming GBS thing, and I tested positive. The protocol from the CDC being penicillin through IV. I didn’t know how my body would react to penicillin and I didn’t want to compromise Oscar’s immune system and microbiome if I could help it.
My water broke two days before my due date and contractions didn’t come on for over 24 hours. This was after trying every trick in the book—acupuncture, massage, homeopathics, cuddling. My midwives said that I could stay at home and wait a bit longer for labor to begin but that I’d need to be on a penicillin drip. Otherwise, we were told that we could go to the hospital for monitoring and hopefully forego the penicillin. We collected all of our sentimentals, packed an unexpected hospital bag, and at 4 am on a chilly March morning made our way to the hospital with complete surrender in our hearts.
Before entering the portal of labor and birth, I thought to myself that I’ve got this. I have a pretty high pain threshold, I’m a strong and healthy person, and I did yoga up until 38 weeks. Not to mention I was cross-country skiing at 34 weeks! I fantasized that perhaps I’d dance through labor or that maybe it would be orgasmic. I also considered that labor would be painful but that I’d be able to manage it.
It was more painful than I could have ever imagined. During labor, Birth became me. I was a portal to the other side. I allowed Birth to weave through all of who I thought I was in order for life to enter into this realm. It was the most powerful initiation of my life. And it literally brought me to my knees—I wasn’t able to get into any other labor position due to Oscar’s positioning. My knees were raw and bruised, my body quivered for hours on end, and the sounds that came out of me, they were from some other corner of this universe.
Thanks to our incredible team of midwives, we were able to have the birth that we had hoped for. It didn’t look the way we envisioned in our minds, but the outcome was everything we dreamed and more.
Mothers, I believe, are portals to the ‘other side.’ You become a conduit to the unknown. It’s what we try to decipher from religious texts and even pictoglyphs. It’s what we worship and what we continue to explore through plant medicine and beyond. It is deeply ancient. I may not have orgasmed during labor but I definitely transcended space and time. I was out of my body...and the ancient and all-powerful Birth moved in.
Days later, there I was in bed, my labia laden with stitches as I bled all over everything. Unable to sit up, with a crying baby by my side, nipples raw and leaking, and unable to give Oscar the support that I so wanted to give him. I couldn’t stand up to walk around and shoosh him. I couldn’t burp him properly because sitting upright brought pressure down to my pelvic region and that entire area was a total disaster zone. Thankfully, Brendan was there to support in all ways short of breastfeeding. It was and continues to be so beautiful witnessing Brendan and Oscar bond. My niece was training to be a postpartum doula so she came up from California and cooked the most healing foods for us—that helped immensely. I honestly think we would have starved without her. Those first couple of weeks were the hardest for both Brendan and myself. We were in love with Oscar but so sleep deprived that our minds actually ached. I didn’t know that was possible. It is.
My identity changed overnight. March 10th, 2019 has forever changed me. The birth of Oscar, becoming a mother, has changed me on all levels: cellularly, physically, mentally, and it’s done a number on my ego. My ‘self’ has transcended who I thought I was and found its way deep in the ancient Self of who I am—one that has done this many times before, one who knows how precious each moment truly is (ephemeral yet somehow infinite), how much deep learning can come from each of these precious moments and how those learnings can burn away at old karma. This Self cares so much less about my superficial self and laughs at the thought of my life before March 10th, 2019 ever being stressful or chaotic (and acknowledges that I was the creator of that stress and chaos).
What a powerful initiation motherhood has been—and I sense that this path will be a constant initiation—a ceremony that never ends. But perhaps all of our lives are just that—a ceremony. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
In between breastfeeding and burping Oscar, I wonder how I can lean deeper into this newfound Self and honor this path, this sacred ceremony, that is ever-unfurling. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Alicia Henry is an artist, mother, wife and the founder of Naked Sage Tea, based in Portland, Oregon.