December 02, 2017

Sling Diaries - On Kinship

This year I've been invited to be a writer in the Sling Diaries by Sakura Bloom. Every month, we'll share a fragment of our lives. This month's theme is Kinship.
You can find all the diaries here.

Dearest Saoirse,

One day I will tell you stories of your first moments and I will tell you this : the first year of our lives together, we didn't really live anywhere.

I have spent the last five years trying to unburden myself of everything I thought I didn't need. Turns out, we don't need much at all – everything we own at the moment takes up a big travel bag, which your Papa carries through airports and train stations (I carry you), plus a small backpack containing our cameras, all your baby clothes, and a few random treasures we couldn't bring ourselves to part with.

I can't lie and say I haven't doubted the decisions I've made since I fell pregnant with you. I remember how I decided that we wouldn't go back to Europe, and that you were going to be born in Ecuador, because I had such a clear vision of your birth in our home. How I asked our families not to come to Ecuador before your birth, as I wanted this space, our space, to be respected and peaceful. How I chose to surround myself with a team of women who didn't speak my language, and who became the angels watching over you as you made your way into the world. I know all these choices were difficult to understand for some – but I believe they were ultimately the best thing for us.

When I was alone, leaving everything – home, possessions, jobs, family and friends – to go adventuring on my own seemed... easy. Too easy. I could do it in the blink of an eye. You could have called it selfish, and maybe it wouldn't be entirely wrong. I thought you being there would make travel complicated, but it feels simpler than ever – we keep packing light, bringing only the clothes you'll need, and we have marveled at how serene you are on the move, whether it's taking a ten hours flight back to Europe or riding eight hours in a stuffy ecuadorian bus. You are happy looking at the window, mesmerized by the landscape unfolding in front of your eyes. You'll sleep anywhere as long as you can be in our arms.
It is simple, still. But it is also slower, and more conscious, the thought process leading to the next move more convoluted and subtle. I ask myself : will our life give you enough roots to grow ? Will you miss the family that we only see a few times a year, if at all ? Will you resent me for not giving you a permanent childhood home you can remember in bliss always ?

As I write this, tiny Saoirse, we live on a little island nestled on the west coast of Scotland, 5000 miles from where you were born. It opens on the Atlantic. Wind blows fiercely here, an icy wave running through the short shimmering grass of the moors. Our home for the winter is a tiny room in a hotel. A warm pink glow coming through our window every morning as we wake up. You sleep between us, take your baths in the sink. And sometimes I wonder if it is enough, what we have to give – a little space in a beautiful corner of the world, ours only for a moment. I wonder if we are taking you away from a community you might long for. It's strange, but in a sense, you are attracting a community here. Islanders can be proud and distant, but with you around, we're never treated like outsiders – everyone knows and asks about you, and we are greeted like friends, not strangers.

During my pregnancy a lot of people asked me if our lifestyle was going to change with you coming. Are we going to keep traveling or settle somewhere for the next twenty years, because you're here ? I could not tell then, and I cannot now. Maybe we will always be like this – two people carrying lightweight bags and a little girl, catching a last minute flight to their next home. Maybe there will be other little ones to carry. Maybe along the way we will find a place and people we can't bear to leave behind, and someday we won't even remember that once home was an perpetual in between, an shoulder marked red by the strap of a bag, the freshness of the air after a long flight.

For the moment, here we are. And although I worry that maybe this is too unsettling for you, when I look at you my concerns leave me – you are this peaceful, healthy, thriving little being, and when you smile at me I know that for you, for now, we are enough. That the only belonging you need is between the space of our bodies at night, the permanence of the arms that carry you through the world. I don't know what sort of life we will give you, little one, but I know that we are kindred. You give us that. You made us that.

On the wall of our room there is a quote, written years ago by someone I don't know. It says : « A person can belong in as much as they are willing to cherish and be cherished by a place and its people ». I think it is just perfect.

Last days in Cuenca

Our first days with Saoirse are also our last days in Cuenca. It feels completely surreal – I can still see us, almost a year ago, getting off a plane in Quito and gazing at the snow-covered peaks. I can still see us arriving at night from a 12 hours bus journey and hopping in a taxi – I was looking in disbelief out of the window, trying to devine what our new city looked like in the dark. I remember going out on the balcony of our hotel on the first day, before dawn, feeling the fresh air slapping my cheek like it only does when you're in the mountains, and watching a rosy sun set the red stones of the buildings on fire for the first time. I remember of course, looking for a flat and falling in love with the first one we visited, a lovely space in an old colonial villa with a central garden full of red flowers and hummingbirds. And now it's twelve months later and I am sitting in this garden, my daughter asleep on my lap, wrapped in the yellow blanket she was put in right after she was born, in the room I just woke up in. It's almost dawn – I am fully awake, but things are slightly fuzzy, like always since she has arrived earthside ; a mixture of tiredness and bliss, a feeling who doesn't know what time it is or what needs to be done, other than stare at her and smile.

Saoirse is the most peaceful little being. When she was dancing inside me, I felt like I was on fire, and I thought it was from her – but I was wrong. She isn't fiery or bad tempered – she is this strong, calm presence. She sleeps a lot still, but when she's awake she is fully there, beautifully landed in our arms and taking in everything around her. When visitors come, she wakes up long enough to stare into their eyes and gift them the glimpse of a smile. She is trusting and secure with strangers, and it makes me so happy to see their faces light up with joy when she let them hold her. She sleeps soundly at night, nestled under my armpit, her papa's hand on her belly, and in the morning we wake up all together, gently conversing with her without any urge of getting up. There is nothing else to do, no routine, just learning to live with her and focusing on what she needs. The lovely woven basket we got for her sits in a corner, mostly unused – we would rather hold her all day, whether she's asleep or not. My favourite thing is taking baths with her. You can tell she's at home in the water, as if her birth had somehow left a trace in her – she loves being immersed and swimming softly, guided by my hands.

Although I appreciate not having too many visitors and being able to stay home as much as I like, we take her on little adventures, to our favourite café where she soon becomes the main attraction, or to see my colleagues about to start a new schoolyear. On our last night in Cuenca, we take her to our favourite italian restaurant, hidden in a gallery just behind the cathedral. As the chef smiles and coos at Saoirse, it all takes a bitter taste, like I am suddenly conscious we are experiencing all of it for the last time. The last sunset is already behind us, and soon it is 10pm and we are sitting in the main square, with strangers passing us by – Saoirse is asleep in the sling, and we're eating ice-cream. I look at the moon and I wish we had more time – time for her to know what it's like to live here, to go to the market in the morning and buy mountains of avocados and bananas, to feel the grass under her feet in our garden, to sit outside at night and watch the monsoon rain fall. I turned to C and ask - « Guess what ? We just spent a year in South America... It was a good year, wasn't it ? »
He smiles. My ice cream is melting. « Yes it was. »

The next morning, there is a slight panic because we have to take a bus south and we underestimated how much time you need to pack and empty an apartment when one of you always had to hold a baby, but finally everything is ready on time, and I just have time to mentally say goodbye to our house, whilst C hauls bags into a taxi. One last time I look at the garden, one last time we close the door behind us. I didn't think I would be sad leaving this place, but this is where our daugther was conceived and born – this is the house that saw us become a family. The next home is around the corner, though we can't quite see it yet. And so, onto more adventures we go.

November 23, 2017

Welcoming Saoirse

37 weeks

It took a few days and a long bath for the details of Saoirse's birth to come back to me. She is now one week old and fast asleep beside me, and I can finally write her story.

At 37 weeks pregnant I stopped working, and from that day the waiting began. The weather in Cuenca turned summery, so C and I spent lovely days walking around plazas, dipping our feet in fountains, or spending time in our favorite cafés. We even went to that fancy italian restaurant we'd always said we'd go to. Walking made time go by faster, even if at the end of the day I often felt tired. Day after day I woke up and felt so calmly excited, so ready to welcome our little girl – sometimes the anticipation was too strong and it made me cry. I couldn't wait to go into labour.

The weekend before I turned 39 weeks, my birth team (a local doctor, midwife and doula) came to the house. Finally, it seemed like everything was in place, just the way I pictured it : the pool at the foot of the bed, affirmations and drawings hung on the walls, and our baby's first outfit laid out so I could look at it during labour. They left and a couple hours later, I felt a tightening that seemed different from the Braxton Hicks I'd been having for weeks.. Then, fifteen minutes later, another one. At 11pm, I told my love that although the waves weren't getting closer or stronger, something was definitely happening. We went to bed and I tried to relax, thinking I might go into labour that night.

But dawn came and the tightenings had stopped. They started again late that morning and continued throughout the day and the evening, and didn't progress. They weren't that painful, but it felt incredibly frustrating to be waiting on something without knowing how long it would take.

On monday morning, my midwife came back to check on the baby's heartbeat. Touching my belly, she told me the baby was in a strange position : all curled up the right side of my body, head down but not engaged. What you feel is your body trying to turn her so she can come down, she said. How long will that take ? - A couple hours, or a couple weeks. As she left I sat in the garden with my love and I cried. « I just want her to be born ». « You know she's coming., he said. She'll be born when she's ready ». I knew he was right, and so I waited.

As the day went by, I tried to distract myself from the waves that were still coming somewhat regularly. I walked and rocked my hips around, and tried to nap. After a while I decided that I was going to insane if I stayed indoors any longer and we went out for a walk. As the sun went down we walked to a little plaza surrounded by tall trees. The light was golden and warm and held me like a soft hug. Walking made the waves stronger, and when they came I had to stop and hold on to my love's shoulder, and breathe deeply. I had an inkling this might be it, but I was trying not to get my hopes up.

Back home, we settled down and put a movie on, but we soon had to pause it because a wave came over me that forced me to get on all fours and make a low, purring sound. Then came another, and another, and soon I was only able to rock my back and be on my knees, and vocalise when the pain peaked in my belly. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply like I learned in hypnobirthing. I tried to be focused on each sensation, telling myself – you just have to go through one at a time. I could still see and hear my love walking around, trying to keep busy, but I could feel myself drifting, less present to the world and sinking inwards.

The room she was born in, hours before labour

The doctor arrived after an hour. She dimmed the lights and checked me, then smiled. « Tu bebé va a nacer hoy », she said, and both my love and I started to tear up from pure excitement and relief that it was actually happening. She phoned the rest of the birth team and left us to go get her kit from her house. Our doula arrived five minutes later and climbed on the bed, massaging my back during contractions, pushing on my hips to help them open.

The intensity grew. I could feel my love coming to hold my hand, stroke my hair, or wipe my forehead with a cold cloth. Everything was silent, but for my breathing and my singing during each contraction. I could hear voices, like there was another me whispering in my ear, keeping me calm. « It's only your body doing what it needs to do, she said, don't focus on the pain. It's only a minute, it will pass. Every wave brings your baby closer to being born. Just breathe it out ». Whenever the pain went down the relief was so sweet I let out a sigh. Still, as the pain got deeper I had to rock my hips more and more to avoid tensing up, and when each wave was over I laid down on my side and started either shivering or burning up. From time to time the midwife checked on the baby's heartbeat, and everytime it was perfect. I heard my love softly speaking. « Can you hear how strong she is ? You're doing so well ».

All notion of time and space faded away. After a while Elbia suggested I got up and sit on the toilet. Getting up seemed like the hardest thing ever, and I found out I had bled. I called for Elbia and she checked me again, took me back to the bed, and told me to start pushing down if I felt the urge. Around me I could feel everybody starting to hurry around, trying to fill the pool with kettles – our water system being too slow. I felt alone. A wave came and I wanted to scream : « Why is nobody helping me ? », but instead I focused deeper inwards, trying to relax my body and let the pain pass through me freely. Open, open, open, I repeated in my head, like a mantra who quietened all my other thoughs. Each wave it took everything I had not to scream and roll around and run away, and although I thought I couldn't do it anymore, everytime pain was followed by relief and so I let myself be carried by the tide, and thought I can do this, I can, I can.

Transition was the only part of birth I had fears about, I was scared I would lose it completely and not be able to carry on. As it happens, my transition went completely unnoticed. My doula stroked my lower back and whispered - « you're ready and the pool is ready – you're going to meet your baby so soon now ! ».

The warm water embraced me and held me calm. For a moment everything slowed down. My love climbed into the pool and sat behind me, holding me tight. Soon the urge to bear down was there and suddenly all feeling of tiredness was gone. Like my body was taking over and it wasn't in my control anymore, I just had to let it happen. I felt her, moving down, parting my bones. My love whispered in my ear : « You've got so much strength, you can do this, she's almost there ». The water held me still and warm and it felt so good to push. I could feel her head crowning and stretching me. With the next contraction I pushed her head out with the fiercest roar. I reached down and felt her head being born, covered with something soft and squishy – my unbroken waters. One last push and her entire body was born. The water swirled and got tinted with blood.

She was born in the water at 1 in the morning, after only 6 hours of labour. She was entirely in caul, the sack finally rupturing as she came out and letting her free. « Reach down and catch your baby », my doula said. I pulled her out of the water and against my chest. Behind me I could hear my love sobbing and breathing so fast, his face buried in my neck.

She was small, but so strong and awake – one small scream and she settled against me, eyes wide open, gently watching us like she already knew us. Her cord was wrapped twice around her, so we untangled her quickly and she turned pink in seconds. « You're okay, you're okay », I said, « you did so well ». I was too overwhelmed to cry, I think, but I also felt strong, so strong. I had birthed my baby on my own, freely, without drugs. For a moment nothing else was there, just the three of us holding each other in the water. We were a family.

When the cord stopped pulsing, my love cut it, and just like that, we were two separate beings. I climbed out of the water and laid down on the bed to birth the placenta. All the while I held the baby close against my skin, and she nuzzled to find my breast and nursed for the first time. The three of us stayed in bed as the women started emptying the pool and tidying. I wanted to scream my gratitude to them, the wonderful beings that made my pregnancy and birth perfect – but I couldn't talk, I couldn't take my eyes away from her. Slowly we sank under the covers, holding each other, and as they left we slept.

The moment she was born

In the few days that followed, we spent so many hours just staring at her in silence, learning her. She sleeps and dreams, stretching her limbs, her head cradled in our hands. When she's awake she's so wide-eyed and gentle – she hardly ever cries, and just looks at us calmly, as if to say she's happy she landed where she did.

Seeing my love with her is the greatest feeling of all - I often find him gazing at her in silence, smiling softly as her tiny fingers reach for his hand. She is perfect – soft mily skin and feathery blond hair. Looking at her I can feel a strange love growing. It's spreading to the end of my fingers, lining my veins with a golden thread, wrapping around each part of me like weeds. Everytime she cries it breaks your heart. We live between day and night, without ever looking at a watch, following the rhythm of her. As she sleeps we hold her hand and we tell her « we love you, we love you, we love you », and we tell her we're here, and she smiles through her dreams.

Thank you for choosing us, Saoirse. We are yours for always.

In our garden
Little dreamer
Her first bath
One week old.