I am a third world rural subsistance farmer. I was not born into this life, I chose this. Every day, I descend a steep, narrow footpath with my baby tied on my back, to bring the sheep to graze. I return with careful steps, calves burning and quick short breaths. Today I stretched a fence over rough cut posts to secure our large garden. Infant clinging to my back as we worked in a cloud forest. Onions, garlic, squash, zucchini, pumpkins, cilantro, potatoes and peas… I’m tired of going to the market with all these kids, so I’m going to try to make it all myself with hand tools and bunny poop. The skeleton of the lean-to greenhouse is complete. Ready to stretch plastic- a temporary solution until I can afford to buy something more durable. Heirloom tomatoes and peppers will live inside. The small garden near the sheep house is full of carrots, purple beans, cabbage, kale, mixed greens and strawberries. The pomegranates are nearly breaking the branches of the small tree. Oranges, lemons, manderinas. Guavas, peaches, plums. Macadamia and pistachio. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries. Wild grapes and bananas. Avocados and a daily supply of fresh chicken eggs….. Some of these things wont be ready for years, but they’re here and growing. This land was cleared by fire four years ago. My back hurts but soon my basket will be full and it is all so worth it. The dirt under my nails and my tattered hem line tell the story of living deeply. I’ve felt a huge push lately to work the land so it will work for me. No more hesitation or excuses. I have many mouths to feed. There is a wind at my back making it all flow like water. Know your garden. This is life.
Let’s talk about Mexico for a moment, shall we?
We are sitting here in the heart of the Sierra Madres, in the middle of the dry season. This whole village, with it’s several thousand permanent inhabitants, relies on a water system that mimics a rainbow gathering. Somewhere, far away, there is a river. There is a large pvc hose that carries the river water to a large concrete tank. Many hoses come out of that tank, run down hill, and gravity feed many smaller tanks. Each of the smaller tanks have many hoses that carry the water to houses. You can see the potential problems with this kind of system. These pvc hoses run through forests, along the sides of roads and cross foot paths. Trucks drive over them, horses step on them and men clearing brush chop them with their machetes. Air gets in the line, beetles plug the flow and the people who are supposed to open the tanks each day simply forget. This is a crazy system to rely on for such a precious, necessary commodity.
Here we are at the end of April. The water doesn’t flow from the hose anymore. It hasn’t rained since December. We have a gas powered pump that we use to draw water from the river this time of year. We fill a tinaco in the back of the truck and drive the water to our house. This takes a lot of time, muscle and gasoline, but it works.
Unless it doesn’t.
We live deep in a valley, down long dirt road that becomes hard to navigate in the rainy season. Last year, the government began fixing this road, but stopped halfway through. The residents petitioned the government, they agreed to finish the road, and dumped several loads of sand, gravel and concrete. The big machines began re-flattening the area and two days later disappeared. The workers never returned. The government decided that they didn’t want to pay anymore and pulled out. The residents held a meeting and they agreed that the people who live here and use the road would finish it. For free. This means that the families that rely on the meager income that these men earn clearing or planting each day, would have nothing. Men who are the sole providers for rural families would need some serious motivation to walk away from a hard to find paying job in order to move rocks and hand mix concrete in ninety degree heat for free. So, the people decided that they would make the road impassable until the work is complete. The road that we use to haul water and buy groceries. Thanks, Mexico.
This is obviously the worst possible time for the water to stop coming. V is busy working on the road and can’t walk the line to check the problem. There is a back road, but it is steep, deeply rutted, washed out in places and not quite wide enough for the truck to pass without scraping the sides. It is windy and rocky and long.
So the other day, he loaded up the tinaco and the pump and took that back road all the way around to the river. When he tried to start the pump, it didn’t work. He filled the tinaco with a bucket. Dip it in the river, climb into the truck bed, dump into the shoulder high tinaco, back to the river, dip the bucket again…. He returned as it was getting dark and started taking the pump apart. Thirty minutes later, the pump was in pieces and there was gasoline all over the porch. He covered it all with sand and gravel to soak it up, and went to bed. He left earlier than normal to check the water line before going to his mandatory volunteer road crew shift. I woke up to the mess. No water to clean it and kids that wouldn’t stay out of it.
Later that day I heard the sound of water! The water was flowing from the hose. I grabbed the five gallon bottles and filled them. This water is filtered for drinking and used for cooking. I used most of the first bottle that day. When I got to the bottom third, I saw something in the water, so I took it outside to get a better look. My worst fear was revealed when I discovered that there was a WORM swimming around in my bottle. It was alive and moving. I dumped the water, bleached the bottles and now we wait again.
Sometimes, Mexico wins.
The wood carver
I had been in Mexico for about six months when I set out to find some wood furnishings. I hoped to find a cabinet for my dishes, amoung other things.
We drove through the congested city streets, parking periodically to get out and walk. We looked in furniture stores, outdoor markets and junk shops. It was hot. I was not seeing anything I really liked and had decided maybe I would be better off building my own. So we drove around a different area of town searching for a building supply store. I saw a truck parked on a side street with a display of wooden stools and end tables and stopped to talk to the woman. We asked where we could buy wood to make a shelf to hold our dishes. “Oh, my husband has some nice shelves back at the shop. I didn’t bring any today… Would you like to go take a look?” And with that she gave us directions and we found ourselves driving out past the edge of town.
When we reached the shop, there was a young man sleeping on a rough wood bench. Laundry had blown off the line and there were two dozen unfinished projects scattered around. He startled when we called out to him and almost fell off the bench. We told him that the woman had sent us and he brought us around the side to look at the cabinets. There were many to choose from. I liked the one with the calla lillies carved on the front. The young man called out to an older man who came down to happily chat about his work and the prices. He was soft spoken, made everything by hand and there was somethhing unique about him… He had only one good eye. His carving was detailed and meticulous. I was very impressed by this artisan. We spoke for a long time and eventually loaded up the unfinished cabinet and agreed that he would come to our house the following week to stain the windows and doors.
The next week the man came to do the work and we all ate tacos for lunch. Before he left, I showed him a picture I had saved on my phone of some sunflower benches I loved. He studied the picture with his good eye and said he could make those. We paid him for a job well done and he drove off into the sunset. I admired my first piece of Mexican furniture, pleased that my kitchen was starting to look “real” and went to bed.
Time passed and I forgot about the sunflower benches. Soon I found myself pregnant and started seeing hummingbirds everywhere. So many each day, it seemed as if they were attracted to me. I had never seen so many before! A few months after the baby was born, we were shopping in the city and ran into the woman selling the stools on the corner again. This time she invited us to come look at a love seat she had in the truck. As soon as I saw it I wanted it. There were hummingbirds drinking from tropical flowers carved into the light wood. It spoke to me and I felt like it was made for me. The woman said that the matching chair and couch were back at the shop. I didn’t really want to go see them because I had no money to buy them. I knew I would be wasting our time and would end up leaving disappointed. We went anyway.
When the wood carver saw us get out of the truck he smiled. “It’s a miracle!” he said, laughing. “Come inside…” he said excitedly. He moved some things aside and uncovered the other two matching hummingbird pieces. They were beautiful! He said he made them for me after I showed him the picture the year before. He tried twice to come find us and had given up hope that I would ever come for them. I nursed my baby resting my back against a hummingbird while the men negotiated in Spanish. The next thing I knew they were being loaded up into the truck. I couldn’t believe it! The wood carver agreed to trade them for some tools V had but never used. On the long drive home I imagined how I would arrange them in the room with the fireplace.
It took several weeks to start painting them. I couldn’t decide on a color scheme or if I wanted paint or stain. Little by little I started to see it, and as I saw it, I painted it. Halfway through, my idea changed drastically. The vision was so clear that I had no choice but to go with it. When they were finally finished they were so vibrant and alive… And nothing at all what I thought they would look like. I loved them.
We invited the wood carver back to our house to see how they turned out. He stood back staring at them for a long time, taking them in with his good eye. I could tell that we had seen eachothers vision…. He smiled and said they were beautiful. He seemed very pleased. The funny thing is that I never would have chosen those colors. And for some reason he carved hummingbirds instead of sunflowers…. He had no way of knowing about my connection with hummingbirds throughout my pregnancy…..
It seems that he sees more with one eye than most people see with two…. And those benches are a beautiful daily reminder of the synchronicities that arise when you are on the right path.
Like a good old fashioned acid trip, Mexico has me questioning what’s real again. Is truth nothing more than a matter of one’s personal perception? And does it even matter?
Five full weeks after Ona’s birth and we still aren’t any closer to receiving her birth certificate. Mexico is giving me a run for my money… Literally. Chasing down meaningless pieces of paper has turned into a full time job. Wake up at the crack of dawn. Travel to a dilapidated office somewhere, wait for hours for the right person to tell us no or that we need another piece of paper from here or there before they can help us. We drive through Mexico’s heat and chaos until our brains melt out of our ears, eat tacos somewhere praying the food isn’t tainted, and follow directions that lead to nowhere. Over and over and over again. A sane person would have given up weeks ago. Good thing I have a bit of insanity on my side.
This week we spent the mornings of Monday through Wednesday waiting in lines at the registro civil. Their cozy lobby smells like laundry soap and mildew. The first day we arrived too late, at 9:30am, only 30 minutes after opening. The second day we arrived an hour before the doors opened and waited in the line that had already formed outside. The courtyard is beautiful in the classic Mexican way that I imagined our house would be, but this time we failed to bring all necessary papers again. The third day we brought everything that they said was missing including two witnesses but still there were more papers lacking from our buldging file. Is there a complete list of required documents, I ask. No, there is not.
Early this morning we set out again to hunt for the missing pieces to this puzzle. Arriving at the centro de salud an hour before doors open, a full two hours before the “doctor” arrived. She was about twenty years old and looked like she was headed to the mall, rather than to a clinic to treat sick people. We waited for four solid hours outside. There IS a waiting room, however it remains locked because they don’t want the people to foul the area, as there are no cleaning staff here. We were denied again. This time they put it in writing, at my request, and sent us away with a shifty set of directions to a secret location deep in the bowels of the city. We drove in circles for hours, after the stretch of waiting for hours, with all the kids and everything that comes with that. As a reader, relaxing in front of your phone or computer, you can’t even begin to imagine… The dripping sweat, headaches, inner city sounds and smells, the whining, dry mouth and gnawing hunger on top of the stress… An infant plus three kids under six in tow. No childcare… And we are many weeks in to this routine already.
Arriving at the perscribed location, V jumped out of the truck, leaving us parked precariously on the dirty side of a city street with a styrofoam plate full of tacos dripping red sauce all over everything. Ember was already asleep so I waited with the kids while he went to ask if they could make the paper. He met with the person he was looking for. The man promised that “next week” he would bring the hojas (papers) to the centro de salud in our village. The place where we had already lost hours of our lives waiting, in trade for our original documents. I didn’t realize what had happened until we arrived back in our tiny village with only photo copies and a mexican promise. My heart sank as a wave of nausea hit. This was not part of the plan.
I was in my suegras house searching for the telephone number for the immigration office in Morelia when I realized my documents were missing. There was no time for questions at the moment, as a friendly neighbor had just arrived and was asking V the name of our new baby. He told her the name not once, but three times, and her response was still “como?” or what? Through a tunnel I heard him reply, as I had a hundred times already, “O-na-tah. It means “hija de la maiz” or “daughter of the corn” in English. A look of dismay flashed across the woman’s face. “Aye pobracita, dios mio! No!” Shaking her head she turned away. Having had enough of this particular response, I finally asked why did people keep saying this? No response from V, as usual. Thankful for trustworthy Spanish speaking friends, I fired off my question through cyberspace and was met with a series of answers that raised more questions. To these people here in this poor valley in central Mexico, who believe corn tortillas equal life… People who grow corn, clean corn and sell corn… Eat and sleep and dream corn… The expression “Hija de la maiz” is meant to be derogatory, similar to saying “son of a bitch”! Why, I have no idea. If corn is life, in my eyes it would be wholly sacred and naming a child daughter of the corn would be a beautiful and sacred thing. I have been moved to tears looking at piles of this ancient grain, tracing the rainbow kernels with my fingers knowing that this is not Monsanto corn. This is corn that has passed through wethered hands for hundreds of years and is still sustaining the people in these valleys…. I have sat in tepees and eaten the sacred morning food and one of those four bowls is corn. To me, there is so much meaning in the name Onatah, she represents life. And yet, when the people here hear the meaning of her name, they feel sorry for her. For them, the meaning of her name is a curse. I am baffled that this is how they would choose to express disdain when it is such an integral part of their lives… Like denouncing home birth when they have all infact had their babies at home. This is the first generation here to use the hospital for something as simple and natural as birthing a baby, and yet they are all acting like it’s so out of the ordinary that they don’t know what to do except pass us off to someone else… This entire country has gone insane.
While on the topic of birth certificates, my suegra offered new information that my suegro confirmed, his memory remaining more intact than hers despite his drinking. V was infact born in February, not October. They used a false birthday for his birth certificate because they did not report his birth right away. Hearing this news after the long days we have been enduring, and V infact setting into motion papers that hold a false birthday for Ona as well, something in me cracked. The train of thought derailed following a sequence that went something like this: So he’s an Aquarius, not a Libra… When I met him he told me his name was Jose, but it’s Valentin… He said this is his land and we built all of these things but they don’t even have papers for it… But I also don’t have papers for my baby… They claimed it by planting avocados… But so did everyone else… And isn’t that what they did to settle and claim land in the US?… And didn’t I claim him in a way by creating all these babies?… But who is he really? Valentin or Jose? February or October? And why are false promises so acceptable here? Like accepting an invitation when you know you will not be able to attend… Or like saying yes when you mean no… And what about the papers and the man who said he would send them next week so we could move forward with the birth certificate… And why did Jose order ten pizzas when he only wanted two… Is this why we have been running around like chickens? Because Jose never learned to communicate? I mean because Valentin doesn’t know how to listen? And if his English was so bad why didn’t he ask for clarification or admit his simple mistake of saying ten when he meant two, instead of buying all of those pizzas…. Or ask for directions… And my corn tortillas that never cooked right because they secretly add white flour… All the lies and disrespect that hide from watchful eyes behind neatly folded hands in polyester laps and sierviettas and smiles… and is this REALLY MY LIFE? What is really true? What IS the truth anyway? Is it different depending on who you ask? And does it even matter…?
Smoke billowed out of my ears. The same ears that my melted brain oozed out of earlier. I’m toast. Nothing is as it seems. And perhaps all of those mega doses of LSD I had taken in my previous life have finally caught up with me, as I am falling ever faster down the rabbit hole… Chasing un conejo…..
The engine switched off and I snapped out of my fog and realized that we were “home”, whatever that meant. Jose-or-Valentin got out and started unloading kids. I watched them and felt far away. I couldn’t move. Everything solid was collapsing. I caught his eye for a split second and asked him if he knew about his fake birthday. He said he didn’t. And he said that to him, it didn’t matter. What is a birthday anyway? It didn’t mean anything. He said he was happy passing each day and so what difference did it make choosing one day to be happier than the others… What was the point of measuring time? As he walked away, all I could think about was all of those October birthday cakes I baked. I sat there and watched the trees. They don’t celebrate their birthdays either. I thought about the ebb and flow and how some days time seemed to move so quickly while other days dragged on at a snails pace. Maybe I’m the strange one, clinging to a day. The blow that I felt upon discovering that Ona’s papers would read a false date returned momentarily. I know the true date. And I know the beauty behind the meaning of her name. Does it matter what other people think? I know how trapped and powerless I feel and how much I am struggling to get her recognized by the Mexican government, on the heels of the most freeing and empowering event in my entire life. Why does anyone else matter? Why doesn’t anyone else understand? Why am I balancing on the edge of the postpartum cliff all alone, my only allies trapped in cyberspace? The whole game riding on someone who would rather drive in circles all day or spend a weeks pay on pizzas and doesn’t recognize the magic in birthdays. And in the end, maybe he’s right. Perhaps the best way to ride this crazy wave is to remain unattached to any of it. After all, nothing is permanent, is it?
I sat there and let myself implode while the baby slept. Nothing felt real. Not the passenger seat of the truck, not the barking dogs, not Mexico. Everything I have believed about this place has systematically been shattered. Even the father of these kids is different here. Not just his new birthdate, everything. This has all been building- or rather dissolving- for a long time. And it seems like I’m the only one affected by any of it. The Hopi prophecy advises the people in the river to let go of the banks… Clinging to the shore will rip you apart. This couldn’t be more true in my case. This fast moving river of Mexico and everything in it is so far beyond my control and way past any shred of understanding… My head hurts from trying to make sense of it all. Maybe the true lesson is to embrace the chaos while simultaneously letting go completely…… I’ll let you know how it works as soon as I figure out how. For now, I’m off to chase down some more paper.
We spent the day in Zitacuaro, waiting. We had been getting the run around trying to get a birth certificate for Ona. Everywhere we went, the people said we had to go somewhere else or come back another day. So at the end of another long, hot day of dead ends, we decided to go a different direction. We were going to go speak to Doña Domatilla.
The sun was low in the sky when we headed out. We drove south, past the edges of anything familiar, through pine forests that reminded me of camping. There were only a few scattered houses amoung corn and avocado fields as we continued down the winding road. After a while the empty road became a tiny village, with tiny streets and a tiny church. The narrow roads were lined with parked cars, barely allowing a single lane for vehicles to pass. We had to back up several times due to oncoming locals that felt they had the right of way. It was Saturday afternoon and there was a fiesta happening. All the villagers were milling about in fancy clothes. One man had a belt buckle the shape and size of a pistol, studded with rhinestones, another wore a shiny black shirt with metallic alacranes painted on it. Women balanced precariously in six inch spike heels on the dangerously uneven cobblestone streets and young girls wore puffy princess dresses of every color.
We made our way through the narrow, overflowing streets, out of the town and back into the open countryside. There were donkeys and cooking fires, adobe houses with old women sitting in doorways and more corn fields. We continued on until we came to a small house with a long dirt driveway that looked like all the others. We cautiously turned into the open barbed wire gate. A young man and a very old man stood there staring at us. One held a chainsaw, the other held a machete and there were a dozen skinny dogs approaching. I stayed by the truck with the baby while V spoke to the men.
Sensing that everything was friendly, I joined the men who quickly invited us to the porch for the obligatory glass of Coca-Cola. They brought wood frame chairs whose straw seats had long since rotted out and had been replaced with sloppily woven ropes. I hesitated, fearing that the tangle of strings would not hold my weight. The men spoke in Spanish and I didn’t catch most of the conversation. I watched the turkeys, as the hand full of small children watched me. I was intrigued by the boy and girl, maybe five years old, who sat beneath the avocados plucking a chicken. There was a giant black pot steaming on a smokey fire and the laundry hanging on the line flapped in the light breeze. We ate guavas and when the men finished talking, got back in the truck.
We drove fifty yards to the next driveway. There were cows, avocado and orange trees, and I could see Doña Domatilla sitting on the porch cleaning the corn. She was happy to see us. We sat down and drank another glass of Coca-Cola and talked to her while she pulled dry kernals of rainbow colored corn off the cobs, occasionally throwing a hand full to the chickens congregating nearby.
Doña Domatilla is a traditional midwife and curandera, who spent most of her life serving rural women. She doesn’t attend many births now, as most women prefer to go to the hospital. She is the first person in Mexico that didn’t think I was crazy for having my baby at home. I liked her instantly.
When we returned the following day with my mother in law, it was Sunday and the town was deserted. We passed the tiny church, the donkeys and the corn fields and soon we were pulling up to Domatillas house. There appeared to be no one home. The chickens and turkeys wandered around and the cows mooed. A few minutes later Domatilla appeared on her porch and invited us inside.
We entered through a low door, down a narrow hallway and into her spacious open air kitchen. The room was large and you could see sun light shining through the gaps in the wood siding. There was a cement floor, two wood burning cook stoves, an earthen oven and several old appliances. I noticed an ancient electrical cable cutting through the open space below the disproportionately high tin roof. We all sat down in cracked plastic lawn chairs and the two old women proceeded to have a very long conversation, in spanish, in which I mostly only listened. After some time passed, Domatilla stood up and walked out the door. She was gone for a long time, and when she returned, she was carrying a large arm load of fragrant flowering plants. She set about tearing them into smaller pieces and making a circle in the center of the kitchen floor. Eyeing her work, and then us, she shook her head and walked back out the door. She came back quickly carrying a dozen more plants and added them to the circle. She placed two piles in the center of the circle and instructed V and I to remove our shoes and stand on the plants inside the circle. She closed both doors with their wire latches. We stood there, barefoot, for several minutes and I wondered what was going to happen. I watched her shove a lemon and a bunch of herbs in my mother in law’s blouse. I couldn’t understand much of what she was saying so I had no idea what was coming next. She quickly threw alcohol onto the ring of plants on the floor, lit a match and tossed it in. The circle ignited! Tall purple flames danced all around us, licking the hem of my skirt. I was startled and pulled the blanket closed over the baby’s head. She was in there with us, in my rebozo. I was watching the fire, not Domatilla. Then I saw her out of the corner of my eye with a large bunch of herbs in her hand. She took a mouthful of the alcohol, blew it on the plants, quickly lit them on fire and began reaching through the flames to hit us with the burning plants! Wide eyed, I gasped loudly and V laughed at me. “I told you… don’t cry” he said, as he grabbed the edge of my skirt and held it away from the fire. At this point I became concerned that my hair could catch on fire, and I wondered what on earth could possibly be next…
As the fire died down, Domatilla approached with the bottle of alcohol. I could see various plants floating inside. She took a quick mouth full and blew it out forcefully all over my face. Again on my chest, back, hands and feet before moving on to V. When he was soaked as well, she tipped the bottle upside down over his head, then mine. My hair was drenched and my eyes were stinging and then she disappeared.
She came back with a clear-white stone that resembled salt. She called it alumbre. She rubbed pieces of it all over us, seperately. She pressed many small pieces in to the palms of our hands and told us to rub it on the soles of our feet. When we finished we were to retain a small piece and throw the rest into the flames. She re-lit the circle. She told us to jump out over the flames. As soon as we did, she began pushing the burning pieces into the center. She poured even more alcohol. The flames leapt up again. The alumbre appeared to melt. We were instructed to let the fire burn the bottoms of our feet, and she placed two chairs at the edge for us to sit on. When we were done, she tossed the lemon and the herbs from my mother in law’s shirt into the flames. These were protecting her… At some point during all of this, my three small children who were watching intensely, also received a cleansing. Domatilla blew a mouth full of alcohol on each one, and they each tried to run out the door. However, they quickly returned to where they had been sitting watching us. They loved the ring of fire.
The fire burned all the way out. Domatilla returned to the table, sat down with my mother in law, and resumed their conversation as if nothing had happened! I sat there in the plastic lawn chair, stunned, trying to collect myself. After a while, I reminded V that I wanted her to “close my bones”… She disappeared again.
When she returned this time, she was empty handed and told me to come with her. I gave sleeping Ona to Valentin and followed the old woman into a small bedroom. The walls were adobe, there were no windows and there was a rough wood loft in part of the room. On the floor next to the old bed was a woven straw mat with frayed edges and a blanket neatly folded on top. Again, I was instructed to remove my shoes and lay down on my side. She poured strange smelling herb infused oil on her hands and pushed and pulled my shoulders, hips and head. It felt as if she was sealing or closing any gaps. This was not intended to be a relaxing massage. I turned to my other side, then lay flat on my belly. She kneeled over me, her hands forcefully pushing with much more strength than she looked capable of. Doña Domatilla is a very strong woman! I heard my back pop several times and she pulled my head towards her in such a way that I wondered if it may come off! She pressed my hip bones together and held it for a minute or so. I noticed that she seemed to be able to sense places that hurt or needed adjusting. Next I rolled onto my back. She continued to push and pull, but now she asked me repeatedly if I had “duele” (pain). When she finally stopped, she looked up and said Gracias a Dios… V translated the rest of what she said, which was more or less, thanks to god the birth went well and I am healing without intervention. I would argue that the birth went well and I am healing nicely BECAUSE there was no intervention… But I left it as it was. Thanks to God… When all was said and done, she gave each of us a bag of white beans she had harvested, some lemons and half a dozen small pumpkins. We paid her eighty pesos to replace the alcohol she used and I agreed to come back when I had fourty days postpartum.
We drove back through the tiny village, this time there was a street full of men in cowboy hats. No women or children in sight. V told me that the men were all drinking… It was Sunday afternoon.
As the truck sped over the decaying asphalt, I felt myself getting very tired. All the kids were sleeping by the time we reached abuelas house to drop her off. There were people gathered there so we went inside for more Coca-Cola and posole. We stayed until the sun was setting. When we finally got home, V lit a fire in the fireplace and reminded me that we still needed to burn the small pieces of alumbre we had been wearing. We tossed them into the flames and again they appeared to melt. We watched the fire for a while and then went to bed. It had been a very long, very strange day.
Pregnancy and Freebirth Journey
Solo UBAC/Lotus Birth
*** Preface ***
I woke up before dawn the day of my 36th birthday. The air was cold enough to see my breath in the candle light. Valentin drove the kids and I for a long time, north and east, through the winding, unmarked mountain roads of Central Mexico. I watched the sky illuminate and change colors as we drove the pick-up truck until it couldn’t go any further. We walked up hill through the freezing cold mountain air until we came to a large open meadow. I stood in the dew soaked grass, my baby snugly tied to my back, and thought “This is it!”. I was about to begin the journey into the clouds, into the realm of the butterflies…
I believe that birthdays set the tone for the entire year. I wanted to do something unique and amazing and breathtakingly beautiful, but I had no idea how difficult it would really be. Or how significant and life changing… As I climbed the nearly vertical trail, grabbing roots and rocks to pull myself up, I was sure that I would never make it. As I took in the vibrant green forest around me, my heart was pounding out of my chest and my legs shaking uncontrollably. I had to rest so often. The kids (1, 3 and 5 at that time) were all crying. I wanted this with every fiber of my being, but it was breaking me. Not knowing how close we were, I sat on a rock and cried. I started walking again as the path leveled out for a moment. We rounded a corner and I found myself instantly engulfed in a shimmering cloud of butterflies. Suddenly it was silent. Sun rays lighting up golden orange wings, everything around me appeared to be vibrating. The sound on that mountain top imprinted in my heart forever. Sacred medicine journey, quivering breath drawing in the unnamable. I had entered their world, as I was clearly no longer in my own….
A few months later I felt like I was pregnant. I received many signs and then my moon cycle never arrived, confirming what I had suspected. It was corn planting time here. This is where the story of my fifth child begins…
I never tested, I just knew. For a long time I didn’t tell anyone, not even V. Several months passed as this mysterious potency grew within me. Like the sky just before dawn, the light was building and would soon spill out over the mountain tops. And so it did.
I spent the first five months on our land in central Mexico. I live in the tropical mountains of Michoacan, in the Sierra Madres. Surrounded by lush avocado and bananna trees, green hills rising out of the valley full of ancient corn. Here, there is more hard, physical labor than one could ever imagine. Though this is my fifth full term pregnancy, it has been completely different than the others. Nothing could have prepared me for how emotionally, spiritually and physically challenging this pregnancy journey would be. A true reflection of my climb up the butterfly mountain.
This is my second completely unassisted pregnancy. Meaning no prenatal testing, no ultrasounds and no doctors. I chose not seek out a midwife or anyone else outside of myself to check in or tell me how I was doing. I did not even use a fetoscope to check heart tones at any point as I had in my last pregnancy. Instead, I listened to my intuition and to my body, felt baby’s positioning with my hands and cultivated an unwavering sense of trust. I deeply surrendered to the perfection of whatever was unfolding before me.
I did choose to allow the use of a doppler one time to check heart tones, as it was required for a pregnancy confirmation. Because I would be birthing outside of the US and declaring a birth abroad, claiming baby’s US and Mexican citizenship, I felt it would be wise to have my pregnancy documented and on record somewhere in the US. So when I visited family in the states for a month, I also visited a good friend who is a CNM, at her office, to put myself officially on the radar before heading south again.
After returning to Mexico, I had a few episodes of preterm labor, which was a first for me. Once around 29 weeks and again around 33. We got through it and baby stayed in. Stress, work load and dehydration were contributing factors. I also had a day with some bright red bleeding around that time which resolved itself. Baby was favoring the breech position as well, as had two of my other babes (one resulting in a natural frank breech delivery). When she finally swam head down around 34-35 weeks, she stopped moving for a few days. This was one of many deep lessons in trust and following my intuition. I felt her head wedged at an angle on my pubic bone. I gently lifted ever so slightly, she shifted a little and very soon she was active again as usual. Once I made it to 36 weeks, I felt myself relax a little, knowing that I would feel comfortable delivering this baby at home now, whenever she chose to arrive…
Around the middle of the 38th week, I began noticing regular waves as soon as I layed down to put the kids to sleep. They were mild with only minutes between them. As I lay there, all I could think about was planting onions! It was very dark and quite cold outside, yet I could barely contain the urge to put on my boots and sweater, grab the hoe and till the dirt by the light of the moon and my headlamp. I reluctantly stayed in bed, not wanting my youngest to wake up alone, and rode the waves until they fizzled out around midnight. I planted the onions the next morning, and I distinctly felt the baby move down as soon as I stood up from planting the last row.
Soon the men were in the field, harvesting the corn under a thick blanket of fog. I had the feeling that the baby would be here as soon as all the heavy sacks were stacked up under the red brick arches. She would be “hija de la maiz”, child of the corn, in the most literal way. Conceived at the time those seeds were burried and born just after the harvest…
The day after all of the corn was picked up was my “due date”. I was sure I had at least a week or more until the baby would actually arrive, and had a shopping trip to the city planned for the next day. That evening I layed down with the kids to go to bed, and as soon as everyone in the house was sleeping, the first wave came. It was strong but not painful. A few more rolled through me and I got up and went outside to the bathroom. When my headlamp revealed pink tinged toilet paper, I wondered if I would have to cancel my shopping trip…
I lit a candle in my kitchen and sat down for a while. The quiet was nice. After having several rushes in the chair, I decided to do what the wise women say, and try to ignore it and get some rest. I thought it would fizzle out soon and staying awake would leave me exhausted for the big trek in the morning, so I climbed back into the bed. Each time a wave washed over me in the bed, however, everyone in the room would toss and turn. This happened every time and began to irritate me after a while, so I went back to the kitchen. I sat there in the candle lit darkness for a long time. Thinking, feeling, wondering, waiting… Never believing that I was truly in labor. My mind felt too clear. I was far too present and aware for this to be labor…
To understand how this is all unfolding, picture that our home is quite small inside. There are three rooms with serapes hanging in the doorways between them. Our bathroom is outside… I wandered in and out through out the night, in my sweater, skirt and sandals, silently. The stars were bright and the crescent moon hung in the sky. After an elongated stretch of time spent pondering the possible reality, I finally decided that I should get my stuff together just incase this baby was really coming tonight.
Between rushes I moved through the house like a thief in the night, gathering blankets and towells and remedies. Barefoot, silent, stalking. Let them all sleep deeply, I prayed. I made a nest on the concrete floor in the kitchen, lit two more candles and burned some cedar. I drank water. The last thing I grabbed was the oil heater. This was not easy. I had three rushes on the way to the bedroom and three more on the way back pushing the heater. It made me laugh to think of how I must have looked…
With everything set up, I decided to lay down and see if I could sleep a little. At this point the sensations shifted and became much more intense. I began breathing like an animal and heard myself making noises. V woke up and came in to see what was going on. He stood there for a while watching me, said something odd and then went out to get wood for the fire. This was the best thing he could have done. He kept himself busy in the next room with the fire and left me alone.
I continued to move in and out of the house. The bathroom was nice and though it was cold, felt very comfortable. My water broke while I was staring at the stars and I heard myself say out loud, “GO BACK IN THE HOUSE NOW”. That was a long walk back to the door. I stood bracing myself on the table, watching the flickering candle flames through a few all encompassing waves. I had the very clear thought that I needed to get down closer to the ground. I sank down onto my knees and hung over the woven straw seat of a chair. As soon as I did this there was a long pause. I felt completely normal and even had the thought that this would be a good time to go back to sleep! As if perhaps it was suddenly over. Then an indescribable force rocked through my body. Downward energy flowing like a raging river. Fluid heat, crashing and swirling and pulling everything down with it. Gripping the rough wood, I felt burning. The door was opening. The birth force was bringing the baby through. I heard myself unleash a wild sound and felt myself stretch. “Head!” I yelled… “Baby!” I quickly corrected, as I felt everything pass through me at once. Then suddenly I heard V behind me, in shock saying, “Oh Shit! Get the baby!”
I gave birth on my knees wrapped in a blanket. Shrouded in the darkness of my candle lit kitchen, my third daughter flew through the door like lightning into a nest of blankets. There was no time to catch her. I heard the wailing in the blackness and turned around to scoop her up, slippery and still connected to me. It was only at that moment that we realized the baby was really coming that night.
Valentin turned on the light in the middle room where the fire was blazing. He pulled the serape to the side allowing enough light to come through to where I was sitting with baby. He found dry towells and blankets for us and he was the one to notice the rare, true knot tied in her umbilical cord. After examining the knot we realized we hadn’t checked to see if it was a boy or girl. We both thought boy for sure, and were very surprised to see that she was a girl!
After a while I felt like I was ready to release the placenta and move to a more comfortable spot. It came out easily and then the kids started waking up. All three crowded around us on the kitchen floor in amazement. My four year old said, “Oh, hi baby. Now we get to eat the yummy things in the freezer!” And so at 2:30 in the morning, we put the lasagna and the pear-apple crisp into the oven and got back into bed to rest while they baked.
I took some motherwort tincture and homeopathic arnica. V brought me a cup of hot coffee. I drank what felt like gallons of water. Baby stayed connected to her placenta, which was draining in a plastic strainer inside a bowl next to her. She and I were both very alert and awake while the others slept until sunrise.
After breakfast I sat by the fire and washed the placenta with warm water. When I took off two chunks with my fingers to make medicine, I noticed she startled a bit. I thanked her and her placenta and dropped the pieces into alcohol. I packed the placenta front and back with Himalayan pink salt, ground lavender and cedar and calendula flowers from the garden. I wrapped it up in a cotton diaper and placed it in a little basket next to her. She seemed to enjoy it and the kids were taking it all in as well.
Over the next several days, we kept the house hot. I repacked the placenta in salt and herbs and new dry cloth diaper twice a day. I let the sun streaming in the windows shine on it and the cord as we lay in front of the fire. By the third day, the cord was dry except for the knot, which I coated with dried ground cedar in the morning. By sunset the knot had dried out and turned brown like the rest of the cord.
The fourth day was challenging for me. The cord became completely stiff but was still very much attached. It was difficult to move her around, and at that point I felt ready to move a little more. A real lesson in patience. After contemplating severing the connection, I began asking myself why I felt the need to rush this or move it along at my pace? This was hers. This beautiful brand new birth space will never come again. So I asked my medicine cards what was happening with her, her cord and her placenta. I drew the Deer. Regeneration and renewal. Finding your calling. The picture speaks volumes… To me it looks like the tree of life transferring all that you will become, through the ring of your own eternal history unto a child with open arms… All overlaid on the head of a deer.
I had a dream on the fifth night that she let go of her cord. The sixth day I saw that it was hanging on by a thread. I sat watching her most of the day as she slept peacefully. She grabbed her cord several times and I wondered each time if that would be the moment, but each time she let go. Part of me was ready to be able to pick her up easily and carry her around. But part of me felt sad knowing that these sacred days of sitting by the fire, building alters to the wholeness and beauty of creation, were coming to an end. Everything woven in this new beginning is woven within us and will live through each new dawn…… That night I wrapped her and her placenta up in a blanket, still connected, and went to sleep.
The garden was full of giant white calla lillies that had just bloomed when I went outside in the morning. Baby seemed much more awake and alert as she took in her surroundings. She kicked off her cord as soon as I unwrapped her blanket. She shivered and let out a little squeek, and smiled. Lotus born on the seventh day.
They say that anyone who witnesses a lotus birth is healed. I believe that this is true. Valentin was against the idea and asked me several times in the first few days to cut the cord. Then one day, while she was laying there with her placenta unwrapped in the basket, with flowers and crystals and shells, and the morning sun streaming in… I saw him stop to watch her. I could see that it touched him deeply and saw something shift and soften. Not that he was less masculine, but that the masculine element had taken in a deep healing. The wound of sepertion was no longer active and needing to prove itself. I could see this new reality manifesting in many subtle ways over the next several days. My children would gather around her placenta and say how beautiful it is and my four year old even told me he loves it. This birth has been a blessing for our whole family.
I used to read birth stories about women moving through labor, with these amazing, supportive partners, and feel like I was missing something. It made me angry in a way that my kids dad was so reserved and didn’t offer loving words or counter-pressure or massage, we never stared into eachothers eyes and didn’t experience that bonded connection that I so often read about. It took me five births-four with him present- to figure out what I really needed. I didn’t need to borrow his strength, I needed to find my own. I didn’t need him to love me and tell me I was doing great, I needed to find a way to deeply love and encourage myself. I needed to claim my own truth and beauty and surrender completely, instead of falling into the safety net of somebody’s waiting arms. This time, I needed everyone and everything to step out of the way. And he did. He allowed me to find my way, while holding his natural place. I finally came to honor his natural place because I learned to hold my own. This too, is a dance. I finally feel like I got it right. I feel whole and complete. I had my dream birth down to the details, and I am in awe that it really happened.
My labor was five hours from the first contractions until she was born. This was my fifth birth after having a natural breech birth, an unnecessary cesarean and two hospital VBAC’s. I freebirthed my baby, alone in my candle lit kitchen, in the rural mountains of Central Mexico. Like the climb into the butterlies, I suddenly found myself in a place of raw and potent power. The space between worlds where new life enters, wrapped itself around me like a blanket of stars, holding me and my new daughter as I too came through the hoop and was powerfully reborn.
Onatah Tecolote Miranda
Born December 3rd, 2016
Walk in Beauty… 💗