Ártico’s Birth Story

The Day You Were Born…

We had been invited to spend sometime in one of the farthest Vestfir∂ir (Westfjords) of the north of Iceland, Ísafjör∂ur meaning ice fjord, is the largest and most beautiful of all the fjords in the area. With a population of about 2,600 it is located on a spit of sand and despite its small size and historical isolation from the rest of the country, the town has a relatively urban atmosphere while still retaining a small town cozy feeling.

It was a sunny beautiful Saturday and we had been waiting to go on a hike in the snow for some time. Your father had been busy all week and the girls had been promised a family hike in the snow covered mountains surrounding the fjord. Your Grandmother Baba was visiting for the birth, so her, your father, your 3 sisters and I all got ready for the hike, we all bundled up with warm clothes and packed a lunch. We walked out of town toward the end of the fjord and once we got there we walked up the base of the mountain on the crest of a hill which led up to the ski lodge. At times it was difficult to continue on with snow up to our knees and the wind hauling by, nearly knocking us off the hill but as we ascended the view of the town was grand. We reached the old abandoned ski lodge and had walked for about a mile and a half, the new ski lodge lay still another mile up the mountain so we decided to have our lunch in the lee of the abandoned building and after begin our descent. On the way back I began having contractions and at times they were strong enough for me to have to stop walking until it passed, they were still far in between and didn’t last very long. I had already had a couple of false labors that week so I wasn’t sure if this was the day you would come. There are so many myths on things to do to make a woman go into labor and after 4 births, all in different countries and widely varied cultures, it is still a mystery to me. What has worked in one pregnancy hasn’t in the next and vice versa.  By the time we got back to the house and had walked about 3 miles in total contractions continued and we began getting things ready for your arrival. Your father made a delicious dinner while I put together the birth shrine on a table in the living room, there I placed candles, incense, photos of the family, drawings Sol and Luna had made for you and small objects that had a special significance. The birth shrine is a space I can go to during labor, a place that gives me peace and strength. After our usually late dinner, around 10pm labor continued to escalate and I became more sure that you were coming so your father began to set up the pool in the center of the living room, Baba prepared the bed and the girls and I lit candles. Then the girls began watching a movie and by midnight they had all fallen asleep in the bedroom and labor was at full swing. Your father tried to gage how long labor would be but even I wasn’t sure. Since my last 2 births were 6 hours long we thought this was my best time therefore we calculated that you would come sometime between 4 and 6am, so your father was filling the pool up systematically, that way it would be at the perfect right temperature and level at the time I would need it, he filled it slowly and with very warm water. Labor escalated faster than we thought, the rushes (contractions) got very strong and efficient. Labor with you was very different than with your sisters, I did not experience the distinct 3 stages of labor that I did with your sisters. Rushes never got closer than about 5 minutes apart but each one was very strong and I never experienced a clear moment of the “urge to push”, rather the rushes began bearing you down without me really knowing it, basically my body was pushing on its own. When you started crowning I told your father, it was only 2am and the pool was half filled and too warm so your father quickly began pouring buckets of cold water to get the temperature right. When he had it perfect I got into the pool. I had never broken water and as your head began to come out we saw it was covered by the caul: the amniotic membrane enclosing a fetus which looks like a semi-translucent bag like tissue, thought to bring good luck. You were coming out fast and I began to panic a bit, afraid I would tear as my body continued to push on it’s own, but your father calmed me down with his wise and calm disposition. I then toke a deep breath, went “inside of myself” and gently pushed with the next rush. I held your head between my legs while I felt your body turn inside of me, telling me it was now time for the rest of you to come out. On the next rush I gently pushed and your body gently flowed into the water as the sack broke dispersing the cloudy amniotic fluid. Your father had gotten into the pool with me at some point which I can not recall and we both reached for you at the same time slowly bringing you to the surface while taking away the caul which drooped from your limbs. We placed you on my chest as I began talking to you and welcoming you to this world, it was 2:30am on Sunday May 8th, 2015.

After a few minutes I remembered I didn’t know your sex but your cord was short so I couldn’t manage to turn you to see the secret you held between your legs. Your father helped me and even though it was dark in the room I was able to see, to my surprise, that you were a boy. I was delighted, I had finally gotten my boy but my celebration was interrupted by a contraction and my body wanting to expel the placenta. Your father helped me stand up, I held you in my arms as I stepped out of the pool and sat on a couple of stools with a bucket between my legs, a makeshift birthing stool to deliver the placenta. Baba wrapped us up in towels and blankets, you were comfortable in my arms and began to attempt figuring out how to latch on, this immediate instinctual behavior never ceases to amaze me. When the placenta detached from my uterus and dropped into the bucket it pulled you down since the cord was so short. I grabbed the cord near your belly and pulled it up while your father grabbed some nearby books and stacked them underneath the bucket to raise its level. Once this was all sorted and we felt no pulse on the cord, your father clamped and cut it after saying a few words: “I’m going to release you from the mamá and this placenta that has given you life for 41 weeks. Your big enough now that you can be on your own. You can breath and will learn how to suck and drink. We will all take care of you.” Baba then went to wake up your sisters so that they could meet you. After the cord clamping I walked over to the bed, all of the family surrounded us, we were all in awe looking at you and falling in love with you.

I was filled with joy to finally be holding you in my arms. Although your birth felt to both your father and I to have happened faster than we would had liked, it all went perfectly well and it went the way it was suppose to. It was an intimate and beautiful birth in a very special house, town and country. You were born in Albertshús (Albert’s House), a 200 year old house in the center of town where 25 babies had been born, the last in 1944. So in 2015 you were baby number 26 to be born in this house. Herdís Albertsdottir (Albert’s daughter) lived in the house nearly her entire life, she passed away four years ago at the age of 103 and her house has remained the way it was when she lived in it. All her belongings and her spirit are still there, I felt her wise and caring presence during the birth. The photos of her extended family still hang on the walls, we have met and befriended a lot of them who opened their doors and their hearts to us and made us feel welcomed and at home in Ísafjör∂ur.

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Iceland, our winter berth and birth

“Visited by only the most intrepid yachts, a passage to Iceland offers an experience difficult to match anywhere else in the world.” 

Our passage to Iceland was epic, riddled with highs and lows.

Iceland feels like it is centrally isolated.

Sitting right between America and Europe it feels central, a stepping stone in our journey across the Atlantic ocean.

Hovering right bellow the Arctic circle it feels isolated, a vastly unpopulated island of stark beauty, an island of ice and fire, of mighty glaciers, live volcanoes, hissing geysers and boiling lakes and rivers.

Iceland feels uniquely isolated as well as centrally located in the globe.

We picked Iceland as the birthing grounds for our next crew member, the extreme contrast to our last birth in the Caribbean appealed to us. Extreme dualities have naturally played out through our lives, so it feels natural to be here in Iceland to traer a la luz our next crew member.

We sailed into Reykjavík harbor in mid-October of 2014. We spent the first four months there in Reykjavík and are now in the northwest smaller town of Ísafjör∂ur. So we have experienced Iceland’s capital city, it’s majestic and vast country side and it’s quaint small town life in the westfjords.

The European-like, fast-paced and modern city life of Reykjavík surprised us. The amount of wealth, new cars, well dressed shopping-craze citizens, expensive restaurants, and the two-hour limit children’s birthday parties were all a big surprise.

The beauty of its countryside was expected. The expansive open landscapes completely covered in white snow this time of the year. It’s grand towering mountains which look as if they have been painted onto the blue sky. It’s rivers partly frozen but still running due to the waters warmer temperature from geothermal activity. All these things we had envisioned but perhaps didn’t expect for it to be as breathtakingly beautiful as it is, truly majestic.

The quiet slow-paced and snow covered streets of the smaller town of Ísafjör∂ur are what we envisioned it being like in Iceland and I suppose the vast majority is this way.

The Icelander is an educated bilingual person. It’s surprising how nearly everyone speaks very good English and many speak Danish and many other languages as well. Family is very important to the Icelander, they have large families, having up to four children is not rare at all, therefore we feel pretty normal here, at least in that regard.

Our two eldest daughters, ages 9 and 8, have been attending public school here in Iceland and for unschooled (non-curriculum based) children they have loved the school here. The educational system in Iceland has been a nice surprise. It is not heavily academic but rather very hands-on allowing the children to learn practical real-life skills suca as cooking, carpentry, sowing/knitting, library/research, community behavior, social behavior, exercise/health/swimming and even chess.

And finally birth in Iceland. On this topic we had no idea what to expect but thankfully birth in Iceland is viewed as a natural physiological process for women to go through. Icelanders believe women’s bodies still work, natural birth is the norm and all births are attended by midwives. Obstetricians are only involved in births if there are complications needing medical intervention. Home births in Reykjavík are gaining in popularity and in numbers but outside of the capital there are less home births, non in Ísafjör∂ur for example. Water births are very common in home births and in hospitals maybe only 10% are in water but they do have pools in hospitals which is great. But of course unattended home births are rare but we have been allowed and supported by midwives to do it our way, which has been wonderful. We formed a lovely relationship with a midwife who specializes in home births in Reykjavík who has been helping us with the necessary paper work as well as loaning us a birthing pool and helping us acquire all the special things we will need for the birth. Now that we are about a 6 hour drive away from Reykjavík, she has put us in touch with another midwife in Ísafjör∂ur who will help us announce the birth to the system once the baby is born so that we can get a birth certificate. I was even fortunate enough to attend a lecture by the world renown Ina May Gaskin, the mother of midwifery, who happened to come to Reykjavík for a lecture.

So yes, we like Iceland, we like it very much, a great place for this nomadic family to stop at and have a birth, a great country with great people to share our lives with for a short time. No regrets on picking Iceland to winter with our boat and as a birthing place, no regrets at all.