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.

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Luna’s Birth Story

Today 8 years ago on November 6, 2006 at around 6am Luna was born. Her birth was a home and water birth. We were living on the North Pacific West Coast of my home country Costa Rica, in the small but developing beach town of Tamarindo in the province of Guanacaste. The nearest hospital in Liberia was an hour away and the roads were bad, there were also no midwifes working in the area, actually the only midwife working in Costa Rica (it seams at the time) was in the capital of San José. So we left our bellowed Magic House which sat on a small hill off a dirt road far away from town with only howler monkeys as neighbors and went to stay at my fathers house in La Guaria, Moravia for a few weeks to await Luna’s arrival. I was a single mother and had been raised my daughter Sol, Luna’s year and seven month older sister, on my own but at the time was renting out the bottom floor of the house to a couple who were also expecting and had a beautiful girl Azul nearly 4 months after Luna’s birth. Azul’s mother Andrea was American and her father Diego from Argentina, we where a family and for the next year grew together under the same roof.

I started labor on a Sunday around midnight, right after watching a movie. Exactly as I had with my first born. With Sol, over a year and a half before, I had also gone into labor on a Sunday night after watching a film, Sol was born on Monday around 6pm, as the sun was setting and the moon rising while Luna was born also on Monday but 12 hours earlier when the sun was rising and the moon setting. This is how close and intricate the life of these two sisters has been. There always seams to be a big difference between the first born and the second, as if ones body has figured things out and because I surrendered more the second time around. When I felt labor begin I ate a bowl of soup which I ended up throwing up a couple hours later. I called my midwife Uva and started passing the hallway of my fathers old house. My father wasn’t there since he lives on the South Caribbean coast in the beach town of Puerto Viejo and was keeping this house to have a place to stay when coming to the city. He inherited this house form his parents and has been in the family since before I was born so the house had a lovely vibe to it. Uva arrived around 2am and sometime after 5am when I began to feel the urge to push I got into the pool. Our maid Rosa, whom I had brought from Guanacaste with us to help me with chores, had woken up. I laid in the pool with Uva on one side and Rosa on the other with Sol sleeping ion the room next door, surrounded by female support I began pushing, it felt so different to be laboring in water. Sol was not a water birth though I labored in a jacuzzi for some time during her birth. Everything felt more natural, more elastic, I felt less pressure and burning sensation while pushing in water. We filmed the birth which I have shared with Diana Paul, founder of Love Delivers a non-profit organization where you will find information and videos about Homebirth, EcoBirth and the Motherbaby International Film Festival. Diana used Luna’s birth in a multi­-chaptered DVD compilation titled Five Countries, Six Births, Seven Babies showing homebirths in Guatemala, Costa Rica, France, the USA and Bermuda.

Luna was a very special birth because as rare as it is she was born with her caul intact, I never broke my water, so when she came out she was still inside the amniotic sac. I pushed her out and slowly grabbed her as she floated naturally to the surface, we began slowly to open the sac and take off the slimy transparent membranes, I put her on my chest and began welcoming her into this world. She slowly started breathing on her own and making those little sounds newborns make. After a while when I felt she was breathing well I stood and stepped out of the pool to sit on Uva’s placenta birthing chair. Uva gently massaged by uterus and asked me if I felt any contractions. I felt nothing but still I pushed and there the placenta came all out. What a beautiful piece of human architecture!

As soon as I laid in bed with my precious little Luna Sol woke up and came out to met her, it was such a beautiful and special moment, Sol seamed so wise, I could tell she understood perfectly how baby Luna had emerged from my big belly. Sol held her little sister and kissed her over and over, they had bonded for ever.

Many belief systems hold that being born in the caul is a sign of special destiny and psychic abilities. In medieval times the appearance of a caul on a newborn baby was seen as a sign of good luck. It was considered an omen that the child was destined for greatness. Over the course of European history, a popular legend developed suggesting that possession of a baby’s caul would give its bearer good luck and protect that person from death by drowning. Cauls were therefore highly prized by sailors. Medieval women often sold their cauls to sailors for large sums of money; a caul was regarded as a valuable talisman.

We shall see what the future holds for Luna, at her 8 years of age she has definitely shinned as bright as a full moon, her constant smile a symbol of that.

Esperanza’s Stillborn Story

This November 9th, 2014 will have been a year since Esperanza was stillborn. About 24 hrs after she was stillborn, our family had the chance to say a proper farewell, Coconut style. We were fortunate enough to find a loophole in the hospital rules, Esperanza was a week short of being considered a baby, at her 19 weeks she was still considered a specimen, and since she wasn’t born with a heart beat a proper funeral was not required. So the social worker at the Rhode Island Hospital, Woman and Infant division was able to get a lawyer out of bed on a Sunday morning to come in and sign the release or our precious baby. She was handed over inside of a beautiful box covered with handmade white paper tied with a green silk ribbon, inside she lay on a pink hand-knitted blanket with the smallest hand-knitted pink hat I have ever seen and wearing the smallest white gown, the box then was covered with a handmade small quilt and off we were. As soon as we arrived home sometime after noon the girls were eager to see her, they were full of smiles and excitement, perhaps only a single tear escaped their eyes. What a real life experience for them, they were in awe to see how small her hands, fingers, feet and toes were, she was perfect!
So late that night Papito Jay cut holes into a thick white plastic bag with a black zipper they gave us at the hospital, the girls had gone for a walk earlier that afternoon to collect some special rocks and seashells. Jay, Baba, Sol, Luna, Caribe and I all walked down the dock to where our home Messenger was berthed, it was a beautiful clear and silent night with glass-like water and a sliver of moon, all you could hear as we walked were little Caribe’s words “barco, agua…” We placed the rocks inside the bag, then the placenta and on top of her life bed we placed Esperanza in her white gown, she looked like an Angel! Baba said a prayer, we read a prayer on G-Ma’s behalf, Papi Jay said some beautiful words, we all said our goodbyes and cried our tears as we placed her in the water, she sunk down to the debts of the ocean, illuminated with a flash light the bag looked as if it was flying through the dark water, then Luna through her sea shells one by one…
Most of my nearly 5 month pregnancy was complicated. At week 8 I had what seamed to be a typical miscarriage, a gush of amniotic fluid and a little bleeding. I phoned Uva, our mid-wife a distancia in Costa Rica and she explained that a miscarriage is what it seamed to be, she suggested I allow my body to go through the purging naturally and in a few weeks go get an ultrasound to make sure all is out, this way the uterus can recover and be healthy again. My body didn’t purge much else other than some spotting and I continued to feel pregnant but Uva had already explained how it takes the body sometime to level out the hormones and go back to it’s previous state. So around week 14 I went in for an ultrasound and voilà there was a healthy big baby in there, we were all very surprised so we deduced that perhaps I was caring twins and in the “survival of the fittest” one didn’t make it. But after this ultrasound I began passing small blood clots and having strong scrams every few days. I though maybe finally my body was releasing the lost twin but wasn’t sure so I began seeing a group of mid-wives who also couldn’t figure it out so around week 19 they sent me to a placenta specialist to determine what the problem was. By then Jay and I had already done our own online search and with my symptoms deduced I had placenta abruption which means separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus. The specialist after a long ultrasound (which by the way I am completely against during pregnancy) could only tell that the existing baby’s placenta was attached close to the cervix which could mean that perhaps there was placenta previa at the very beginning of the pregnancy. Placenta previa is when the placenta is blocking the neck of the uterus. This specialist also noticed that on the other side of my cervix was accumulated a lot of old blood clots which where causing my bleeding and spotting. So perhaps a combination of placenta previa and a twin were the cause for my complicated pregnancy but he assured me that the existing baby and it’s placenta were fine and that once all of those blood clots came out I should be able to have a normal birth.
So 3 days later on Saturday November 9, 2013 at 10am when I began having strong cramps and passing blood clots I was positive that I would get rid of these and be done with it. Cramps turned into contractions that got closer and closer together. I was already nearly 19 weeks and had been feeling the baby’s movements for a few weeks but some time that afternoon I stopped feeling the baby. My body was going into full labor so Jay and I decided to go to the hospital, our first hospital birth experience. My previous 3 births had been at a natural birthing center, a home birth and a boat birth. All of the staff at the hospital were very respectful in letting us do things our way and birth naturally without any intervention. I gave birth to Esperanza at 9pm, she came out along with her placenta and still inside her sack, which I nearly tore open with my teeth in a spontaneous and natural reaction if it weren’t for a prepared and attentive nurse that rushed over with a pair of scissors before I gave into my cave woman instincts. I took her out of her sack and looked her all over, she was perfect, she had everything and all her parts were proportional but she didn’t have a heart beat. The nurse wrapped her up in a pink hand-knitted blanket and put on that miniature hat. I could not believe I would have had yet another girl and wondered if I could make a boy at all. If it weren’t for Jay pouring all his energy into me I could have not been able to give birth that night. It was by far my hardest birth experience physically as well as emotionally. I had no big strong baby wanting to come out and helping me birth it, during my contractions I would try grabbing her with whatever muscles we women have in our bellies and uterus to grab babies and push them out but it was like hugging the air rather than a person, I felt nothing to grab to push out, she was only 9 oz. When I was close to giving up Jay whispered in my ear “you can do this”, I am so lucky to have such a strong, supportive and wise man in my life.
I am thankful for the family I have been given, for the health we all enjoy and I surrender to nature and acknowledge that it knows best. For placenta abruption doctors request bed rest or bed arrest, were woman lay in bed for their entire pregnancy to ensure the baby comes to term. Are those babies healthy? Were they really suppose to be born? Or is it modern medicine and desperate parents going against nature? Esperanza perhaps would have never been a healthy person, it was not her time to come to this world, she knew it, or perhaps she wanted to be with her twin sibling. Our entire family accepted her short time in our lives as she grew in my belly. The girls always include her when speaking about our family members, they believe she has become a mermaid and lives in Atlantis.
We knew we wanted another child, an accomplice for Caribe. Sol and Luna being only a year and 7 months apart have each other and are always together, they will be off in their teenage years and Caribe then would be alone so the plan has always been to have another. During our travel plans we always envisioned having a child in Iceland, the extreme opposite of the Caribbean were Caribe was born, just like Sol and Luna are opposites in their own way. So when we got pregnant in Rhode Island a whole new birth plan had started to unravel in our heads. But as it is destiny toke it’s course and here we are in Iceland expecting the child we are suppose to have. I am 22 weeks pregnant, due in mid-March. This pregnancy as opposed to the last one has been a very healthy one, actually the easiest of all my pregnancies so far. I am glad that I allowed my body to do what it knows to do naturally without any unnecessary medical intervention and I believe it is because I have the support and the knowledge to do so that I am so healthy and pregnant again. We do not know the sex of the baby and do not care if it’s another girl (which it probably will be) or a boy or a mongolit@, we will be happy no matter what. Needless to say I feel blessed!

Caribe’s Birth Story

Being here in Saint Pierre, a French island in North America, has reminded us of our time in Martinique, another French island but this one in the Caribbean. Walking the aisles of the grocery store and recognizing all the products we became used to, waking up early (not something natural for us) in order to snag a fresh baguette at the local boulangerie, speaking Spanish with a French accent which seams to work just fine and people seam to understand me perfectly, are all things that have made me think of our lovely 4 months in Martinique. Which we picked as a birthing place because Sol and Luna wanted to learn French and because we wanted to have a boat birth. Most of the children that the girls had met while cruising were French and for the most part the children weren’t yet bilingual so the girls were eager to learn the language to be able to communicate with them and knowing the laissez-faire nature of the French we knew we would be able to have the birth we wanted without quarrels. So it was either Guadeloupe or Martinique and the later was the sailing mecca which meant work for Jay.

So without further ado here is Caribe’s birth story as I have written it to her:

The Day You Were Born

It was summer in the island of Martinique, French Antilles in the Caribbean. We had been waiting for you for about a week after your due date. Baba had been there for over a week and she was only staying for a week or two more, which stressed me out because I needed more help after the birth than prior, and you were in no hurry. Your Papi Jay and sisters Sol and Luna were eager for you to come out as well. I had been having a few false starts during which your father and I would walk the long docks of the marina of Le Marin to try and get things going but you weren’t ready. Your fathers birthday was coming up and sure enough you came the day before.

On the night of February 23rd around dinner time I felt labor start. We all had a lovely dinner together around 8 o’clock. Your father started preparing the pool which we placed in the middle of the saloon floor, bellow the water line, and getting everything else ready. We also set up a placenta birthing chair in the V-birth, naturally. Labor quickly escalated and by the time the contractions were strong Baba, Sol and Luna had all fallen asleep, perfect, now I could go into laborland. We had closed up the hatches and windows, placed small candles all around (a touch of las Chicas), had some incense burning and soft music playing. Your father was at the galley with 2 big pots heating up water for the pool in his speedo, he looked very sexy. I stood at the mast, which is keel stepped and a strong structure inside the boat on which I could lean on while I rocked back and forth during contractions. The idea of laboring at the base of this tree like phallic symbol just made perfect sense. Around 2 o’clock in the morning I had the urge to push so I got into the pool hoping to enjoy it for a while but no, you were coming out fast. I was, as always, afraid of tearing so I tried holding you in but my body was pushing hard on it’s own. My moans and screams woke everyone up. Las Chicas were sleeping on the settee on which I was leaning my back on and their heads popped out on both sides of mine and Baba who had been sleeping in the cockpit pocked her head down the companionway. I told Jay you were coming so he got into the pool with me just in time to ketch you. By the time I opened my eyes after pushing you out Jay had already placed you on my chest, you came out so fast.

You slowly started breathing, I was surprised at how wide you opened your eyes and started looking around, it was pretty dark just with candle light which I guess made it possible for you to do so. It was close to 90˙F/32˙C inside the boat which made it very comfortable for both of us. A little time passed, you were now breathing well and had started making little sounds, we were all in a baby mesmerizing state when finally Baba asked “Well, what is it?” The surprise of your sex had been forgotten and didn’t seam to be so important during our state of awe of just your existence. So I lifted you up but I could hardly see it was so dark, we all thought you were a boy but I couldn’t make out a penis, you started screaming as if telling us “I’m a girl! Now put me down!” We were all so surprised, you were perfect and very long. I then got up holding you in my arms and walked to the V-birth where I sat on a V shaped chair with a bucket between my legs to birth the placenta. You started sucking on the breast trying to figure it out. About 20 minutes later I birthed the placenta which came out in one big beautiful chunk. Jay felt the umbilical cord until there was no more heart beat felt through it, then it was safe and time to cut it. Las Chicas were Jay’s little helpers getting him all the tools to cut and clamp the cord. Your father gave a little speech right before cutting your cord, he told you you no longer needed the placenta which had been your life source up until then and that now we would take care of you and that you could breath on your own. He clamped and cut the cord, he gave you that perfect belly button you now have.

I laid down with you while everyone was busy doing things, breaking down the pool, picking up the placenta room, making me food, but once everything was done it was time to rest. You and your father fell deep asleep in the same fetal position side by side on the settee, you looked just alike. Las Chicas toke turns holding you while whispering, they were so gentle and happy. Your birth was a family event, it was personal and perfect in every way.

You were born on February 24th at 2:30am weighing 7.5 Lbs/3.4 kilos

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