A beautifully written letter by this Dad to his newborn daughter. Thank you Jen, Justin and Aurora for letting us be part of your journey as a family!
The Birth Story for Aurora Jalu
We discovered we were pregnant on September 20th, 2018, first thing in the morning. At that time we were living in a village north of the Arctic Circle and we didn’t want to raise you there, so we decided that since we still wanted you born at the tippy top of the world, we would give Fairbanks a shot. A couple months later, I was in Anchorage – which was our other option, and one not quite so close to the top of the world – when a massive earthquake hit. At the time, I thought, “Nope. Fairbanks it is.”
In April 2019, we moved to Fairbanks when you were almost ready to join us. We settled into an apartment, I started working at a new job, and your mom and I kept all our appointments at the Alaska Family Health and Birth Center. The weather in the city, throughout April and May was mostly pleasant. It was rarely too hot or too cold, the sun shone often during the day and there were times when the sky – with huge white, cotton candy clouds – seemed to stretch on in every direction forever. We were both so happy. On one random Thursday night, lightning struck a forest a few miles west of the city and started a wildfire that grew to massive proportions by the next day. That day was Friday, May 31st.
When I went to work that morning, the entire city was gray, hazy, and smelled of burning smoke. Apparently, the wildfire was consuming almost 30,000 acres of woods and the wind was blowing the smoke into the valley where Fairbanks is located. Other than that, the day went by as you would expect. Your mom and I ordered a pizza for dinner and spent the whole evening together. Outside, the rain started pouring! Inside, at approximately 9:00, it started pouring inside too.
While lying in bed, watching a movie, your mom’s water broke. That means that the sack filled with amniotic fluid ruptured and started gushing out all over the place. Obviously, we weren’t expecting it in that moment, even though we should’ve been expecting something to happen sometime. We had recently read a few articles about labor that told us it wasn’t going to happen like many movies depicted. In the movies, the new mom is in the middle of the grocery store and what seems like a broken water balloon explodes all over the aisle floor and she panics as she begins rushing to the hospital as fast as possible. But that’s just the movies.
So your mom was scared and surprised and I called the birth center to speak with one of our midwives. We met her at the birth center around 10:00 just to have her check your mom out and make sure your heartbeat was good and you weren’t in any distress. Everything looked good so she sent us home to try and get some sleep. She said tomorrow would be a big day and that if we woke up around 6:00 without any contractions, to have your mom drink some nasty stuff called castor oil, which would help stimulate contractions in her uterus and speed us along into active labor.
When we woke up, after having barely slept, your mom had only had a few meager contractions over the course of the night so she drank the castor oil. It was a very unpleasant experience for her. The oil quickly passed through her body and her organs were trying to expel it. Fortunately, by about 11:00, the oil wasn’t the only thing her body was trying to expel. She started having regular and much stronger contractions. You were coming!!!
We arrived at the birth center (for the main event time) just after 1:00 in the afternoon. It was gray and rainy outside and somewhere lightning was flashing and thunder was booming. However, our hearts were sunny and bright because we had been waiting so long for you to join us. Not just the nine months of pregnancy… much longer (but that’s another story). When the midwife, who happened to be Julie, checked your mom’s cervix after our arrival, she informed us that it was dilated about three centimeters (and just so you know, babies don’t come before ten centimeters), which was pretty fast considering at 10:00 that morning, there hadn’t been any real contractions yet. Your mom was going through labor like a superstar already.
She took the next two hours to try some different positions, which is one of the many, many benefits of a birth center. The other is peace, quiet, serenity, and privacy. The lights were dimmed in the beautifully decorated room that shared your name (hence our reason for choosing it). The room had a large bed, a large tub, a shower and toilet, and a lot of other devices to make your mom as comfortable as she could be, while at the same time helping to get you out smoothly. In the end, your mom chose to use few of them. She started in the bed and lying on her side felt the most comfortable for her at the beginning. We read that vertical positions would be beneficial for labor since gravity helps pull you down through the pelvic bone and into the birth canal, but your mom wasn’t having any of that in the moment. She did take a short shower, but other than that, every position she wanted was either reclined or semi-reclined. Afterwards, we considered that the time spent between 6:00 and 1:00 was enough vertical to get your low enough (but that’s just my theory).
By 3:30, she was in the tub. Her plan all along had been to have a water birth and just a few hours into labor, it seems that she was stubbornly sticking to that idea. In fact, when I tried to convince her to alter her position inside the tub, just to mix things up and give you a chance to move around more, she only gave me about fifteen minutes on her knees with her elbows on the edge of the tub before going back to her semi-reclined position again. I have a bad feeling you’re going to be as stubborn as she is someday. The midwife checked her cervix again around 4:15 and it was already dilated to six centimeters. That’s an average of one centimeter per hour – a rate almost unheard of for first time moms.
The next few hours went by slowly for us, me specifically. I knelt or sat by the tub with your mom squeezing my hand for each contraction. It was a calming and comforting space to be in though, so we didn’t mind you taking your time to get here. The intensity your mom was feeling definitely started to pick up by about 6:50 or so. As we moved into 7:00, the other midwife Dana began making regular appearances in the room along with Julie. The two experts could hear the difference in labor stages from the sounds your mom was making. It was quite miraculous that they have that kind of knowledge. I had no idea what was happening and could only sit there like a nerd with nothing to do but helplessly sit by your mom’s side, witnessing her strength and determination as she rode through the pain of the surges. I held her hand and provided words of encouragement, but she was the star of the show until about 7:30, when someone else took over the spotlight…
As your mom began the pushing phase, her grunting grew louder and more forceful. She sounded to me like a power lifter hoisting a few hundred pounds of weight during a dead lift. She opened her mouth wide and exhaled a guttural ‘shout’ with each push. I didn’t have an eye on the clock, but it was only a few minutes between when we first saw your head pushing through to when you were actually born. Julie held a mirror down between your mom’s legs so that she could watch you coming, but your mom was so fierce and intent on what she was doing, she couldn’t bring herself to look. I, on the other hand, did look. I got to see your head slowly emerge and the reflection of your head slowly emerging. Julie told me to put my hands into the water and wait for you to come out completely. She assured me that she would instruct me how to catch you without hurting you. Your mom gave a huge, overwhelming push and your head was completely out and started bobbing toward the surface of the water like a big hairy apple. The hardest part was over. Your mom pushed once more and I caught your head and body as you came out. As fast I as I could, I held you and brought you up onto your mom’s chest. Julie made sure the umbilical cord was in a safe position and then I started crying.
Your mom was hyperventilating at that point. I imagine she was dazed and lightheaded from the exertion and the pain. But Manga was right by her side, coaching her through the breathing and getting her to calm down. Eventually, she looked down at her chest and saw you there, even after she already had you in her arms. I was watching both of you in awe. I had never seen anything like that in my life. I was fighting back the tears, concerned what people would think about me, but I’m not sure why it mattered. But suddenly, it didn’t, because your mom said, “Hi baby. Welcome to our family,” and I lost it. That was the single happiest moment of my entire life. I was on my knees, staring at you and your brave, strong – make that, WARRIOR – mother, a woman who had successfully overcome this difficult, miraculous feat of strength and determination. All I did was watch. I felt small and huge at the same time. But seeing you curled up in a little purple ball in your mom’s arms… seeing the way she looked at you and listening to the way she spoke to you: I’ll never forget that as long as I live. I’ll probably remember it in my next life and in the infinite lives I have after that.
A few minutes later, your mom pushed out the placenta and the midwives bagged it up so that we could salvage the bloody parts for an art print that your mom wanted (you’ll see it someday). They took you and the placenta briefly while helping your mom get out of the tub, slightly clean off, and then get into bed. We wrapped you in a purple towel that we had brought from home (purple was YaYa’s favorite color) and then made the move to get into the bed. We sat together as a family for a half hour or so, just holding you and warming you with your skin and our skin touching. Then there were some minor complications. Your mom was having some cramping and pain issues. So the midwives handed you to me and we sat in a chair in the corner of the room while they worked on your mom in the bed.
Your mom's uterus still wasn’t contracting enough to clear out all the clots so your mom had to get a shot of Pitocin to help out. She also needed a catheter to aid in her emptying her bladder. When all was back to normal, and your mom was better, the three of us snuggled on the bed for another hour and a half or so. You were so tiny and adorable as you starting figuring out how to nurse. The midwives left us alone for a bit of time and when I left the room to throw your mom’s protein-rich meal in the oven, I found that one of them had already done it.
When it came time to cut your umbilical cord – we had already delayed clamping for almost three full hours (which, if you don’t understand yet, is freaking awesome) – we burned it instead of cutting it using a burn box and a couple candles. It was a ceremony that used to be more prevalent than it is now, but apparently it’s making a comeback in places like California and Oregon. We were the first ones at the birth center in Fairbanks to do it. When the cord was burned off, the midwives tied the stump up and then gave you your very first examination. They weighed and measured you and checked all your vitals: eyes, ears, fingers, toes, and they gave you nine out of ten (though tens are rare), which is perfect on the APGAR scale – so you’re already a valedictorian just like your parents were!
Then we ate dinner and visited a bit with the midwives before they went home. Julie spent the night in the room next door, while we spent the night with you in our bed, co-sleeping, and had an amazing night’s sleep; although, truth be told none of us really slept all that much. The next morning, the midwives rechecked your mom and you for a bit, we ate a marvelous breakfast that Julie prepared. Dana made your dad coffee and walked us through some of the paperwork and forms. All the midwives are so amazing in so many ways and I really admire those women and the job itself (imagine being a part of people’s happiest moments in life for your career… it might be something you want to aspire toward!).
The staff and midwives at Alaska Family Health & Birth Center are really at the top of their game regarding prenatal care of both mothers and impending babies. Your mom and I had such a wonderful time getting to know them all and having them direct your care from before you were born through your first few weeks of life. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience at all. Coming to Fairbanks and choosing AFH&BC was really the perfect decision. Everyone should choose to have their labor and delivery with the skilled and nurturing midwives who call the facility home.
So, my daughter, your birth was heralded by the elements: earth, fire, air, electricity, and water. You came into this world amid wildfires, lightning storms, earthquakes, and torrents. I know that means that your life will be spectacular and meaningful. And I can’t wait to watch your warrior change the world!
June 4th, 2019