Visualizing Birth – Montserrat’s story

Montserrat playing on the beach, San Francisco, 2014

Ten years ago this past May, our daughter Montserrat was born in our San Francisco home in 2011. Back in the fall of 2010, the Visualizing Birth website began as a way of meditating on objects about birth when I was in the first trimester of my pregnancy with Montserrat.

Throughout the pregnancy with Montserrat and well into the actual labor, I used images to visualize her birth. Visualization was something that I had done during the birth of our son Kieran in 2009, a topic written about here and here. However, whereas visualization during Kieran’s birth happened haphazardly, I used the technique with intent in preparation for Montserrat’s arrival.

Montserrat was born in the wee hours of May 18th, 2011 at 3:55am. Like her brother, she was well past her due date, 11 days past. In the days leading up to Montserrat’s birth, I went on numerous walks with my husband Toni and son Kieran, trying to bring on labor. As is the case for many couples who are past their due dates with a pregnancy, Toni and I had become anxious for the baby’s arrival, though we had experienced a late baby with our first pregnancy and so knew that the baby would come on her own time. We tried everything to bring on labor, even seeking out a pizza place in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset, where we had heard that eating their pesto pizza would bring on labor. 

In the afternoon of May 17, 2011, Toni, Kieran and I went for a long walk in our neighborhood, climbing up and down the hills near Alamo Square. It was raining that day, though only lightly. At about 6pm, I felt the first sensations of labor radiating across my lower abdomen. The sensations were significantly different from the ones I had experienced during my first pregnancy. That experience involved intense back labor that had begun with sensations in my lower back.

Also unlike in my first pregnancy, the second time around I encouraged the sensations. I mainly stayed in our living room during the labor, resting on the couch when the contractions came. Well into labor, I looked at images and actively encouraged the process of birth as it was unfolding. I had my laptop open on a cushioned bench in front of the couch and perused Visualizing Birth. The images that I most recall using in the visualization process were David Bookbinder’s photos of blooming flowers, which I had written about here and wrote briefly about here after Montserrat’s birth. In particular, I would look at the images of the flowers and imagine my own cervix opening.

At a certain point during labor, perhaps around midnight, I told Toni that I wanted to labor in the kitchen. This was something we had previously discussed. Our apartment was very small and the kitchen was a cozy space with a den-like quality. Toni went to the kitchen and transformed it. He had previously envisioned how it would look if I had decided I wanted to labor there and had cleaned it while I was laboring. When I moved to the kitchen, the table and chairs were gone and a large mattress with clean sheets and warm blanket were on the floor. Toni had also changed the lighting in the room, which was a warm dim and glowing but not bright. The space felt like the right place for me to continue with my labor.

After the move to the kitchen, labor became more intense. We had called our midwives Nancy and Ami and our wonderful doula Stacy Hattori ,who had also been present and a key figure when our son was born in 2009. However, all three did not expect how quickly labor was progressing and arrived only about 30 minutes before Montserrat was born. Unlike the birthing phase with Kieran, which took over four hours, Montserrat’s birthing phase was short at 20 minutes.

Montserrat emerged and was very energetic, right from the beginning an extremely strong girl who was practically already holding her head up. She had a beautiful pink color across her whole body, one that stayed with her for the first few weeks, signaling excellent circulation.

At 6am on the 18th, Montserrat’s brother Kieran woke up and met his new sister. Toni, Montserrat and I had left the kitchen and retired to the big pullout couch in the living room, a piece of furniture we’d bought before the birth and in preparation for the months to come. The couch ended up becoming the “family bed” for many years. The midwives had left but Stacy was sleeping up in the apartment’s tiny loft space. Kieran was very excited about his new sister. I tandem nursed them, letting Kieran know that he was still welcome at the breast. Kieran held Montserrat’s hand when I nursed them.

At age 10, Montserrat is a strong and very energetic child. She is secure in herself and her being. She knows about how she was born and is proud of the story.