Embodied Birthing; the Power in the Process

“Pick up your baby,” our midwife Luz stated simply and directly. It was the most intense moment of my existence as I stared into the water in amazed wonder at the baby that had just swooshed out of me and into the bathtub. Had she not told me to do so, I now wonder how long it might have taken me to register that I needed to gather my child from the waters and into the new atmospheric existence with us. This moment remains frozen in time for me as a pause between breaths, between worlds, between periods of incredible effort and surrender, between maiden and motherhood.

This moment was an incredible gift; not only the meeting of our first child Elijah Rumi, the ancient wise one now held in my arms like a slippery fish, but the gift of empowerment our midwife offered to us in that very moment. She gave us a chance to do it differently; to claim this new being’s birthright, to take the power back into the hands of the mother as the first one to touch her own child. I now clearly see how this moment was her greatest gift to me.

The magic of home birth is a right of all women to choose how, where and when we wish to birth, to not be told by the current institutional idea of how it “should” be done. With more than 85% of hospital births here in Guatemala ending in cesarean, we chose to abandon a system that would surely abandon us. Living at Lake Atitlan we are 90 minutes away from the nearest emergency service in our little village, yet I knew that my own mother far away on the other side of the world had more anxiety than any of us present.

Instead we simply chose to trust. My only intention was to remain at home, and although one can never know what may unfold throughout the birthing process, I believe that deep faith in the wisdom of the female body and trust in our inner strength and capacity are our greatest allies. We are the product of a “100% success line of natural birthers” Luz reminded me in one of our initial prenatal visits. It is in our bodies, our blood and of course, our ancestry to know how to give birth naturally.

It began on a Friday afternoon during a magical massage at home with a trusted friend. I began to feel the ‘expansions’ and knew my journey was about to unfold. The light rushes of energy continued into the evening and my beautiful partner Jaya and I laid down to get some rest knowing we were possibly in for a long night. We didn’t sleep, perhaps too excited, and observed in amazement as hours passed and each rush of energy turned on the outdoor sensor light on the other side of our bedroom wall. Divine energy was moving through me, pouring into our little house filled with love and the light from many candles of blessings and supportive intentions from our closest friends.

After the first eight hours the rushes were now intense enough that sleep was no longer an option. I began sounding out loud and Jaya matched my voice, toning together the entire night. Through each expansion he held and rocked me in his arms beside the crackling of the fireplace until the sun dawned a new day.  Soft music accompanied us in our intimate ceremony bringing new life into the world.

Our midwife Luz arrived around breakfast time finding me half naked leaning over the dresser and swirling my hips through the expansions with a hot water bottle balanced on my lower back. I was by this point very happy to see her. She told us we were in active labor and began to settle in for the day with us. The day was long. I spent an hour in the shower rolling on the exercise ball, then moved back and forth from the bed, onto the jungle gym of yoga mats on the floor, to the sofa, back to the ball, and to the fabrics hanging from the roof over and again. At one point we moved outside into our garden but I felt too exposed and uncomfortable knowing our fencing was not private enough for my need to feel free to express in each intense moment.

I wanted to be in the water. With all my being, I longed for the comfort of a bathtub of hot water. But Luz wouldn’t let me until I was further along, worried it would slow the process down. So I went back to the shower. Jiya, our beautiful doula and Kula sister must have massaged my lower back for hours on end. She stayed with me through each moment, holding my hands as the water rained down on me providing some relief. The entire experience was surreal. Absolute presence with body and breath, yet I was also somewhere else in my own journey.  A journey of complete surrender and dynamic inner revolution, allowing my own self to become known as mother, yielding to my body, my baby and my capacity to let go of it all, to allow it to unfold as it needed to be. 

Now I won’t say that it was an “ecstatic” birth and I sincerely wouldn’t recommend that anyone hold an expectation for some fantastical orgasmic experience. There was pain. In fact, there were 22 hours of what felt like someone literally drilling with machinery into my lower back at five minute intervals. Indeed I howled. My neighbors knew the exact moment my son was born. Yet the practice of yoga has taught me time and again that, “this too shall pass”. Pain does not need to be suffering and by allowing breath, sound, and movement to be powerful tools we can move through each experience with the grace of empowered embodiment.  Between the expansions, I purged everything that was not in resonance with what was being born, and in that there was little rest. Dissolving all that would not serve me, I released and purified time and again into my bucket.


A few hours after dark Luz and Jiya looked like they were settling in for the evening and I thought I would not bear another whole night of this. Close to despair I told them I was going to need some good news soon. Moments later my waters broke and drenched the sofa; I was now allowed to get into the bath tub. “Thank god, thank god, thank god, thank god”. Relief was coming. We transitioned, now fully dilated and I got into the tub. Luz, Jiya, Jaya and our dog Indy present as each expansion now drove a new energy through me, pushing with the force of the universe this new being into my pelvis and out into the world. It will always be the most intense and beautiful experience of my life. I remember how the wind howled moments after Jaya shared a beautiful prayer to welcome our son into the world. I remember each sensation as my pelvic floor expanded beyond what I could have ever imagined possible. I remember Luz calmly slipping the cord from around his neck after he had crowned, I remember our son was asleep and peaceful as I lifted him into my arms. And I remember Indy’s confused expression as Elijah sang his first song into the world. Together in the bath Jaya and I celebrated our new parenthood. I sipped raspberry leaf tea, while he held his son for the first time, and my placenta floated above the bloody water in a bowl between us. Life in its fullest expression is bountiful, blissful and beautiful. My beloved Jaya had been intensely present for 30 hours, holding and rocking me through the journey. I am forever grateful for all of the loving care I received from him, Luz and Jiya.

Having the support of an amazing community, our friends brought us delicious nutritious meals for the next two weeks. We stayed home in bed for days and delighted in the perfection of our little Eli. Jaya doted on us as I recovered the strength to get up and down the stairs. I was able to integrate the experience completely at home with Luz’s support and advice, as well as her wonderful Moxa and cupping treatments. I honored my body with massage twice a week, and a series of abdominal massages for my womb from local Mayan midwife, Dominga, and her protégé Mariú, drank herbal teas and elixirs like Dong Quai gifted from loving friends, and later incorporated treatments for both Mama and baby from our wonderful neighbour and pediatric chiropractor Amy. 

Each day we continue to fall more in love with this perfect un-traumatized being. I am eternally grateful for the blessing we have had to be able to bring him into the world in such a peaceful and natural way. I am grateful for the miracle of life itself, for our incredible capacity we as women have to birth. I imagine it will forever be the most empowered and embodied experience of my life. 

Let our prayers be to bring our babies into the world consciously and free. May all women feel empowered through their births. May this world be a birthing place for a new humanity.

hayley tennyson