Birth of Monica at the Home of Beatrice Wood

Scan_Pic0012December 16, 2016, 35 years ago
Every year, on December 16th,  I remember the birth of my daughter, Monica Ellen Marshall, at the home of Beatrice Wood. The story that follows was published in the Ojai Valley News a few months after her birth.   
December 16, 1981, Birth of Monica
   So well hidden is the sacred rite of birth in our culture that at thirty-two years of age I still had not actually witnessed a single baby being born.*

   During the first part of my pregnancy my husband Lyn Hebenstreit and I had been living at the home of our friend Beatrice Wood in upper Ojai. I first met Beato at age seven when my family emigrated from Holland to Ojai. We were part of her extended family. We moved back to her house about two weeks before the baby was due.
   Beatrice was almost 90 years old and she had traveled the world but had never seen a baby being born. This was her golden opportunity. I spent the last days of my pregnancy napping, doing prenatal yoga, taking long walks, puttering around the house, helping Beato with dinner parties, and making myself useful.
   Every morning I promised Beatrice that “The baby will arrive today for sure. See how much it has dropped.” After days of unfulfilled promises, Beatrice threatened me in jest with eviction if I didn’t produce something within 24-hours! I finally did go into labor on the very day Beatrice had an important appointment in Los Angeles.
Labor Begins

   My labor began in the late evening with mild cramps. Around 2 a.m. I took a long hot bath, then slept till six in the morning. By 8 a.m. I felt very uncomfortable and tried to convince my husband that the baby would come that day. However, I was not officially due for another week, and he guaranteed me the baby wouldn’t come that day. He assured Beatrice that she should keep her appointment in LA, and then he took off for work.
   By 9 a.m. the cramps were feeling bad and I called up Ananda, the midwife, who lived in Santa Barbara. She said she’d come over about noon to check on me.
   “Noon!” I thought to myself. “That’s three-hours away. I better get ready to have this baby on my own!”
   Fortunately, the woman who was housekeeping for Beatrice that day was also a masseuse, and she periodically gave me a nice back rub. However, the cramps got worse. I finally realized that no one believed me after so many days of crying “wolf,” and that this was the real thing!
   (These were the days before cell phones and my husband and the midwife were both out of range of a landline.)
I tried to vacuum the bedroom and set out the birth supplies. I kept kneeling on all fours to try to get comfortable, just as I did in my prenatal yoga classes. I finally told the housekeeper she better finish vacuuming and cleaning the room for me.
   I was beginning to feel depressed and the constant cramping was wearing down my spirit. Where was my husband when I needed him? Why wasn’t he around to help! I called my youngest sister, Paula, to tell her I “might” be in labor.  She tracked down my husband and convinced him to head on home.
   By now it was getting close to noon. Where was the midwife? I went outside and walked around Beato’s circular driveway a dozen times, trying to time the intervals in between the cramps. I could hardly believe it was all happening in broad daylight.
   I rested against the giant rocks near the house and gazed up at the panoramic view of the glorious Topa Topa mountains. I tried to calm down and orient myself. It felt so good to be out in nature in the warmth of the sun. With the expansive views of the mountains and the vast blue sky above, I felt a deep connection with Mother Earth.
   Finally, Ananda, the midwife, arrived around noon. An internal exam revealed that I was 4 centimeters dilated, 90 percent effaced, and at 0 station. I was progressing normally, but still had a ways to go.
   By then my husband had arrived and the midwife suggested that I might go for a short walk. As I stepped outside, the next contraction was so powerful that I returned to the bedroom. There I had a full view of the majestic mountains from my window. With each contraction I hung onto my husband for dear life and concentrated on the glorious view before me.
   The contractions were much more powerful then I had anticipated. I was thirty-two years old and this felt very different from what I remembered giving birth to my son at age eighteen. It felt like my body was squeezed in a vice…very tight…tighter…and then suddenly, release.
   As the contractions grew ever more powerful, I wanted the company of other women.
   Two friends, who happened also to be labor and delivery nurses and wanted to witness a home-birth, had arrived by now. One massaged my back, while the other gave me a foot rub. I wanted and needed sympathy and support. Just when I began to think I had suffered all I could take, someone would bring me a cold, delicious drink of fresh apple juice spiked with two packets of Emergen C, full of vitamins and minerals.
   Ananda and my husband reminded me to breathe more calmly. By now it was late afternoon and the setting sun was streaming through the window. The sunlight had a powerful, calming effect on me as I assumed a classic seated yoga pose.
   I noticed that my husband’s T-shirt had a tear in it, and I asked him to humor me by changing into a nicer new shirt. Even though by then I was down to my birthday suit, I somehow felt he should dress up for this occasion!
   A few times I tried to lie down on the bed, but the midwife advised that the labor would go faster if I remained upright. At 3:30 in the afternoon I was 10 centimeters dilated–- the point when I could begin to push the baby out.
   As I was walking from the window over to my bed, the bag of primordial waters broke at last. It was like a water balloon splashing all over the rug. I was amazed by the quantity of water and half expected the baby to follow right along, like a fish, swimming out of the ocean onto dry land.
A New Passenger on Planet Earth

Before I began to push, Ananda asked all of us present to form a circle, holding hands, to share a moment of silent meditation to welcome “the new passenger.”
   When I heard her speak those words, I burst into quiet tears and truly felt my heart opening to the new little being about to enter my life. That moment did more to calm and center me than anything else. I felt the love and support of the people around me and the spiritual forces guiding me through this event. As the tears flowed, I was overcome with a sense of release and relief.
   At about 3:45 p.m., I began to push. All those yoga squats practiced every day during my pregnancy were finally going to pay off! I tried various positions — for a while I was on my hands and knees on the floor –- and ended up semi-squatting with my husband and a friend supporting my back.
   All the while the room was being transformed for the delivery. Sterile sheets and receiving blankets were laid out. I heard the tea kettle whistling. Someone brought in a stack of hot oil packs to help prevent tearing. A mirror was set up so I could see the baby’s head beginning to make brief appearances.
   I was overjoyed when Beatrice came home in time for the birth.
   I could feel the deep love and quiet support of everyone in the room.
   I looked out the window and saw that the sun was setting behind the mountains. I was acutely aware that soon it would be night. I was communing with the sun, cooperating, not fighting the process. As the sun began to disappear, someone turned on a soft light. I felt an immense peace descend upon the room. The midwife rechecked the fetal heart tones.
   All was well.
   Just as the contractions were much stronger than I anticipated, the pushing also took longer and required greater effort than I had imagined. My body felt eerie and unreal, and I remember suddenly yelling, “Somebody do something!”
   I looked out the window and saw that the sun had disappeared. At 5 p.m. I gave one more mighty push.
   Forever etched on my consciousness will be the utter relief of the head finally bursting forth, followed quickly by the body. Suddenly a delicious, wet, slippery and very pink little girl was on my breast. Her eyes were wide open and she nursed almost immediately.
   Someone gave me a cup of warm Sheppard’s Purse tea. My husband waited until the umbilical cord stopped pulsating before cutting it. I expelled the placenta soon after.
Buddha Baby

We floated Monica Ellen in a warm baby bath and she looked as if she had just awakened from a deep sleep, very serene and at peace.
   As I looked at this baby I was aware that her gentle, peaceful birth did not disturb her innate tranquility. She was still in the Garden of Eden, our original, unconditioned state. I could sense that she came from Source and was still deeply connected to Source. I will never forget the special feeling of divine energy she embodied, as she was now in this world but not yet of it.
   Ananda quietly asked everyone to leave the room so that Lyn and I could be alone with our new baby.
   Everyone was attuned to the moment and understood it was time to tip-toe out.
   A little while later, my two nurse friends escorted me to the shower. The hot water felt heavenly. What a long, incredible day it had been! I could hear the midwife and Beatrice laughing in the kitchen. I found out later that Beatrice talked about the birth for months afterwards!  (And, in fact, she mentions it in her autobiography, I Shock Myself.)
    After I put on clean clothes, I went back to bed. I felt total happiness. Monica was gracious enough to sleep on her daddy’s chest six hours straight, her first night on Planet Earth, while I got some well-earned rest!    

*Note to the reader: My daughter Monica is my second child. I did not witness the birth of my son, Bo, since I was flat on my back, feet in stirrups, on a delivery table at Ojai Hospital when he was born in 1968. His birth story  (also on this blog) is titled “Forty Years Ago in the Small Town of Ojai.”

15 Responses to “Birth of Monica at the Home of Beatrice Wood”

  1. Tom Erickson Says:

    Sweet! Thanks for sharing!


  2. Lorraine Says:

    This is truly a beautiful expression of the debut of your daughter into this world, Suza.

    I had visited Beato’s studio once, many years ago but I certainly did not have the privilege of knowing her and for you, what an amazing and beautiful place to give birth.

    I love the Upper Ojai Valley and I can only image how transforming and spiritual your experience was, as you gazed out at the Topa Topas..



    • Suza Francina Says:

      Thank you,Lorraine, I was so lucky to know Beato from the time I was a young girl, long before she was famous….I enjoyed reading your response…it’s what writers hope for!


  3. Deana Says:

    Happy birthday to a beautiful Mom. Your story reminded me a bit of my daughter’s birth in the mountains of Santa Barbara in 1985. I only wish I did the yoga that you do these days. You are strong!


    • Suza Francina Says:

      Hi Deana, Lovely to hear of your daughter, born in the mountains of Santa Barbara….about yoga, let 2012 be the year of yoga! Find a nice older teacher who practices Restorative Yoga and Standing Poses so we stay strong in our later years…


  4. Lille Diane aka Woodstock Lily Says:

    What a beautiful birth story! Having the Topa Topa’s to gaze upon, being in Beatrice’s tranquil abode, and being surrounded by Lyn, and so many enlightened women assisting you is a true gift. Monica was cradled in love and the valley of the moon. Happy Birthday, Monica~


    • Suza Francina Says:

      Hi Lille Diane aka Woodstock Lily, child of the sixties (like me) , Thank you for your beautiful words on this happy day….I’ll be sharing these Comments with Monica…

      Just now I took a trip through your website … so I feel your good energy… thank you, Namaste


  5. chrisybeeChris Bentz Says:

    Thank you Suza! That was exquisite and filled with insight and love. What a blessed little being! Made my morning.


    • Suza Francina Says:

      Thank you, Chris, for your nice comment. I greatly appreciate it.

      I just reread the story and it brought tears to my eyes. I could see all the images of that day in my mind.


  6. Robin Says:

    What a cherishing story. The more I read…the more I understand and know your pure heart. I learn how much we have in common…and look forward to valued friendship.


  7. Katie Sul Says:

    That was a lovely story….My youngest daughter’s “B” day is March 17. And my eldest daughter & I met Beatro when her Gate class had a field-trip to her studio. Such wonderful memories your story brings to mind today. Thank you Suza…..PS. And we lived in Holland for a while too. Fun stuff!!!! Memories…..Take care & keep writing…..I, for one, enjoy your adventures!!! Lots of Love to ya!!!!


  8. Gwendolyn Alley aka Art Predator Says:

    This is a wonderful birth story! It really evokes the beauty and the magic of giving birth at home (I know from my experience!)


  9. Helen Seubert Says:

    Suza, you are a wonder. Your children could not have chosen a better mum. Yes, I believe our children choose us. And, your writing is wondrous, I enjoy you so much.


  10. zittastubstad Says:

    So very deep and interesting…


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