When she became a gestational surrogate, Danellia Arechiga felt strongly about having an unmedicated birth at a birth center. Even as her labor plan derailed into an induction, she pushed for few interventions. She tells Adriana Lozada why doing so was important for her, the baby, and the intended parents.
How are you embracing flexibility in pregnancy and parenting this week? Let us know how you adapt at @birthfulpodcast.
Related Birthful episodes:
- Surrogate Birth Stories, with Susan Fuller
- An IVF and Surrogacy Rollercoaster, with Parijat Deshpande
- Pro Tips for Photographing Your Unique Birth Experience, with Karissa Raya
- Rethinking the Pushing Stage, with Whapio
- Using a Foley Balloon Catheter for Induction of Labor: A Non-Drug Method to Help Dilate the Cervix, VeryWell Family
- Birth and the Fetus Ejection Reflex, Midwifery Today
- Surrogacy: Who decides to become a gestational carrier?, Harvard Health Blog
- Surrogacy, Resolve
- Family Building through Gestational Surrogacy Committee Opinion, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Surrogacy is misunderstood and unfairly maligned. We need to change the narrative, The Washington Post
- Child-Parent Security Act To Pass in New York State, Family Equality
- Meet the Women Who Become Surrogates, New York Times
- Surrogacy reform is spreading in the rich world, The Economist
- For gay parents, first comes the baby — then comes the debt, NBC
One thing you can do for you is to learn more about the Fetal Ejection Reflex, and ways you can support it during labor for a more flowing pushing stage. For starters, listen to our Birthful episode on Rethinking the Pushing Stage.
The one thing you can do for the rest of us is to follow and support the work being done by Danellia along with Marisol García at La Fuente, a community space providing safe, uplifting and empowering support for new and expectant families and birth workers in Long Beach, California. Follow them on Instagram @lafuentelb.
[Birth Stories] Why This Surrogate Lobbied for an Unmedicated Birth
With the contractions, I could actually feel her moving down, and so I told them, “I feel like I’m pushing. You might want to check me.” And they were in the middle of a shift change, so they were kind of like, “Okay, okay, we’ll get to you in a little bit. We’re updating our next staff member.”
Lozada: That is Multidimensional Mama, musician, healer, and birth worker, Danellia Arechiga, sharing what was happening minutes before giving birth to the baby she was carrying as a gestational surrogate. A few days earlier, as she approached 41 weeks and her hopes for a birth center birth dwindled, Danellia wasn’t sure she’d be able to have the unmedicated birth she wanted, let alone experience the fetal ejection reflex. But to understand why she felt so strongly about this way of birthing for this baby, their intended parents, and herself, let’s go back to the beginning.
I’m Adriana Lozada and you’re listening to Birthful, here to inform your intuition. Welcome, Danellia. I am so happy to have you here on the show today to tell us your story. And before we get into that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you identify?
Arechiga: Sure. Thank you for having me. I live here in Long Beach, California, which is Tongva and Acjachemen territory. I’m a single mom. I have a nine-year-old daughter. And her birth actually led me into birth work, so I’ve been a birth worker for almost as long as she’s been alive, about nine years now. And I’m also an artist. I’m a musician, a writer, a songwriter, and the name that I’ve kind of given myself, the nickname, is the Multidimensional Mami, because I realized a few years ago that I didn’t want to just be confined to birth work, that I could actually bring more of my gifts and my skills in other elements of my life into my birth work and vice versa.
Lozada: What motivated you to become a gestational carrier?
Arechiga: Yeah, so my older sister, she has been working in fertility for a long time, about a decade, and she had asked me if I would be open to being a surrogate for a couple that she had been working with for quite some time. And at the time, I was very interested, because… Well, even now, I only have one child. I don’t plan on having any more. But I really, really loved being pregnant, and I loved giving birth, but I just don’t want any more children of my own. And so, it was kind of an opportunity for them and for me to experience pregnancy again and then to be able to help this family complete themselves with this child that they’ve been longing for for so long.
Lozada: Broad strokes of how that process went of figuring out, because you hadn’t done this before. It was your first time, as well. So, figuring out how to have those important conversations and determine who would be sort of taking the lead, right?
Arechiga: Yeah. I think that my experience as a birth worker definitely helped the family feel more comfortable letting me kind of make some of those recommendations. For example, I knew right away that if I was going to work with them, that I would want to try for a natural birth, because I had a natural birth with my daughter, and it was just really important to me, especially because the actual pregnancy itself was so medicalized, right? Because there’s a lot of medicalization that needs to happen in order for me to get pregnant in this way.
And so, I really wanted it to be as natural as possible and they were completely supportive of that. They let me know that they trusted my experience and my suggestions, and that made me feel really comfortable moving forward with them. Additionally, I told them from the beginning that I wanted to possibly give birth at home or at a birth center. I wanted to avoid the hospital if possible. And also, because it was important to me that they were as much a part of it as possible, and I knew that they would get a little bit more involved at a birth center with the care of midwives.
Lozada: And so, as things progress, and you’re getting closer to that due date, what were their thoughts as things also got close? Were they showing any anxiety in terms of place of birth or in terms of the process? What were their concerns?
Arechiga: Yeah. I think we all experienced a lot of uncertainty and anxiety leading up to the birth, because I did pass the 40-week due date, and we knew that we had a time limit with the birth center, meaning that if I didn’t give birth by 41 weeks and six days, that I would have to be transferred to the hospital for an induction.
Lozada: What was going through your mind and what were you doing at that point when you’re seeing this deadline of transfer to the hospital at 40 weeks six days, if you’re not in labor by then?
Arechiga: I was pulling out all the stops. I was really leaning on my community more than anything. I had a wonderful doula, named Karissa Raya, who has been featured on this podcast, as well, and I also had a good friend of mine, Panquetzani from Indigemama, who really helped me with a lot of body work in the weeks leading up to the birth, and also the evening before the scheduled induction. She stayed up with me all night and just we did Rebozo techniques, we did herbal remedies, we did pretty much anything and everything we knew of to try to help the cervix at least get started, so that the induction wouldn’t be so intense.
I was contracting pretty frequently, but they weren’t very strong, and so as we know, we really can’t force our bodies into being ready if they’re not. It’s like the saying, “When ripe, they will fall.” When the fruit is ripe on the tree, you don’t have to pull it. It’ll just fall to the ground, right? So, when I passed the due date, the midwives were able to administer a Foley catheter to get me started, so that when I went in for the induction the following day, I could hopefully come in with some progress already. And then that’s when Panquetzani and I had worked on the Rebozo circuit and the herbal teas and things like that, and I was able to get from one centimeter when they put the Foley bulb in, to three centimeters when I showed up at the hospital.
So, it did make a difference.
Lozada: I want to explain what a Foley catheter is because you must have had some dilation if they were able to put it in, because you need to be at least one centimeter for it to be inserted, and then it’s a little balloon that gets pumped with water and mechanically expands the cervix with that pressure from the water inflating and it continues creating that pressure until three centimeters, because then the balloon can’t go anymore. That’s as big as it gets. And then it falls out. So, that’s what you experienced.
Arechiga: Right. Right. So, they put it in, I did the circuit, and then it fell out on its own, and so that’s when I went to the birth center to be assessed, and they did say that I was three centimeters, but baby’s position wasn’t ideal. They thought that baby might be asynclitic, and also the cervix was posterior. So, then I went back home and tried a little bit longer to avoid the induction.
Lozada: What time are we talking about?
Arechiga: This was like 3:00 AM.
Lozada: And your deadline for induction is what time?
Arechiga: It was the next morning, 7:00 AM.
Lozada: So, you’re like four hours away from having to go in.
Lozada: So, middle of the night, you’re doing all these things, they’re slowly making change, then what happened?
Arechiga: I went home, and I intended to continue working on the circuit that I had been practicing, different things like squats, Rebozo, walking, knees up, those types of movements. But I was really tired. I was really tired from all the movement, all the anxiety, all the pressure, the contractions that I was feeling, so I ended up taking a nap, and I ended up sleeping longer than I intended to, but honestly I feel like it was needed. You know, it was necessary, because my body needed to rest. And I needed energy to go into the hospital. I needed to prepare myself for that.
Lozada: And I love a nap during early labor. It can be so restorative and sort of get you out of that thinking brain and let your body do the process.
Arechiga: Absolutely. I needed that, for sure. And I think I just needed time to process what was about to happen. You know, so the majority of my morning the next morning when I did have to go into the hospital was spent moving really slowly, and really cherishing every last minute that I had with my daughter before I had to go to the hospital. That was really hard for us, that I had to leave her. Because of COVID, we had been inseparable since the pregnancy started, so we just spent some time loving up on each other before that.
Lozada: And where are the intended parents in this process right now?
Arechiga: So, they were home, and they were notified that I would be going into the hospital, so their plan was to meet me at the hospital when I got there.
Lozada: And were they gonna let both of them into the room?
Arechiga: No. Unfortunately, only one of them was allowed in as well as my doula. So, the hospital’s policy was that only a doula and one additional support person could be with me, so the mom ended up coming with me to the hospital. I was scheduled to be admitted at 9:00 AM and I believe we got there a little bit closer to 9:30, 10:00, because I was showering. I was kind of dragging my feet a little if I’m being honest. And so, by the time I got checked in, I was actually officially checked around 11:00 AM, and that was… I was about four centimeters at that point.
I was starting to feel more excited, like okay, we’re here, it is what it is, let’s just do what we do best, right? As birth workers, what do we do? We turn that hospital room into a birth cave, and we make it dark, and we… If the client wants it, of course, and I did. I wanted it to be dark. I wanted it to smell good. I wanted to have my music. And my doula was amazing. Karissa was amazing at creating that space for me. She kind of just recreated the cave that I had created in my room in the hospital, and I immediately felt a lot better, and I was like, “Okay, let’s do this.”
Lozada: Excellent. So, you made the space yours, and you were mentally ready. Your space, your mind, you’re ready to go. Was your body ready to go?
Arechiga: It was. It started to work. It started to move. The contractions got more intense and more closer together. Even though I was there for an induction, I wasn’t actually induced. The doctor and the nurses had spoken to me about needing Pitocin if I wasn’t progressing by a certain time. I just kept asking for more time and I think that being a birth worker definitely helped me in this situation, because I felt very confident advocating for myself, and before I knew it I started feeling pressure. You know, and I started going to the bathroom a lot, and that’s usually a sign that things are moving along, because we feel like we need to poop, but really it’s the pressure of the baby moving down.
I still experienced some moments of doubt, like, “Oh my gosh, this is gonna take forever. They’re gonna give me Pitocin.” But my body was telling me the opposite. My body was saying, “No, you’re fine. This is happening now.” Because I went from five centimeters to eight really quickly, like in the matter of an hour maybe, and this was right around the time that the doctor was saying, “Okay, we’ve given you lots of time. We’re gonna have to give you Pitocin soon.” And that’s when I was like, “Actually, you need to check me, because I feel like I’m gonna push.”
So, I was able to access that higher consciousness that we tend to experience in labor, especially if it’s an undisturbed birth, right? Because I remember at one point putting my headphones on and just going into my zone, and really speaking out the sounds that my body needed to allow myself to move through these different intense surges that I was having and listening to a mantra in my ears that reminded me that I was safe, and that I was secure, and that I was going to be okay.
Lozada: So, you’re deep in the zone, things are intense, you’re eight centimeters, you’re in the bathroom, and suddenly you get more pressure. Tell me about it.
Arechiga: I always tell people, like when you give birth, that intensity, it’s indescribable, because after it’s over, it’s almost like you forget about it. It’s almost like you can’t verbalize it, you know? But I do remember very distinctly feeling the baby moving down into my pelvis. I could actually feel her almost like scraping the insides of my pelvis, and as much as that does not sound comfortable… I mean, it’s not, but physiologically I could feel it, and it was amazing to me because I don’t remember feeling that with my daughter’s birth.
And it told me that this baby was coming soon. You know, with the contractions, I could actually feel her moving down, and so I told them, “I feel like I’m pushing. You might want to check me.” And they were in the middle of a shift change, so they were kind of like, “Okay, okay. We’ll get to you in a little bit. We’re updating our next staff member.” And my doula too was like, “You’re gonna want to check her. She’s…” I mean, I was grunting. I was actively pushing, you know? With the fetal ejection reflex, as you know, you can’t really stop it. So, it was just happening, and it all happened so fast. The baby just kind of came out before the doctor even could make it into the room, and the new nurse that had just come on was kind of like at a loss for what to do because it happened so fast.
Lozada: Let’s paint a picture. So, where are you in the room right now?
Arechiga: They did end up checking me, but it took a little while, and by the time they checked me they were like, “Oh, you’re complete.” And I was like, “I know. I’ve been telling you I have to push.” And so, I was actually on my back, flat, which I was not happy about, but again, it happened so fast it was hard to get into a position that felt better. And yeah, baby just kind of slipped right out into one of the nurse’s arms. It was funny, because some of the nurses were like, “Okay, just breathe. Don’t push yet. The doctor’s coming.” One of them kind of looked at me and was like, “If you have to push, just push. Don’t worry about it. We’ll catch this baby.” I was like, “Thank you.”
I know. You know, I know this baby’s gonna come out whether you catch it or not, but I appreciate that reassurance.
Lozada: So then, after the baby’s out, as a surrogate and an intended mother in the room, what happens? How does bonding happen?
Arechiga: So, Karissa actually facilitated the mom being more involved, because she was kind of standing on the sidelines, and Karissa was like, “Come here, come here. Your baby’s coming.” And I even told her, I said, “Take your sweater off, because as soon as she comes, we want her to go to you.” And so, she was kind of like right next to me, just watching it all unfold, and baby ended up coming onto my chest, or actually onto my belly briefly while they just assessed her, and then they moved her over to the warmer, and then the mom went with her to the warmer and just kind of talked to her and was there with her. But because the doctor wasn’t there, it was a little bit of a delay with getting baby right onto mom’s chest. But as soon as they could, mom was able to hold baby, and then dad was able to come into the room, because he had been in the chapel actually. He was in the chapel at the hospital saying his prayers, just thinking about us, and it was really beautiful once they could all be together. And I was just so relieved. I just had such a feeling of relief, like, “Oh,” that pressure had finally just subsided and finally she was here with her parents. It was beautiful.
Lozada: For the mom who was in the room, did she let you know later what the experience was for her? And as soon as the baby came out, what was her response?
Arechiga: I think she was just in awe. Just in awe that this baby was finally here. Honestly, I haven’t had a chance to really sit down with them and really ask those questions, like emotionally what did that feel like. I would love to actually sit with them and have that conversation. But from what they did tell me, she was just very grateful. She was very grateful that I was able to give birth to their baby and also that I was so committed to the natural birth. I don’t think they understood how committed I was, but I was trying to avoid that induction at all costs.
Lozada: Did she feel as committed as you or at any point did she have any hesitation?
Arechiga: She would ask me often like, “Are you sure about this? Are you sure you don’t want medication?” And I’m like, “No, I think I’m okay.” For me, the need to have an unmedicated birth is more about limiting the amount of recovery, as well. I also wanted to be able to feel what it felt like to give birth. If I had some type of epidural or pain relief, I may not have felt that intense feeling of the baby moving into the pelvis, you know? But that’s just me. I wanted to feel that.
Lozada: And the baby came out screaming and pinked up and was doing great and fine?
Arechiga: She was doing well. She did have some complications after birth. She had a small hole in her lungs that they discovered the second day of life, so she ended up having to go to the NICU for a while, and that kind of affected our postpartum plans, because originally we had planned to, in an effort to facilitate bonding for the parents, and also to stimulate breast milk, we had planned to stay at a hotel after birth so that I could do skin to skin with the baby to get breast milk going. But because she ended up being admitted to the NICU for about a week, we didn’t get to do that. And so, I was pumping, I was trying really hard to make sure that I got some type of breast milk so I could give it to them, so that it could help her, especially because she was in the NICU, and they were able to do that. They were able to give her the milk that I was pumping.
Lozada: So, as part of the surrogacy, you guys included or negotiated that you would make sure your milk came in and provide breast milk for them?
Lozada: For how long?
Arechiga: The goal was three months. But I ended up… My milk supply ended up dropping around the second or third week postpartum, and that just goes to show you how powerful hormones are, right? Because if that baby’s not with the birthing person, I should say, it’s really hard to facilitate breast milk production, and I was doing all the things. I was eating and drinking all the things that help boost the hormones responsible for breast milk, but I think because there was a disconnection as far as it not being my baby, it’s just very different. So, I’m actually really proud of my ability to pump as long as I did, because not having baby nearby to stimulate that can be a little tricky.
Lozada: Right, and you didn’t have 24/7 access to skin to skin with this baby, so that they could eat on demand 12 times, 10 times a day, however many times they wanted, so I can see that being a little trickier. Being a surrogate and giving birth, what was the hardest part of it all for you?
Arechiga: I think the hardest part towards the end was considering having to go to the hospital, first and foremost, because it was so far from what I wanted. I only agreed to be the surrogate because the intended parents were open to a home birth, or a birth center, or working with midwives, so when that possibility came up, it was really, really hard for me to accept, because it was just so far from what I wanted. I feel like my body just shut down because I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to go there.”
But it was a great experience and I’m really glad that I got a chance to challenge myself to face that obstacle and still overcome it. But I can’t attribute that to just myself. It was really a team effort. It was really a community effort from all the support I received throughout my whole pregnancy, and birth, and postpartum.
Lozada: What was your favorite part of the whole experience?
Arechiga: I think I loved pregnancy. I loved being pregnant. I felt so beautiful. I felt so good in my body. And with that pregnancy came so many revelations about myself. So, being pregnant was absolutely my favorite, and then just the birth itself, just the feeling of giving birth to this little human that her parents had prayed and longed for for so long. It was just magical. It was really beautiful.
One of the questions I get asked a lot about the surrogacy experience is if I experienced any type of grief or sadness when it comes to having given birth and then this baby no longer being with me but being with her parents. What I want to say about that is that just like I said, there’s that disconnection. As much as I bonded with this baby in some way because I carried her for nine months, the bond that I created with her was always one of friendship. It was never one of ownership, of like, “This is my baby.” It was always like, “This is a friend. I’m doing this as a favor to this family as a friend, and I’m carrying this baby for them as a friend, and so I’m going to return her to her parents.” So, she was never mine to begin with, you know? I didn’t give up a baby. This baby was never mine to begin with. I was holding her, growing her temporarily for her parents, because she was always theirs, you know?
Lozada: Would you do it again?
Arechiga: That’s a great question. I haven’t decided yet. I’m still very much recovering. I would love to be pregnant again, but realistically my body is telling me to take it slow and just really be present, so…
Lozada: Thank you so very much for coming on today to share your story. This was really special.
Arechiga: Thank you so much. I really appreciate the space.
Lozada: That was Danellia Arechiga, and you can find her on Instagram, @themultidimensionalmami. I hope your main takeaway from our conversation is that flexibility and adaptability are key skills to hone during labor. Even though she did not want to, Danellia created space to process the changes to her birth plan and then went into the hospital from a place of readiness. She and her team turned the clinical space into her birth cave, and they worked together with the nurses and care providers as they advocated for her wishes. Also, that fetal ejection reflex is a powerful thing.
One thing you can do for you is to learn more about the fetal ejection reflex and ways you can support it during labor for a more flowing pushing state. For starters, listen to our Birthful episode on rethinking the pushing stage. The one thing you can do for the rest of us is to follow and support the work being done by Danellia, along with Marisol Garcia, at La Fuente, a community space providing safe, uplifting, and empowering support for new and expectant families in Long Beach, California. Follow them on Instagram @LaFuenteLB.
You can connect with Birthful on Instagram @BirthfulPodcast and to learn more about Birthful and my birth and postpartum preparation classes, go to Birthful.com.
Lozada: Birthful was created by me, Adriana Lozada, and is a production of Lantigua Williams & Co. The show’s senior producer is Paulina Velasco. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is our lead producer and Kojin Tashiro mixed this episode. Thank you for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen, and come back next week for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “[Birth Stories]: Why This Surrogate Lobbied for an Unmedicated Birth.” Birthful, Lantigua Williams & Co., March 17, 2021. Birthful.com.
About Danellia Arechiga
As a multi-dimensional mama, birth worker, singer, songwriter, musician, speaker, and healer, Danellia Arechiga uses this medicine to heal her generation as well as past and future generations in her lineage. She holds close to her heart the stories and wisdom of her grandmother and her great-grandmothers, who were the women who helped other birthing folks before the medical industry took that away from their people. Danellia calls in her guides and ancestors, who led her into her work as she reminds birthing folks and their families of their innate wisdom and strength throughout their pregnancy, birth, and parenting journey. Through her offerings in birth work, childbirth education, traditional postpartum care, support group facilitation, and public speaking, she helps families and individuals return home to their highest selves through vocal liberation, birth education, and intergenerational healing.
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