It’s taken me 15 years to write this story. I still can’t believe it happened.
It was 2001, and I was pregnant with what I knew was someone very special. I felt her so strong from the beginning, and closely listened as she guided us through the path that would bring us to the place where she wanted to be born.
My husband at the time and I had “unplugged from the matrix”. We had no bank account, no jobs, no money. What we did have was a 1989 Winnebago, full of everything we needed to live comfortably. An awning on the side of the RV sheltered comfortable camp chairs, an oriental rug, and a small coffee table for a kerosene lantern. Our living room was wherever we parked the Winnebago.
We lived by faith. Not knowing from day to day where we would be, what we would be doing, or sometimes, what – if anything – we’d be eating.
Looking back on that time, I see it as a cosmic training course. How much faith and love do you want to have?
The practice was pushed to a greater level – by being pregnant, having a 2 year old, and a 15 year old child with us. I could trust that all my needs would be met every day – but did I have that same trust for my kids’ needs? It was a constant practice. I must note here – that there was not one day that we did not have food, or whatever we may have needed. Our needs were literally met every single day.
As the time came nearer, I fell deep into studying the teachings of Gandhi, and Leo Tolstoy. I prayed and meditated for hours every day. I was searching for the best way to make the changes needed for the messed up world we were living in.
I asked for wisdom and help. I specifically asked for someone to come to us that could help us with the birth.
We had no idea how we would have our baby. We were definitely not going to a hospital.
Then through some wonderful twist of events, we found ourselves in a random book store for a “community information night” in Albany, NY – on natural childbirth. It was there that we made our connection. We found the women that would help us with the birth.
At the time, practicing homebirth midwifery was illegal, so, very discreetly, the women came up to us after the talk letting us know that they would help us. I cried so much that night – I knew then that there was definitely something or someone that was looking out for me and my baby.
Before long, we were directed, though the BirthKeepers that we had met that night, to a place called the “Grafton Peace Pagoda” in Grafton, NY.
A Buddhist nun from Japan had built and was running the place and had agreed to let us have our baby there if my husband and 15 year old would do some work in exchange by repairing things, painting the Peace Pagoda, etc.
We agreed and one spring day, we made our way with the Winnebago driving up the winding mountain road to an obscure, unpaved road that led to this mysterious place.
Once we arrived, and hiked up the trail to the top of a hill where the Peace Pagoda and temple were located, I knew that this was the place I had seen in my dreams. This is where my baby would be born. We had come to the right place.
We were greeted by Jun San – a small Japanese woman about 4’10 and weighing maybe 90 pounds. But strong and determined, relentless in her quest to “end war”. She immediately invited us into the temple to welcome us with ceremony to this beautiful place.
She offered Ethan (he was not quite 2 years old at the time) some candy and told him he could do whatever he wanted while living at the Peace Pagoda. She loved him and he loved the sense of freedom and exploration that she encouraged in him. They were buddies. He followed her around everywhere, his soft downy blond uncut hair bouncing around his suntanned shoulders. She was his grandmother for those months, spoiling him, putting him to work stacking rocks and making him feel important. He chased frogs and ran naked through the fields of grass that surrounded the Peace Pagoda.
Apparently, once given the land, years before, the story is told, Jun San immediately began digging the foundation for the Peace Pagoda, according to her vision.
She used a spoon as that was all she had at the time and as time went on, and as more people heard of the project, hundreds of volunteers began helping by donating time, materials and labor. The Peace Pagoda is finished now, facing the east to greet the sun each day – standing boldly as a monument to hope for world peace.
The purpose of Jun San’s work and the Peace Pagoda is to promote world peace – to end war. She has crossed the U.S. by foot more than 10 times, beating her drum and chanting. She’s done peace walks throughout the world, she told me, being arrested “many, many” times for her protests in advocating for peace.
Once we had arrived and been welcomed by Jun San, we found the perfect spot to park the Winnebago, beside a magical fern forest on one side, with the other side – our front “living room” giving us an incredible southern view of the Peace Pagoda.
We were not plugged in and had to carry our water from about 100 meters away. We washed clothes by hand, read books by lantern light, and went to bed early each night, in order to try to wake up to be in the temple for the morning service at 5:15 a.m.
I had done the early morning route with Jun San many times before, as the sun would rise, we would walk the grounds of the Peace Pagoda, beating our drums, chanting “Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo” over and over.
One day, randomly, Jun San told me the significance of one place that we used to stop in front of to do a special chanting. “This is where the elders are buried”, she told me. I realized then as she explained it to me, that the Peace Pagoda land was ancient burial/sacred ground for the Mohican tribe and one of the reasons that she was granted this land was based on her commitment to protect it.
The place and experience took on a whole new story then. Every step I took was now with new appreciation. I found myself going barefoot more and more, praying as I walked, in gratitude and appreciation for what was under my feet. “I’m walking on sacred land” I told myself everyday. “My baby will be born on sacred land”. I was humbled and honored.
We lived there for months, exploring the grounds and forest, meeting people from all over the world who had come to visit the Peace Pagoda.
We ate good, healthy food everyday that Jun San shared with us from donations that people brought. This is how she lived, she told us, with faith and from the love and generosity of others. “That’s how we’ve lived too” I thought – it was just another connection that we shared with this fascinating woman.
She taught me how to heal using the Asian practice of Moxabustion. She taught me what real sushi was – how to make traditional Japanese food – she taught me how to lash trees together as part of an old Japanese building technique.
We cooked together, worked together, and spent endless hours talking while doing it. I’d never felt as much unconditional love from someone who didn’t know me – as I felt from her. She freely shared everything with us.
Then one night it happened.
A few women were visiting the temple for the night, and we had all decided to get in the Japanese wood fired hot tub. While in the tub, I looked down at one point and saw all of the women’s hands on my belly under the water. Beautiful. With the women, candles and fire light, water and incense, it began.
I spent the entire night walking with the women around and through the temple. And as the sun came up over the horizon, we made our way outside and stood at the front of the Peace Pagoda, watching the sunrise as the birds began to sing, and butterflies fluttered around a sea of wild daisies in the field in front of us.
The misty air hung over the grass and wildflowers as the sun touched the dew on it all, causing each blade of grass to reflect the morning light. The ground before me glistened like millions of tiny crystals.
“Her second name will be Dawn” I told myself as I watched the sun rise. Her first name “Nalawii” came from the person that apparently had the most knowledge of native american languages. After having a dream that I was to name my baby “Peace” – I thought that the Mohican word for peace would be a good name. And when we were given either the name Nalawii or Aquene – we chose both. So her name is officially Aquene Nalawii Dawn. We call her Nala for short.
Exhausted from being up all night, after the sunrise, I went back to the Winnebago and went to sleep. My body was tired and needed to rest before going on. I slept for several hours, with contractions coming and going. Eventually by late morning, they began to get stronger and by early afternoon, I was back in the hot tub, and walking the property, hanging from branches from an apple tree in front of the pagoda – making loud birth sounds.
At one point, Jun San came out of the temple and told me to be quiet. “The people in the temple wouldn’t understand”, she said. It struck me as being really funny, and laughing though the contractions, we headed back to the Winnebago where I could be as loud as I wanted to be.
Once back to the Winnebago, I ate a big sandwich and drank good strong herbal tea. I drank lots of water and moved my body to get as comfortable as I could get. The contractions got much stronger after I ate and the labor became more intense.
As the sun went down, rain began to fall, eventually pouring loud and hard on our metal roof as the lantern burned brightly. I stood half way up on my knees at one point, naked, and as a contraction was peaking, my water broke all over the pink sarong that I was kneeling over.
I laughed in delight as I looked down and saw that my body really “worked” all on its own. I’d always had my water broken by a health care professional in my previous hospital births. I’d wondered if my body really was capable.
When I saw the beauty of allowing the process to move on it’s own, I was empowered even more. I totally surrendered into trust of my body and the power that was pouring over and through me.
I moved onto my hands and knees at some point, and it was then that I felt the baby really coming. I had no choice but to push hard. Again, my body’s natural reaction to what was happening. I did much better when I became an observer of the process.
Once I let go of controlling anything in the experience, the better it went. I entered a timeless state. I saw myself as a huge living being, suspended in infinite space, giving birth to hundreds of planets with each push I made.
I felt the sweat dripping off my face. I made lion sounds. I was naked and primal. Loud and sweaty. And then I felt her head right on the edge. The ring of fire around my yoni was intense but so satisfying. I pushed hard and felt her head emerge. Her body came quickly afterwards, and I felt Renee, one of the BirthKeepers, lean me back into her arms and chest as my baby was passed up to me, between my legs. As I leaned back, I lifted my baby up in front of me.
A girl! I held her slippery body tightly in the lantern light, her umbilical cord still full, and purple and pulsing… and said “hi”. She looked back at me, with an intense and deep stare, blinking amniotic fluid from her eye lashes. She never did cry. Just silently emerged, fully focused and looking at me with a calm peaceful knowing. Familiar and safe.
I felt my world change. I knew I would never be the same after this. The power that emanated from her eyes, in the stillness of the rain battered Winnebago changed me. From that moment, everything was different.
I knew that I had to tell other women that this power, that I believed to be inherent in a “free” birth, had the ability to change us. I wanted to tell everyone…”The world would change if more mothers did this”.
I’ve since devoted my life to tell my story to others. To do whatever I can to bring peaceful conception, birthing and parenting practices to a mutually understood way of living. Respected and honored.
It became clear to me then that the power of changing the world lay in the way we choose to bring the babies to this life. It just makes sense – they are quite literally – our future.
That night, we were woken up by a strange noise. Looking over at my husband holding Nala, skin to skin on his chest – we saw that she was laughing hysterically. Full force belly laughing. For a good 10 minutes. It’s still a mystery to me – what could possibly make her laugh that hard for that long? A beautiful, magical few minutes…that I savored every second of.
I stayed in my Winnebago “nest” with her those first days. Breastfeeding her, looking at her, gently washing her slowly so I could learn her body. I kissed her incessantly. I stared at her for hours on end. I found myself singing songs that I’d never heard before.
Over the weeks, I ventured out of the Winnebago and would walk with her around the Peace Pagoda property.
One day, Jun San ran out to find me. I was giving Nala a bath near the old temple, outside with a hose. “Come quickly” she told me “to the temple – very important people who need to see Peace Pagoda Baby”. She had coined the term before Nala was even born. “But she’s all wet”, I told her. “No problem – come, quickly…”
I followed her, finding ourselves going through the back entrance to the temple so that when we came inside, we were at the front altar.
Photos of Gandhi, and Martin Luther King held special places on the altar, next to burning candles and incense. The temple was packed with expressionless faced indigenous people staring at us.
“The Mohicans come here once a year – to pay homage to their elders”- she told me. “I want them to know about Nalawii”.
As I stood in front of the altar, Jun San told our story and how we had ended up there. How this baby was just recently born here, and how special she was.
An old man with a cane began to make his way from the back of the temple to the front altar. Everyone watched as he maneuvered his hunched over body through the crowd. Once he made it to the front, he asked me “can I please bless your baby?” – “Of course”, I answered. He touched her on her forehead chanting mysterious words, and made symbols with his hands over her body. The blessing took about 5 minutes.
Once done, he turned around and returned to the back of the temple as Jun San announced that there would be cookies and tea in the reception room to the right and that all were invited.
She guided Nala and I to the room first, and before long, we were surrounded by the women. Everyone wanted a photo with Nala. Then a few women came forward with a beautiful young girl. “This is the princess of our tribe”, they explained to me. “She has a gift for Nalawii”.
As she came close, everyone became silent as she removed the necklace from her own neck, and placed it on naked Nala’s neck. “This is the symbol of our tribe”, she explained, and then began to explain something that I didn’t really understand about tribal prophecies. I wasn’t paying much attention as the whole thing was happening so quickly and so surrealistically. I wasn’t even sure it was happening at all.
“She is a very special baby to us”, one older woman explained to me. “We see it as a powerful omen for our tribe”. There were smiles, and tears – with a sense of hope and love – of connection and gratitude that filled us all.
We were rock stars for about half an hour. And then the bus was leaving and within minutes it was all over.
Once they had left, I sat on the floor of the now silent, empty temple breastfeeding Nala, staring at her naked body with this new gift and symbol of hope for a special group of people gracing her tiny chest.
“I don’t know what is happening right now”, I thought – “but it’s something special”. I watched as Nala, drinking my milk, closed her eyes, entering into a peaceful and much needed sleep. I looked out the window to the white, shining Peace Pagoda across the flower covered field. “Who and what is she?” I wondered. “how did we end up here?”
I still don’t have all the answers.
But she turns 15 today, and I’m still overwhelmed that I have had the honor to give birth to her. I thank her for the transformation that she initiated in me. For the gifts and lessons that she has brought along the way. I thank her for choosing to come to this planet during such an intense time. Thank her and honor her for her sweet, calm and strong spirit. For her wisdom and beauty.
I love you forever Nala. Happy Birthday honey.