Birth; the emergence of something new. I love it. The birth of a woman as a mother as her baby is delivered is the most sacred, powerful thing I have ever witnessed.
For as far back as my conscious memory goes, I have had an awe and fascination of the process of growing and birthing new life. As a 4 year old, I loved the pictures of a growing embryo in our family encyclopedia. I stuffed my baby dolls in my shirt and “birthed” them and of course they were nursed. Until I was 9 years old, I received baby dolls every Christmas and can still remember their names and beautiful little faces. The shape of their little baby fists, chubby, dimpled feet, the texture and color of their hair and the new baby doll smell are still clear memories that can take me instantly back to that idyllic time in my girlhood. This very moment I am taken back to 1964. I’m in the back seat of the family car with Baby Christy, a full sized Madame Alexander with long, blond hair. She’s wearing a hand-me-down blue corduroy jumpsuit and snuggled in a soft receiving blanket in my arms. The little mama and baby doll bond was strong and magical. I mothered instinctually and no one interrupted.
Although my childhood dolls were put away, I never outgrew my love of birth and mothering. My early childhood experiences were the seeds of a passion that blossomed when I was born as a mother 33 years ago. Although the labor was long and came with the challenges common to a first birth, I was ecstatic with this new wee one. His beautiful face, wisps of brown hair, little fists, long toes and newborn smell are still fresh memories to me as I picture him in his aqua colored gown and thermal receiving blanket. In contrast to my childhood play, my instinctual parenting impulses were not respected. From the flat on my back labor to the nurse who rolled her eyes when I expressed my desire to breastfeed, I was hindered from doing what seemed intrinsically best. Still, I loved my boy with all my heart and looked forward to having another baby someday.
Five years later, Lindsay was born. I knew to stay away from the hospital as long as I could. Laboring at home, I ate, drank, walked around, rested, showered and talked to my friends and family. I arrived at the hospital at noon. Remembering my previous long labor, Chuck left me to go out for lunch. I was alone in a small triage room, strapped to a narrow gurney. There was a red Craftsman toolbox for ambience. A nurse came in and did the standard prep of the day, shave and an enema and left me in the bathroom. I called for help. No one came. Finally someone helped me back on that gurney and I tried to say, “My baby is almost here.”
“Couldn’t be”, they said. “You were just 5 cm. when you came in.” My husband came back, the doctor showed up as did an uninvited anesthetist. I was given an epidural with no information or consent, just the instruction to curl up in a ball. Within minutes, I was wheeled to a big, bright delivery room and was coached through pushing my baby out. I heard a cry and someone said, “It’s a girl.” I felt so joyful to have a daughter and wanted her in my arms. She was taken somewhere else. At least my husband gave me a report. “She doesn’t look like Jeff.” I was taken next to a recovery area behind a curtain. I asked for my baby to nurse. “We usually wait until you are settled back in your room”, I was told. “No! I want my baby now.” A most beautiful round faced bundle was placed in my arms. Although my legs were not my own, I could sit up and nurse and my sweet baby was eager and able to suckle without any trouble. We were left alone and it was peaceful at last.
I remember my mom coming to the hospital shortly after I got to my room. She exclaimed what a beautiful little girl we had and we chose her name then. Lindsay Ann. I ached to go home. I missed Jeff and wanted him to see his sister. Young siblings weren’t allowed in the hospital. I spent the night there and asked to go home the next day. My doctor came in and told me it wasn’t common procedure to be discharged so soon. Did I have a plan for birth control?? When I assured him I would figure something out, he said I could go. Off we went in our yellow VW. Home at last. Those first days are foggy to me. I remember what Lindsay wore home because I had picked it out weeks in advance. Fortunately she nursed like a champ and was an easy little one to care for. It took me several weeks to clear the fog and feel like myself. I know now that it’s a common post epidural complaint as the body rids itself of the medications.
Fast forward 5 years to the birth of Natalie Brynn. Maybe it was the confidence born of experience or maturity or both. This time I would make decisions regarding my baby’s birth. Chuck and I attended a childbirth class held in my OB’s clinic. The teacher was a mother of 10, the last 2 born at home. She was beautiful, articulate and spoke respectfully of mother’s instinctual knowing and the sacred nature of the newborn. I could feel the empowerment taking hold in me AND in my husband. My OB had a birth suite in his office. I knew it was an option but my earlier experiences had left me feeling inadequate to birth without intervention. Although the thought of the hospital made me uncomfortable, that’s where I pictured myself having my 3rd baby.
On a Wednesday evening, just days before my estimated due date, I felt different somehow. I put my children to bed, cleaned up the kitchen and made plans for childcare the next day. During the night gentle contractions came rhythmically and I knew my labor was beginning. In the morning, I sent Chuck off to work. Labor made him nervous and I wanted calm, peaceful energy around me. I called my friend Stephanie to come over instead. We went to Albertson’s and walked around the neighborhood. I ate lunch and rested. I called Chuck to come home in the afternoon and we went to the OB’s office around 3 PM. I was 5 cm. An office nurse brought me a gown and said, “The birthing suite is ready for you. Your baby will be born soon.” I couldn’t believe I would be having my baby out of a hospital! I was so excited. I had also asked a friend from work to come to my birth. Pam was a nurse with the sweetest, peacefulness about her. She arrived as I was in full transition. She knew what to say and what I needed. We walked and she helped me in the bathroom. I didn’t get in the bed until I felt ready to push and then I laid on my side with Pam supporting my leg. A little baby girl was born just before 5 PM. Chuck and I were surprised at how quickly she came and how peaceful and trusting those around us were. I was able to hold my baby and nurse her right away and we called for Jeff and Lindsay to be brought in. My parents arrived and it felt like a festivity. Her name was announced and pictures were taken. You could see the glow and feel the bursting happiness on all of our faces. It just kept getting better. I was home, showered and tucked in bed in my own home before 9 pm that night! Something was so right this time.
The people around me
Support to follow my instinctual, maternal knowing
A peaceful environment
Respectful care of me and my newborn
Trust in the process of birth, my own, my husband’s and the care providers
A belief that birth is normal, not an illness or an emergency waiting to happen
If I wasn’t already passionate about the incredible power of women’s bodies and the sweetness of undisturbed newborns, well, now I was a hopeless birth junkie. I continued to read and study everything I could about birth. I had 2 more beautiful baby girls within the next 3 years and learned very valuable lessons from their birthings too. My heart and hands were ready when my babies were old enough for me to begin training to help other women have optimal birth experiences.
As a new doula driving through a strange neighborhood in the dark, I wondered what I was getting into. Trish was 39 weeks pregnant, a single mom and worried sick about the approaching birth of her third child. When I found her house, she welcomed me in and we embraced like old friends. This soulful woman shared her birth history with me; a cesarean birth at age 16 for failure to progress and a traumatic vaginal birth three years later. She was shaking as she recalled her experiences. For this baby she was seeing a different doctor but the prospects of a better birth sounded dismal. Her doctor had been suggesting for weeks that another cesarean would be the way to go and nightmares about being cut again kept her from sleeping. The next day, I accompanied her to a prenatal appointment and met her doctor. He was rough, disrespectful and mentioned the likelihood of another cesarean. She was in tears by the time we left. On the ride home, I suggested she talk to a midwife. Not knowing that she had any options at this late date, she was more than willing. We stopped at a CNM’s clinic and for the first time, Trish was treated kindly and listened to. I saw her stand a little taller and step into her power. She personally requested her records from the doctor and hand delivered them to the midwife the next day. Two days later after a good night’s sleep, her labor started. Trish had found her safe place and peacefully birthed a beautiful baby boy.
The childhood seeds that blossomed with the birth of my first baby, reached fruition when I began catching babies as a homebirth midwife 4 years ago. The path was made clear and doors were opened that allowed me to answer the calling to midwifery. There is no one right way for a woman to birth her baby; each birth and baby has its own story. I do believe that every woman deserves to be informed and respected. The birth environment and the people in the birth space can make all the difference. If knowledge replaces fear and respect replaces uniform protocols, women will come into their power and birth their babies in the very best way. An empowered woman can strengthen her family. It’s a beautiful thing.
do you feel like sharing your own story? today is the last day to post it on your blog and email me the link to firstname.lastname@example.org. i will post a list of all of them tomorrow afternoon to end this birth story adventure. and don't forget to leave loving comments here - as many as you wish. invite your friends to this women's circle. i will collect all the comments you leave and the birth stories you link to and pick one of you for a year of MOTHERING magazine, my favorite and will be announcing the winner tomorrow afternoon also.