A Baby Born on Wednesday, post 3

Author’s note: Our new baby was born at home in our bedroom this past Wednesday without a birth attendant present. No name (yet). No weight (we don’t own a scale). No midwives. This week’s posts are the story of how we came to choose an unassisted birth and about the birth itself. The first installment is here. The second installment is here. To read the rest of the story, please check back daily.

The not-yet-certified midwife we chose for our second home birth, M., had dreadlocks down to her ankles. She didn’t have an office. Instead, she brought her 4-year-old daughter with her when she visited our house for prenatal appointments.

Mostly we just talked.

She told me about how everything always got broken in her house but she didn’t get angry at her ten children because there was no point. She told me about how one of her daughters was autistic and would walk in circles for hours, a smile on her face. And how her second oldest wanted to be a midwife too.

I told her how I tore during Athena’s birth.

“You won’t tear this time,” she said. “You didn’t need to tear.”

“I didn’t?” I knew instantly that she was right.

But the birth process with my son started inauspiciously. My water broke at 11:00 p.m. and catapulted me into active labor. With my oldest daughter my water had broken at 11:00 p.m. as well, though she wasn’t born for another 22 hours.

I sobbed as amniotic fluid went into the toilet. I didn’t want to have another birth like Hesperus’s and I felt scared and tired. I didn’t wake James because I was afraid that everything would happen like the first time and that he would get exhausted. Instead I sat on the office couch and sewed up his robe, inside out, until the contractions were too intense to stay still. By then M. was there, though James was still sleeping.

M. was right, of course. I didn’t tear. The labor lasted only about four hours and was not nearly as bad as I had feared when it started. My friend Kathleen, a medical doctor who came as a friend not a doctor, showed up about twenty minutes before the birth.

When our son’s head crowned, I started walking away and Kathleen panicked, “Jennifer! Where are you going?!”

“JUST DON’T DROP THE BABY,” I cried, and twisted my body onto the bed as he slid out. M., who was crouching behind me, caught him.

My son's birth, attended by a midwife-in-training and a friend, had the least intervention

My son’s birth, attended by a midwife-in-training and a friend, had the least intervention

That’s when Kathleen flew into a frenzy of action, grabbing a towel and vigorously rubbing the baby, directing James on how to cut the cord, whipping out a tape measure to measure his tiny perfect head. (“Can you leave him alone, please?” I said, annoyed. “It’s better to have a baseline, Jennifer,” she answered, clicking her pen closed as she finished writing on the chart.)

Our bedroom was small and it felt like there were a lot of people present. M. had essentially done exactly what we needed her to do: nothing. She checked the heartbeat five times while I was in labor but she did it so unobtrusively and gently that I did not even notice. Kathleen, who later told me that sitting on her hands and watching—this was the first and only home birth she had ever attended—was one of the hardest things she’d ever done, had done too much.

M. and Kathleen being there made James’s presence that much less important.

They were the authority we were deferring to, directing a natural process that could have unfolded on its own.

As much as I love and appreciate both of them to this day, their presence made the birthing that much less intimate, that much less about our family, that much less about our love for each other and our trust in the process.

We still weren’t at the same place about unassisted birth, but James agreed that our best birth had been Athena’s BEFORE the midwives arrived, when it was just the two of us, James and me, working as a team to ride out the contractions and help my body open up.

Maybe, just maybe, this birth could be like that one. But sans midwives.

Talking about our previous births, reading about unhindered childbirth, and thinking more about it, James started to believe that an unassisted birth might actually be a good idea.

Maybe, just maybe, our next birth could be without midwives

Maybe, just maybe, our next birth could be without midwives

Interested in reading more? Post 4 tells the story of our unassisted birth.

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11 thoughts on “A Baby Born on Wednesday, post 3”

  1. So many questions brought up for me this fascinating story…but the one that feels most pressing at the moment is how a mother of 11 (!) could possibly look so young and serene in that photo at the top of this post. She’s clearly doing something right. I can’t wait for the next installment. This is like watching a tightrope walker..I’m practically holding my breath and constantly thinking yikes!, even though I know how well it all turns out.

  2. Reading this story is like a deja-vu of the conversations my husband and I had in my fourth pregnancy! I will never ever forget the sound of his voice as he handed me that baby…so tender and vulnerable and full of joy and surprise.

  3. Unassisted birth is an honorable choice and I’m happy for you in your birth and everything that led to your decision. I also feel upset, reading this story, in how my friend and colleague, M., is portrayed. I appreciate her inspiring place in the story, but the reflection presents a collection of images that strikes me as unkind and disrespectful, and could be misleading, painting M. into a caricature and something of a pauper, a midwife summarized as having loose habits and a stereotypical hippi lifestyle, though she becomes a hero in the end. Such a description undermines her essential stateliness, fastidiousness, the thoroughness that I know in her work and personal life. What goes unexpressed is M.’s refined intelligence and skill, which she has derived from her intense educational pursuit and informed decision-making. I supervised her as a midwife during those years, and know her to follow the guidelines of monitoring fetal heart tones and vitals, to hold herself with dignity, and to approach birth with clear judgment and graciousness. It is a great sign of a midwife that she leave a gentle footprint in the memory of birth while her expertise goes unnoticed, enough so that a mother remembers the midwife as doing nothing. I think the joy of an unassisted birth is worthy, in itself, without needing to be condescending to other choices. I believe it is important to honor the guests who we have invited into life’s passages, as Alice Walker once wrote, “Never condemn the bridge that got me where I am.” We can move into new experiences after balancing the strengths and weaknesses of the past, maintaining gratitude toward those, the midwives and others, who are more than stepping stones, but who are part of a great river, working toward freedom.

  4. Emily, thank you for this long and thoughtful comment. I made a mistake in the draft that you read that I have since fixed: M. did check the heartbeat, and she did so with the peacefulness, calm, and kindness that you mention here, so much so that I did not notice it. I agree with absolutely everything you wrote in this comment and I’m so sorry that you came away with a negative impression after reading this post. I guess what is not coming across is that doing nothing was not meant in a pejorative way but rather as exactly what we needed. I am so grateful that M. was a part of that birthing experience. I can think of no one that I would rather have at a birth than M. In fact, it was M. who first introduced me to the idea of unassisted birth and I see her as a hero–for everything she does for women, for raising such amazing children, and for having the courage to do things her way.

  5. Although I agree with you that M. is peaceful, kind, and calm, she is also a very professional health care provider. She closely monitors, charts, and documents all her births. She has had some very difficult births and because of her professionalism has saved the lives of newborns and their mothers. Because of this high quality of care in times when she had to transport, she is treated as a peer by the obstetrical staff at the local hospital.

  6. As a health care professional myself in mental health counseling I have endeavored for 9 years to be as focused, calm, directive and responsive as M. was when she caught my second child in 2000. I have also been witness to her extraordinary teaching skills, listening skills, mothering skills and crisis response skills. In fact I have yet to experience her standard of excellence in any doctor or healer before or since. M.’s credentials, modeling and artistry are not at all reflected in the above blogs written by you.

    Emily above said: “Such a description undermines her essential stateliness, fastidiousness, the thoroughness that I know in her work and personal life. What goes unexpressed is M.

  7. I’m surprised by some of the comments–the blog post is a pretty flattering portait of the ideal midwife! Sounds like some of those who commented simply have different ideas about what would be ideal, and the point of the post is that the unassisted style became Jennifer’s ideal. Even M. is described as having chosen unassisted birth no fewer than five times!

    Some of the comments seem to place a lot of importance on monitoring, guidelines and gaining respect from hospital obstetrics professionals–all of which are fine, but are exactly what those who choose unassisted birth are trying to get away from, except in case of emergency. The blog reads like M. was the one who showed the way toward doing less during the birth, more calmly and confidently, as well as showing the way toward unassisted birth by modeling it herself. What’s wrong with that?

  8. I wanted to reply to Jasper’s comment. I think that what you said is quite accurate. Jennifer obviously admired and appreciated M.’s gentle presence. I am M.’s current midwifery partner and love working with her for that reason. I believe there were so many comments about monitoring, guidelines, ob transports etc because what we do is part nurturing, this is the glorious and fun part and then there is the political peice. This is the part that is not so fun. We believe in birth as a natural process, but as you know American obstetrics is not so trusting. This makes a scary culture at times. We often feel judged and on display, and thus feel like we must defend ourselves. I think the certification that Jennifer speaks of(when she made the comment of M. as “not yet certified”) and licensure processes have been a direct result of not only feeling the need for a safe standard of practice, but to validate our education and safeguard what we aim to do. We believe in women and the normalcy of birth, yet we go to great lengths to be trained and keep mamas and babies safe. Therefore while Jennifer paints a wonderful picture of M. in some ways, the “ideal” midwife as you call it would give a woman her autonomy, welcome a baby gently and have the confidence of her client to hold the space with skill and competency.

    I have another thought separate from this. I was a bit uncomfortable with Jennifer’s comment about M.’s autistic daughter. It seems too personal and unnecessary, not to mention the child she speaks of is now a young adult who I love and respect.

  9. Meagan Hill has been my friend for the last 18 years. she was the midwife for three of my five children. Two of my children were born with only myself and my husband in attendance. [one by accident and one by choice]

    I learned so much from each of my births-unassisted and midwife assisted, each was special. In your piece, you talk about assisted or unassisted birth as if they are in competition for “Best Way To Birth”. This is not only unnecessary, it is disrespectful of the work that midwives do and of the sacred right of every couple to choose how they are most comfortable giving birth. Also, your characterization of Meagan herself is unfair. In a few broad strokes,[dreadlocks;check,lots of kids;check,wacky household;check],you try to capture a whole amazing person.I find it unpleasant to see Meagan and her wonderful family reduced to caricatures. Finally,knowing the value Meagan places on birth,family and privacy I cannot help but feel that you have taken her trust for granted. I would ask that in the future you weigh your responsibilities to your writing against your responsibilities to the special people who come into your life.

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