Is anatomy destiny? Former Mothering features editor Candace Walsh was raised in a family where medicalized birth was the default. She thought, when she got pregnant with her daughter in 2000, that the only next step was to start seeing an obstetrician. But the hurried, brusque doctor didn’t make her feel safe or cared for at all. Her maternal instincts were screaming, “Run away!” That led her on the path to seek out a midwife, Sylvie Blaustein (later featured in The Business of Being Born.)
When she and her then-husband moved to Santa Fe in 2002, it was only a matter of time before the writer and editor hooked up with Mothering. The following excerpt from Walsh’s food-centric memoir, Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Identity, shares her second childbirth experience, this time at home with Santa Fe midwives.
Licking the Spoon begins with Walsh’s “ingredients,” her own ancestors, who came to the US from Greece, Cuba, Ireland, and Germany. Those recipes give way to recipes her mother gleaned from cooking icons (imaginary) Betty Crocker and Julia Child. As Walsh comes of age, she shares her own journey, from clinging to Martha Stewart’s edicts to coming up with her own recipes, both for food and for personal fulfillment, as a writer, mother, wife, daughter, and friend. Recipes are also included, from Grandma Migdalia’s Natilla custard to Grandma Marie’s recession-friendly chicken fricassee.
Candace is now the managing editor at New Mexico Magazine, and her kids, who grew up running around the Mothering HQ, are now 8 and 11. She will always be grateful for being able to be a mom on the job, nursing Nathaniel in between calls and emails.
In New Mexico, midwives didn’t have hospital privileges; they only did home births. I’d had a very smooth midwife-attended birth in the hospital in New York with my daughter, but Will was reluctant. We met with a trio of midwives and they put us both at ease. Like Sylvie and Lynne, they were lovely women and had decades of experience between them, except for Caroline, who was an apprentice. She reminded me of my college friend Pam — slightly gappy teeth, preppy blond bob, from New England. And she pulled off wearing long cotton dresses with cute Converse low-tops.
When I was pregnant with Honorée, I craved berries, sorbet, Caesar salad. This time, my cravings were completely different. The local Indian restaurant was my second home. I craved its rich lamb, chicken, goat curries, spinach-packed saag paneer, roasted cauliflower, puffy naan, and dipping sauces, all washed down with mango lassi.
My father emailed me and let me know that he’d bought plane tickets to come visit in early April, after the baby was born. I was due in mid-March, so I figured that would work out, but the due date calculation didn’t account for my screwy cycle during the month of conception. On my supposed due date, the baby hadn’t dropped at all, I wasn’t dilated, and I hadn’t had any contractions. The midwives changed the date to April 1, based on the date our actual sex had occurred.
That meant that my father would be showing up not when the baby was in my arms, but possibly when I was about to pop. I felt nervous. Would my body want to give birth with him around? Once again, I sailed past my due date. Honorée had been eight days “late.” I hit my eighth day, and again, the midwives started to talk about plan B. After fourteen days, they could no longer work with me at home. I’d need to go to the hospital, and they’d be there, but the doctor on call would be the point person.
On top of being so overdue, I also felt a lot of pressure to have the baby before my dad left.
“I’m sorry,” I said to him about two days before his flight back. “I wanted you to be able to meet the baby.”
“You could get induced,” he said.
I stared at him, aghast. “No, I’m not going to get induced.” I couldn’t let my father’s departure date dictate my child’s birthday. At 3:05 am on April 8, I woke up to the sound of Honorée whining and moaning in her toddler bed next to ours. She did that when she had to pee but didn’t want to wake up and actually go. Growly and exhausted, I hoisted myself up and took her hand to lead her to the bathroom. Then I felt a contraction. A big one.
“Will, I think it’s time.” “Okay,” he said sleepily. “Did you have a contraction?” “I just had a whopper,” I said. “And . . . ooohh.” “Okay, let’s call the midwives.” Will called them, and I went and knocked on the guest room door. “Dad, I’m in labor. I need you to take care of Honorée.” “Okay,” he said, half asleep but excited. “Come on, Honorée, let’s go read some books.”
I sat on the yoga ball, legs apart, and bounced gently, to encourage the labor to progress. The skies opened up in an odd spring desert storm, and rain pounded on the roof like it was trying to bore holes in it. Thunder and lightning boomed and flashed.
Caroline arrived first. She checked me. “You’re at eight centimeters!” she said happily.
“Really? I’ve only been in labor for an hour. I should have babies for the whole world!” I said, giddy.
A few contractions later, I was not singing the same tune. They were monsters. Caroline’s strong, pleasingly cold hands applied counterpressure on my lower back this time, until Will took over.
I rolled on my side and lifted my leg. Caroline held it up, my water burst, and they whisked away the soiled chucks and slid in clean ones. Nathaniel came out at 5:03. Unlike wee Honorée, he was a big-headed nine-pounder with a chubby butt and boy parts. And we were in my bed, which meant I didn’t have to go anywhere. We were home. Nathaniel latched on to my breast, just like his sister had.
“Do you want us to get your dad and Honorée?” Caroline asked. I nodded.
Will covered me up, and then they came in. Honorée walked in slowly with her own baby doll, eyes as wide as saucers, and climbed into bed beside Nathaniel and me. She curled up next to my body.
“This is your brother, Nathaniel,” I said. She reached out and stroked him tentatively, while clinging to me at the same time. I put my other arm around her and held her close.
Will climbed into bed. “I’m making an Honorée sandwich,” he said merrily. My father sat on the floor, smiling ear to ear.
“He made it!” he said. “He wanted to meet his grandpa.”
“Thanks for your help, Dad,” I said.
“It was my pleasure.” Later, I would wish that I could always make my father this happy.
Instead, it was just a moment of happiness, amid years of mutual misunderstanding and disappointment. But that didn’t occur to me then. Right then, he was in my world, aglow in the presence of my baby boy. I was so high from my birth that there was no doubt in my mind that my father and I — and my husband and I — had turned a corner.
In the morning, my friend Catherine came over and made us a huge frittata in a cast-iron skillet, studded with chopped green peppers, tomatoes, scallions, and diced chicken, and dotted throughout with toasty gouda cheese. I ate hungrily, Will took Honorée to the park, and Catherine crawled in bed beside me as I nursed, happy and tired.