Birth Day is a momentous day in the life of a family. Even if the details of the birth become fuzzy over time, I will always remember certain things about the births of my two children. I can't remember exactly how my contractions felt or how long I might have spent in the jacuzzi. I can't remember all the positions I pushed in with my son. (I am pretty sure I pushed in every imaginable position over the three hours it took.) But I do remember feeling safe and honored and powerful and loved.
The memory of my daughter's birth is less hazy; it was less than three months ago. In preparing for the home birth, I viewed the Birth Day as an important experience for everyone in my family, and as such, I wanted my family to be with me. I was creating a loving space in my home and I was determined to pack in as much positive, peaceful energy as possible. My mother and my husband were there through my labor. My son was in and out, being cared for by my father. In those moments of lucidity between contractions, I could hear him laughing and enjoying himself. One thing that made me feel empowered was that this was a social, emotional event, not a medical one.
As part of my decision to feel safe and nurtured in this birth, I found a practice of wonderful Certified Nurse Midwives that attend home births as well as birth center births. I felt confident birthing at home knowing that mine was a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy and that a midwife would be there to make sure things stayed that way. It's a big decision, letting a new person into this intimate and formative day. And it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Kelly ended up being the midwife on call when I went into labor. I don't know if I believe in any sort of fate or the like, but Kelly was one-hundred-percent the right person to be with me through my labor. She fit seamlessly into my family. She was present but unobtrusive. When I was feeling ill and nauseous (the hardest part of my mostly easy labor) she was sympathetic and nurturing. She got me a cold cloth for my neck while my mother held the trashcan in front of me. When I was feeling excited and chatty, she joined in the conversation and smiled, feeling the joy that was in the house, filling up every space in the room.
My birth assistant, Liz, was amazing too. So quiet and happy. So willing to take photographs to bear witness to my process, that in this safe place, truly was my own. The birth assistant I had hired was on vacation, so Liz was her back-up. Again, whatever stars had aligned, Liz was the right person to be there.
Kelly quietly made the suggestion that I get up and walk to get things moving quicker. I think she knew my water would break if I got up and that my daughter would be born quickly. I said "No, thank you," to this suggestion and she trusted that I knew what I needed to do. When my daughter was born in her bag of waters, it was gentle and as comfortable as delivering a baby can be. I made the right decision to lie on the bed and relax.
I probably could have pushed my daughter out very quickly. She was very low when I got the urge to push. After a few short and gentle pushes, we could already see her head. I wanted to deliver her gently both for her and for my own perineum. I would say: "I just want to rest during this contraction, is that okay?" And Kelly would say: "Yeah, of course, it's your birth. Do what feels right." She knew I wanted to catch my baby myself so she was there, ready to help, but she let me put my own hands there, delivering my own baby. It was amazing. I felt great. I felt in control. I could feel the excitement of my husband and my mother. As my daughter was crowning I wanted to rest again, giving myself a moment to savor the fact that I was about to meet my littlest love. I was grinning from ear to ear. My wonderful birth assistant took quite a few pictures in this moment. We were laughing at how crazy it was for me not to want to rocket this giant head right out of me. I even said "cheese," as she snapped a couple photos. These pictures are amazing. I'm so happy. My husband and my mom are too. The excitement is evident. My smile is huge, my vagina stretched to the max. These pictures remind me of those ancient birth statues that are so amazing and empowering.
The moment my daughter was born was as wonderful as I had hoped. I felt ready to meet her and out she came. Kelly tore the bag away from her face and helped place her in my arms when I exclaimed that she was slippery. The next minutes are what you want as a new mother. I was skin to skin with my baby. Blankets were placed over us. There was no fuss or rigamarole. No one put a hat on her. No one tried to wash off the vernix. Again, everyone was observing my process and filling the room with joy. Kelly knew that my son was fascinated by the umbilical cord, so we didn't cut it until after the placenta was delivered and my son came in the room to see the cord. Every detail I had hoped for was followed to the letter.
When an hour or two had passed, Kelly knew we didn't need her any more. As she gave me the final instructions to eat and rest and be mindful of my bleeding, I suddenly realized I wasn't ready for her to go. She and Liz had become part of my family. I felt attached to them. It's no wonder. The dose of oxytocin we get as our babies are born is the biggest dose of the love and bonding hormone we will ever experience. It does a great job of attaching us to our babies. I had never felt closer to my husband. I had never been so thankful for my mother. But I was also attached to my midwife!
She did a home visit two days later. I couldn't wait for her to come. I went into the office for a two-week postpartum visit. I couldn't wait for that either. I wanted to show off my daughter and to talk over some of the little details of the birth that I wasn't sure I remembered correctly. I had an eight week postpartum visit with Kelly as well. Honestly, I felt sad knowing this was the last visit of this pregnancy and birth. Kelly has a special place in our family. She was an integral part in one of the two biggest days of my life.
What a special calling it is to be a midwife. To be a part of so crucial a moment. To be a temporary member of a family. To be part of the circle of female wisdom. To bear witness to nature's greatest miracle. Kelly, I'll be honest, I do miss you. I wish you could visit my daughter and me every day. But I know you are out there, helping other women having the best birth they can. I guess that's better.
To Kelly, and all the other wonderful midwives: Thank You!
About Olivia Hinebaugh
Olivia Hinebaugh is a stay-at-home-mom to a three-year-old boy and baby girl. She is an aspiring novelist and steals time whenever both kids are sleeping to clack away at the keys. She tweets about mothering and writing @OliveJuiceLots
All photographs taken by Lauren Preti