How do you put an experience that moves you to our soul…down in mere words? How can I possibly convey the way my heart felt, the strength and power in the room, the atmosphere and the miracle that unfolded before my eyes?
I can’t. I have to accept that to move on with this blog post…I won’t be able to REALLY tell her story the way that I believe it deserves to be told. But she specifically asked me to share it from my point of view, and how can I deny her this request when she just gifted me with the privilege of being there when her baby took her first breath…
So I will try. Please forgive the fact that I go from present tense to past tense…as I am writing this story that is so fresh in my mind, I find myself drawn back into that sacred space and my writing becomes present tense because I am there again…feeling it…absorbing it…
* * * * *
I first met Angela in May, 2009. She and her new husband, Brandon, were interviewing midwives for a homebirth as Angela was pregnant with their first baby. They took a Hypnobabies class at Nurturing Hearts, hired a doula, rented a birthing pool….and then approached her 21 hour labor with grace and strength, birthing her 10 pound daughter at 7:48am on her bed on September 27th, 2009.
Imagine my glee when I got the call in March that she needed to make an appointment – she was pregnant again! We saw each other regularly – every 4 weeks at first, then every 2 weeks, and finally every week…watching her daughter now a walking toddler and anticipating a little sister for her.
Not even to her due date this time, I got a call from her just last night. She’d taken a nap earlier and had a dream that she was in labor, but then woke up and was feeling funny. Not in pain or anything like that…just a little ‘off’. Oh and by the way, she’d had a little pink spotting, too. These calls always make me smile, because first time mommies often get so excited about every single little itty bitty sign that MAYBE a baby will be coming soon – but I usually end up giggling at second time moms as they often go into this incredible state of denial that it could really be labor!
She just thought I should know, but didn’t want me to come or anything just yet as she wasn’t convinced that it was actually labor. I, however, got out the clothes I would change into as soon as she called me and I headed straight to bed!
The call came in at 5:08am this morning. They were now 5 minutes apart and a lot stronger…she was finally able to admit that it could be labor and thought now would be a good time to head over. I (and the apprentices that I work with) gathered at my house to carpool the long drive down to Angela’s home an hour away. We got to her home at 6:30am, escorted by her husband through a back door to avoid waking up the toddler who was still sleeping. I am often struck with the thought as I arrive at someone’s home that, “A miracle is happening right now…and yet the world continues, unaware” – and sneaking through the gate into her back yard and into the patio door that led to her bedroom reinforced that feeling. We would keep this miracle to ourselves for now. The sun was just peeking over the distant mountains and gave the room a dark golden glow, like God, Himself, was lighting a candle for us.
I gave Angela a kiss on her forehead between her contractions while my apprentices began to get our supplies and gear ready. She smiled at me briefly, then closed her eyes and returned to her labor. Deep breaths…that was the only hint she gave of the work she was doing. I listened to baby’s heartbeat that was strong and healthy. Her doula arrived before we did, and she had already set up the birthing pool and was busy filling it with hot water.
I went out to my car to get the bag of baby hats. I knit baby hats for each of the babies I witness coming into the world – and I had a special hat for this little girl. I was lucky enough to be at Angela’s Blessing Way just a week and a half prior, and included in that ceremony was a wrist-binding – a single piece of yarn was wrapped around each of our wrist, uniting us as a single unit. Each piece was then cut between the wrists, thus leaving us each with a small piece of the yarn. We all carried our piece of yarn with us, uniting us in spirit, our well wishes for Angela binding us together. It was with that same yarn that I made this baby’s hat while dreaming of her arrival.
As I returned to the bedroom (winding my way around to the special ‘secret’ entrance), I opened the door to hear, “Her water just broke..”
Angela smiled up and said, “Yay! That felt so good!” In that moment I was glad that the birthing pool was almost filled as I felt certain it wouldn’t be long and we’d have a baby joining us! I noticed the candle flick-flicking away on the TV stand nearby – her birthing candle that we had made for her at her blessing way, with our well wishes embedded into the side. That made me smile…everything was just about ready to welcome this baby!
I didn’t realize that while the tub was almost full – it was also WAY too hot! Usually we find it a challenge to get it warm enough and keep it hot, often boiling pots of water and waddling our way from kitchen to pool, dumping them as fast as they will heat – but this time they turned the faucet water to cold and they dumped ice cubes in to cool it down faster!
Less than half an hour after her water broke, Angela eased herself into the pool. She was still smiling, breathing deeply through contractions – Jen (senior apprentice midwife) leaned over to me and said, “I want to look like THAT when I’m in labor!” Angela WAS making this look peaceful, that’s for sure…
Everything prepared for the birth, I took refuge away from Angela’s gaze so she wouldn’t feel stared at, took out my knitting, and began to busy my hands. Nobody spoke. Angela’s Blessing Way candle flickered, its light was now muted by the golden morning sun, but it wasn’t intimidated and flickered away – small but powerful. Just like Angela. Her vita mutari grew, but she rolled with it, undaunted by the enormity of what she was doing. The silence was powerful and we tried our best to respect her space.
Silence. Deep breaths. Silence. More deep breathing.
A deep and powerful grunting push made the entire birthing team leap to their feet. This wasn’t the guttural moan of a mom in transition – that was the whole-body ‘bend you in half’ sound of a woman pushing for her baby! Just 10 minutes earlier she had eased into the water…
The entire team spung! Nobody spoke – we didn’t have to – we’ve all heard that sound before. I had my gloves on and my assistant, Crystal, was next to me with the tray, doula Rose and Jen grabbed the cameras. Still nobody spoke…lots of smiles, but nobody spoke. In the silence we waited. Brandon was behind Angela, holding her hand, waiting for the baby they had created…peering over Angela’s belly, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
Another push, her belly contorting with the power of these pushing contractions. That one done, she rested in the water, silence again coming over the room.
Then a teeny voice from outside the bedroom…”Mommy?”
Rose left and returned with the toddler. Angela smiled up at her, straddling Rose’s hip, watching her mother labor for her sister. They had moved their bed over for the pool to fit, so this was actually the very same spot that she had been born just 2 years earlier! Another contraction grew and Angela’s body pushed again. Angela surrendered to her body, letting it do the work of pushing her baby out, then relaxed into the tub again.
Rose leaned over to allow the toddler to give her mommy a kiss…and she gave one to daddy, too. She was about to be promoted from being the baby of the family to the exalted position of big sister – and I don’t think she ever looked bigger to me than in that moment.
7:48am – the same time that the toddler was born 2 years prior, and Angela pushed again – and I got the first glimpse of the baby’s hair swaying in the water, just peeking out. Long, dark hair! I asked Brandon if he was going to catch his daughter, and he was excited to say yes and come into “catching position”!
7:52am and the baby is at a full crown, a round circle of thick dark hair. Angela reaches down and feels the baby’s head and says, “Oh wow!” We don’t want to laugh, but it’s hard not to let the overwhelming joy and honor of that moment bubble up inside of you! Another push, and the baby is still crowned. Slowly, eeking out, tiny bit by tiny bit. Four minutes it would take her to go from the baby’s forehead – to the entire head being out. Four long minutes of patience and control. Four minutes of easing the baby, letting her body do the work. Brandon reached into the water and caressed his daughter’s head – and echoed his wife when he said, “Wow!”
And it would take that long for her to birth the body as well. Minutes ticked by…Angela pushed, but the baby didn’t budge. She pushed again, and still no baby. After 3 minutes I told her that she needed to push with everything she had and keep pushing, Brandon’s hands waiting eagerly for her. Angela took a big deep breath and pushed…hard…very hard….and kept pushing…and we could see a shoulder…then her body started to slip…slowly…very slowly….to the belly now. Keep pushing Angela! To the hips…
8:04am – “One more push for her hips, Angela…come on…” Another deep breath in and a big push and she slipped out into daddy’s waiting hands!!! Brandon picked her up and handed her over to her mom.
She flopped into Angela’s arms and on her chest. Not all of our babies cry – and usually they don’t need to! Some babies are so okay with being born that they just blink at us and glance around, greeting the world with curiosity more than anger at being pushed into this entirely new world! But this was different – this wasn’t a content baby checking out her surroundings…this was a baby that was unconscious from a challenging birth.
I quickly came around the tub and felt her umbilical cord – her heart rate was only 60. I encouraged Angela to talk to her baby…feel her, rub her back, and talk to her…look how cute she is!
Heartrate was still 60. I said a prayer…please let the placenta resuscitate this baby so I wouldn’t have to…please. “Hi baby!” I used a washcloth to rub her back…checked the cord again, 80 beats per minute. “Good…good baby…talk to her, Angela…”
Angela rubbed her baby’s back, “Hi sweetheart…..hi baby…”
I felt her cord – and was thrilled beyond words to feel a strong, healthy beat of 150! Phew..thank goodness! “GOOD baby…come on and tell us your story…” another rub of her back with the washcloth and her face wrinkles.
And she let out a protesting cry.
“You didn’t like that..I’m sorry! I won’t do that again…” I put the wash cloth down. Her pink skin, her eyes opening…she was no longer in trouble. I step back, giving the new family their space.
They snuggled together, Angela and a pink and beautiful baby in the pool with Brandon just outside. Angela told us she felt some cramping, and easily birthed her enormous placenta into the pool.
She wanted to get up and onto the bed so the baby’s cord was clamped and cut by Brandon so he could hold his daughter for the first time. We helped Angela to the bed while he held his baby skin-to-skin, just like Angela had done. As soon as Angela was comfortably in the bed, her baby was placed back with her.
It wasn’t until an hour and a half had passed (and baby had been fed) that Angela said she wanted to find out how big this baby was. We were all surprised to see a full 10 pounds 10 ounces!! An inspection revealed that Angela had no tearing whatsoever of her vagina (that was much less surprising to all of us who just witnessed the birth).
A few hours after this baby joined us earthside, most of the evidence of the birth had been cleaned up and packed away and we were preparing to leave. When we arrived just 4 hours earlier, this was a family of three….now a family of four.
As I finish the blog post I will log off this computer and kiss my own children goodnight (who look much too big to me nowadays) and will head to bed. I know I will dream of this baby’s birth, and I welcome the opportunity to relive this experience over and over again. It was an honor, it was a blessing, it was a gift to be able to witness….thank you, Angela and Brandon. Thank you.