by Maria Bangs
Jesse, my older brother, was the only baby of my mother’s who was not delivered with a midwife. My own mom had an experience similar to so many mothers engaged in the conventional medical model of birth. Her doctor was not there to assist in labor, only arrived shortly before his birth, and after having Jesse pulled from her with forceps, my mother sought other options with the rest of her children.
When I told her I wanted a home birth, she said, ‘Just promise me you will go to the hospital if something happens.’
‘I’m not stupid, Mom, the health and safety of me and my baby is obviously most important’ I sighed, ‘I just want to have the opportunity to birth my baby uninterrupted, and not have to fight a system that practices the opposite of that.’ Plus, I hate hospitals. Perhaps if I went to the hospital any time other than when my mom is there, I might feel differently. There is no love lost between me and the hospital, and I don’t care how good the food is. I trusted my midwife as a professional and an expert on natural birth. ‘I want you there, Mom. I need you at my birth, for support.’
I had been in Michigan for about five minutes before I became pregnant, so I had absolutely no idea where I was going to find a midwife who did home births. We found Kathi on the Internet, and I instantly knew after just fifteen minutes on her site, that she’d be the one delivering our baby. Her office was in her home, and after a short phone call to set an appointment, Dan and I found ourselves sitting in her living room flipping through books of all the births she had attended. Seventeen years of babies born at home. And even some that weren’t.
Kathi was amazing. Every question, concern, anxiety she listened and provided me with information. Every appointment was not only the standard pre-natal visits of checking protein in the urine, weight gain, and listening to fetal heart tones, but it was a pregnancy counseling session. At my 24 week appointment, on all fours, she demonstrated how to rock my pelvis to begin coaxing the baby into an optimal position for birth. We drank tea, and laughed, Kathi and her assistants Katy and Allie, as I talked about my pregnancy, what I was feeling, and discussions about birth. I left every appointment feeling peace about my baby and my pregnancy, good energy, and books tucked into my purse.
I certainly worried. I worried there was something wrong. I was sick to my stomach some days thinking there was going to be something we didn’t catch, some pathology. I worried about the unknowns. I told Dan the day of our ultrasound that we had to be prepared to say goodbye to this baby if we did indeed find problems which would only ultimately lead to his death.
I ate an organic (mostly) diet, high in protein, calcium, omega-3?s and leafy greens. I swam at the beach, dove off the piers, surfed in the waves up until 16 weeks. I walked daily, sometimes several miles, and at nine months I was substitute teaching and climbing the sledding hills with the kids. I saw the chiropractor, a woman who had delivered all four of her whopper babies (the smallest was 10 pounds) at home with Kathi, and she also felt the baby’s positioning and adjusted me to aid in preparing my body for birth. I practiced pre-natal yoga and the exercises recommended by Kathi, and I don’t think I sat on the couch the last month of my pregnancy. Dan encouraged me to take yoga classes, see the chiropractor, and he treated me to a maternity massage each trimester. My midwife constantly fed me information, and listened to all my fears, concerns and scheduled time into our appointments to do so. At no point did I feel as though a natural birth at home wasn’t possible, and I approached childbirth as the most difficult physical feat I was ever going to engage in.
At my 12 week appointment, Kathi, normally ambivalent about the necessity of ultrasound, recommended one for the purpose of placenta placement. At that point there was an indication it could be placenta previa, a rare condition where the placenta covers the cervix, and an absolute need for cesarean. You can’t birth the placenta before the baby without putting both woman and baby at grave risk. We scheduled blood work to be done the same day. The ultrasound revealed the placenta was indeed attached to the anterior wall, which wasn’t ideal, but it was not covering the cervix so a natural birth would be possible. Since everything else checked out with the lab work and the ultrasound, there was no need to visit radiology or the hospital again.
The full moon rose and the sun moved into Aquarius on January 19, 2011. I was 38 weeks, and it was a Wednesday. I woke up that morning to the feeling of a head between my legs. Walking more resembled waddling, and I had a hard time standing still. I took a sub job that day, and as I walked out of school I announced the next time I’d see them again, I would not be pregnant.
Thursday I dusted my baseboards and ceiling fans. My mom was due to fly in on Monday from Colorado, and I just had to get through the weekend and the baby could come. Kathi, Katy and Allie had been to our house the week before for our home visit to make sure we were prepared for a birth at home. We had our birth kit, our bag of linens, towels, receiving blankets, hats. The battery on the camera was charged. I planned to hit the grocery store the next day to stock up on our dwindling supply of groceries. I was ready for the race called birth, even if I wasn’t so sure about motherhood. I made some calls after watching Jeopardy to ensure everyone I was indeed still pregnant.
Dan was watching a Netflix as I dosed off for the night around 10pm. He was just going to bed for the night when I sat up quickly, ‘My water just broke.’ I went to the bathroom, and sure enough, broken waters. I checked the time, it was ten minutes to one. I had to call Kathi. Ruptured membranes warranted a call to the midwife, even in the middle of the night.
‘No contractions yet,’ I told her. ‘I’ll call you when things get serious.’ I hung up the phone and said to Dan ‘You get some rest. I’ll wake you when I need your help.’ I figured I’d be laboring for several hours before I would need Dan’s support. In the meantime I ate leftovers and turned on Conan. Contractions started, and by the time Conan was over, I was too restless to sit. I paced and tried going back to bed but the contractions were keeping me from being able to lay still. They were getting pretty close together. I checked the time again and it was only 2am. Things were progressing much faster than I expected, so I woke Dan up. We timed a few contractions and they were three minutes apart.
‘That can’t be right. Time the next one.’ Same thing. It had only been an hour since my waters broke, this was supposed to take ten. We timed them again. I got in the shower to see if they would slow down, and they only became more intense. We timed contractions for an hour, and they remained ninety seconds long and three minutes apart. It was 3am and outside was puking fat flakes, and our unplowed road was drifting.
I lay on the floor while Dan called Kathi. This was happening. I couldn’t believe we were making the call to the midwife to come to our birth. I’d been waiting for this moment, dreaming about it, worrying, and here it was. I spoke with Kathi as well and apologized for it being the middle of the night, ‘But with the snow, and us being out of town…’
‘I will see you soon, Maria. Just keep working.’
After I hung up the phone, I asked Dan to make me a grilled ham and cheese. We grabbed the camera and took the last pregnancy pictures. I could only finish half the sandwich before labor became work and my appetite vanished.
It was ninety minutes until Kathi and the other ladies arrived. In that hour and half I moved from the toilet to the bedroom floor to the bed, breathing through each contraction as they became more intense. When Kathi stomped her boots off at the front door, I was lying in the hallway at the top of the stairs moaning through a contraction. I was aware that my primal brain had taken over, and my body was devoted solely to birthing.
I hovered over the toilet when Kathi appeared in the doorway wearing a brown shirt reading, ‘Midwives help people out.’
‘I like your shirt,’ I said followed with a moan and I went to my knees in the hallway. Dan helped me up. ‘I want to get in the shower.’ The contractions were becoming more and more difficult, and supposedly water helped. The shower was nothing but a nuisance. I curled up on the shower floor and whimpered for my mom. Dan helped me out of the shower, and as I moaned through another contraction on the bathroom floor, I looked at him. ‘I can’t do this.’ Boom. There it was. Self-doubt. I knew this meant the end was near, or at least nearer. I needed to lay down. I couldn’t be walking around anymore. As I walked to the bedroom I looked at Kathi, ‘I’m not getting a break here.’
‘Yes. Keep working Maria. You are doing fine.’
Okay, so this was normal. I was supposed to be having one contraction after the next. I lay on the bed, as the moon glowed through our big bay window and sky lights. I moaned as Dan stroked my hair and Katy, one of the other midwives, sat nearby. It was one continuous contraction now, ebbing and flowing but never tapering off. I closed my eyes and commanded my cervix to open with the contractions that flowed one after the next. ‘This hurts.’ Open. Open. Open.
‘Maria, when you feel the urge to push, let me know,’ Katy instructed.
Push? I couldn’t believe it. Then with the next contraction, there it was.
Relief. I was in transition, and with the next contraction, I rolled over on the bed to my hands and knees. If I knew one thing, it was that I did not want to give birth on my back. Facing Dan, I pushed. Each contraction crashed and I bore down and pushed from my core. I waited for them to say the magical words, ‘I see the head.’ But none came. I pushed more. Frustrated, tired, sweaty, ‘Are we getting anywhere?’ I thought pushing was the easy part.
‘Remember,’ Kathi said, ‘Your baby has to move around your pubic bone.’
Oh yea. I pushed with the next few contractions. I pictured my baby as he moved through my pelvis. With each contraction, I visualised him moving around my pubic bone. There! I felt him move. I felt his head slide down. We were working together, me and my baby.
‘Push until each contraction ends,’ one of the midwives instructed, ‘Really bear down.’
It was slimy, and it distracted me to touch it. I focused my mind and body back to birthing. Next Contraction: push; push; push. Drink water. Catch breath. Repeat.
His head began to come through. ‘You are stretching very nicely,’ one of the ladies said, as they lathered my bottom with olive oil. ‘With the next contraction you are going to push and then blow it off. Ease this baby out.’
At last, ‘With your next contraction, you are going to push your baby out.’
Time stood still. The moon glowed down over Dan’s face and we stared at each other. The snow continued to fall outside, and we waited. The final contraction came, and the urge to push followed, and with a plop the baby dropped onto the bed. Purple-gloved hands quickly dried and capped his wet head.
I turned. It is a boy. It’s my baby boy.
Shaking, I fall against the wall, holding mybaby. Dan is next to me, kissing my sweaty forehead. I press my baby against me and breathe.
Kathi demonstrates with ease how to breast feed, and as he is suckling, just moments after birth, they listen to his heart and lungs. Ten minutes later, I curl up in a contraction and expel the placenta.
The following hours were filled with normal birth technicalities. The midwives made us breakfast, and Kathi monitored me closely in the shower and getting to and from the toilet. His apgar score at one minute was an 8 and at five minutes, a perfect 10. We took bets on what the baby weighed, and at a healthy 8 pounds 10 ounces, my guess was closest. I did not have an episiotomy, and only tore minimally, and certainly not enough to warrant stitches. Kathi gave us instructions and literature on how to keep the baby warm, monitor his temperature, pulse, and heart rate. We were given explicit instructions to call at any sign of change. I also was under strict bed rest, and we were given information on how to monitor my temperature, blood flow, etc. They remained with us until it was clear that both Timbre and I were healthy and it was clear we’d be safe left alone. They came for follow-up visits the next day and the fourth day.
I did it this way for me. To prove that I could do it, to prove it was possible to engage in a healthy pregnancy, preparing vigorously for a difficult task, and accomplishing what I set out to do. I would love my son the same no matter what sort of birth experience I had. But I wanted the authentic birth experience, the real deal, and I wanted to experience birth in the intimate way intrinsic to its design. This was the birth of my child. I will never give birth to this child again, and I wanted it my way without interruptions, and without having to protect my birth from a system built on interruptions.
I gave birth at home trusting that my body wouldn’t fail me, and it worked. My body worked exactly the way it was supposed to, and it didn’t need any medical assistance. The incredible capabilities of the female body still blows my mind. If men could have such understanding. It was difficult, but it was not impossible. It was painful, but not unmanageable. Everything in birth had its purpose, and my body knew that. I believed it, my midwives believed it, and nothing interrupted that process. When I doubted myself, the people around me did not.
Shortly after he was born I called my mom. She said, ‘You got the birth you wanted, Maria.’
‘I know. I wish you could have seen it.’
Timbre was Kathi’s 500th birth. He was born in a blizzard at 7:54 am on the morning of Friday January 21, 2011 under the light of a full moon.