The role of a midwife

Birth stories are always a lovely thing to read because it gives you the opportunity to hear about someone’s transformative experience during childbirth as you recollect your own. Back in the olden days of the interwebs, written stories were all we had. They were usually categorized like this:

-natural hospital birth
-epidural, hospital birth, episiotomy
-emergency c-section to twins
-homebirth with midwife
-long hospital labor, breech baby
-induction, epidural, hospital birth
-waterbirth, birthing center

You just ran down these long lists and picked your poison. Some stories were so beautiful they made my eyes fill with tears. Some were incredibly sad, filled with birth trauma and pain. But they were real stories, women’s stories. They educated me about birth and taught me there were more natural ways to go about bringing forth life.

Nowadays, all you have to do is search birth on YouTube to see childbirth in its full glory. I’ve given birth six times, and it still makes me squirm to watch. My daughter Maya, interestingly enough, was fascinated. She sat on my lap and watched childbirth video after childbirth video. The blood, the cries, the moans, the bodily fluids, the nudity, the big swollen vagina smack dab in your face didn’t phase her either. I was impressed.

Later, while working on an “About Me” project for her 6th grade class, she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. In Maya’s girlish, neat bubble letters was the word: midwife.


You can’t have a homebirth without a midwife

I had my first homebirth sixteen years ago, the year 2000. I was pregnant with my third child. When I think back on it now, it feels like a pretty radical decision. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have some major balls. I didn’t know a single soul who had given birth at home so I didn’t have anyone I could ask about it. It felt like a very surreal, far away dream. I didn’t even know if it was legal. So I did what any person did before the interwebs, iPhones and Google did: I opened up a phone book — maybe I could find a midwife in the yellow pages.

And, I did.

She lived just ten miles away from me. After putting my two little boys down for their nap, I dialed her up with shaking hands. Just like that, we set up a time to meet at her condo. I’ll never know what possessed me to make this decision, to call a stranger from the phone book to care for me and my unborn baby and guide me through the process of childbirth but I’ll have to chalk it up to a supernatural leading. *waves white church gloves in the air*

After that first meeting, I found myself visiting her condo for my monthly appointments, laying on the bed of her spare bedroom/office/exam room. I’d study the white wicker furniture as she took my blood pressure and felt on my growing tummy with her hands. Palpating, what the midwife called it. We’d chat like old friends as my husband took our boys down to the pool to swim. It didn’t feel at all like a “doctor visit”. She took her time, she asked me questions, she recommended herbs to cope with nausea, she told me what to expect during a homebirth. It was like visiting with a really knowledgeable friend.

In stark contract were my routine visits with my ob/gyn, Dr. Rey. I was still under the care of an HMO and it never occurred to me to stop scheduling myself doctor visits or to let my doctor know I was planning on having a homebirth. I was young and naive and didn’t understand that the medical community didn’t always play nice with midwives — especially back in 2000. I was about 20 weeks along when I requested a copy of my labs from a nurse.

My labs.
My blood work.
personal medical information.

The nurse gave me the stank eye and walked out. Within minutes, Dr. Rey stomped back in. I was startled. He’s a large man, very tall and tree-like. He stood over me intimidatingly.

“You requested copies of your labs?”
“Because I’d like a copy for my personal records.”
“You’re not planning on having a homebirth, are you?”

I remember standing there with a puzzled look on my face, not knowing if I should tell the truth or tell this giant tree of a man to kiss my fat, healthy ass.  “Yes, I am.”

His face turned beet red. “Well, I’m sorry but I can no longer treat you at this facility. If you are going to be irresponsible enough to plan a homebirth, I can’t be a part of your care. You can’t turn around and sue me if you end up having a ‘bad baby’. A nurse will be in here with an AMA form for you to sign. Have a good day.”

In a daze, I signed the against medical advice form and walked out of the office and into the sunshine. A bad baby. I tried to push his ominous words out of my head.

This stinging rejection from the medical community pushed me even further in the direction of midwives.


Midwives = friends

I was in labor with my fifth child the day before my 32nd birthday. It was an overcast, rainy day and my husband and I took short walks around the neighborhood in between the sprinkles. I wanted this baby out. Our first daughter, after seven long years of having all boys. My midwife Del told me to rest up, eat, take a few more walks and she’d be seeing me soon. I considered my midwife my friend — a friend who happened to deliver two of my babies. She was the assistant to the midwife I found in the yellow pages. I loved her calm, spiritual presence, something only a mother of ten (yes, ten children!) could possess. We hit it off right away and when I found myself pregnant again, Del was the first midwife I called.

Labor kicked in with a vengeance at two in the morning. I had a contraction so big it woke me out of a deep sleep. After I waddled over to the toilet to pee, another big contraction hit and left me panting as I stood there, white-knuckling the sink. Before another contraction could happen, I made my way to the livingroom where my husband was still up, fiddling on the computer.

Honey, you need to fill up the birth tub right away! 

I startled him but he saw the look on my face. He scrambled to get the birth tub filled with hot, steamy water.

Labor continued like a freight train, fast and furious. I held on to the edge of the birth tub for dear life. It was the first time I was afraid Del wouldn’t make it. It had only been two hours since that major contraction woke me up and I was already getting the urge to squat.

In other words, my primal urges wanted to take over. Babies come out in the squat position.

“Del! Hurry!” My only two words to her when my husband passed the phone in my direction.

When Del finally walked in, I had such a huge feeling of relief wash over me that I cried. My midwife and her soft-spoken voice, her knowing smile, her praying tongue, her capable hands. I was so thankful she was there, unpacking her things. My baby girl could be born now.

When my daughter’s head came out into the warm, murky water of the birth tub, it was like I was pushing against a brick wall. This was no “ring of fire”, this was like a thousand burning suns.

“I can’t do this.” I shook my head like a woman possessed but in reality like a woman with a baby’s head hanging from her vagina.

Del was forearm deep in the water. She smiled at me.

“Of course you can do this. If you don’t, you’ll sit on your baby’s head.”

I panted as she reached down and manually rotated my baby so the rest of her body could slide out. Like turning a key in a lock, I could suddenly push again.

Swoosh, out came my baby girl Maya into the water. Just a like a petite mermaid with full pink lips and big brown eyes, already observing the world.

We ushered in the sunrise with celebratory tears and hugs, just the four of us: artist, mama, midwife and baby.

Do you really want to be a midwife, Maya? I asked her one day. She smiled and nodded her head. I explained to Maya that becoming a midwife was a calling, and a very special one. To be the one who gets the privilege of welcoming a new soul into this world is a humbling responsibility. But, how beautiful. How beautiful indeed.

Image source: Flickr/Jason Lander

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There are 4 comments

  1. Cathy

    Beautiful birth story you have with Maya. And kudos to her or knowing what she wants to do in life. You’re right, what a rewarding job that would be.

  2. Lauren Denslow

    This was an amazing story to read! Didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I reached the last sentence! 🙂 thank you for sharing, Denise!

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