As my midwife was packing up after Pete's birth, she pulled an oxygen tank out from under the couch arm. "I didn't see that!" I said, surprised that I had delivered three feet away without noticing it. "That's the idea," she said. "We want it right at hand in case we need it, but out of sight otherwise."
It's a good emblem for midwifery care, I think -- the recognition that Pete might need help in a hurry coupled with the recognition that he'd probably be just fine, especially if I wasn't confronted with reminders of what might go wrong.
Back in September, Tiffany mentioned that she'd been satisfied with her family practitioner but would stick with midwives in the future. At the time I wondered why. I had been so pleased with Joe's birth -- our family practitioner, Dr. Right, seemed to offer the best of both worlds. If we needed to transfer to the hospital, he would be right there to run interference for us. When my mother-in-law said, "I just feel better if the doctor's in the next room," I could say, "Actually, the doctor will be in the same room. It will just be my living room." During the birth he stayed out of the way, letting the process unfold on its own. It was great. But I wanted to tell you all a litte more about my midwife.
I've had a big increase in hits lately, which I am thinking is at least partly due to new readers rather than friends checking in 45 times a day because I am late answering their emails. (Soon, I promise. I'm having trouble staying caught up on both laundry and email. I'm a little scared of what might happen if I let the dirty laundry gain momentum.)
For those of you who are new and not motivated by my sparkling prose to tramp through the archives in search of the whole story, here's the recap: miscarried in late May of '04; conceived again in late July despite my expectation that it would take a long time; felt many things including disloyalty to miscarried baby, unreadiness, wrenching uncertainty about pregnancy ending in a healthy baby, total inability to handle another loss, and buckets of guilt about all of the above; promptly turned a fetching shade of celadon and stayed that way, retching, until early October; found out as normal coloring returned that husband needed a new job; stressed and stressed and freaked; wailed and gnashed teeth when husband interviewed for a job two hours from the city; suddenly was suffused with serenity (at least briefly) about moving; spent six work weeks holding down the fort on my own in the city while my husband settled into his job here; found and purchased a house; moved in on the first day of my 36th week.
I am tired just writing it all down.
I spent a lot of my pregnancy feeling ambivalent and vulnerable, saying, "I'm pregnant!" with the back of one hand pressed dramatically to my forehead. As firmly as I believe in the sovereignty of God, I kept saying, "Lord, if you think I can handle this you are badly overestimating me."
At first we just didn't know what to do about the timing of the birth and the move. Should I stay in the city with the kids until after the baby arrived? Should we scramble to find prenatal care and a house here and get moved before the birth? Well, let me tell you: if we hadn't scrambled, I would be so fried. At the time, though, it was hard to know what was best. One big question was answered when we found a CNM who could do a home birth in Gladlyville.
I left my first prenatal appointment with her saying, "I'm pregnant!" But suddenly I was saying it with a much different tone of voice, one that said, "I am this baby's home, his refuge. I am his whole world right now. And no matter what my opinion might be on the timing of this pregnancy, I can still be glad for the chance to be his mother." I found a good radio station and sang all the way home, beating a tattoo on the steering wheel. I kept looking down at the speedometer and seeing that the needle had edged up past 80 again. "If I get stopped," I wondered, "can I plead happy?" The moon was full that evening, and I wondered if two more full moons might find me in labor. (Ha! snorts the voice of hindsight, or is it the nose of hindsight if it is snorting? The velum of hindsight, perhaps.) Anthropomorphizing aside: moonrise ahead of me and sunset behind, and a delicious inner confidence that I could manage what lay ahead of me -- a confidence that surged again every time I saw my midwife.
A friend of mine who is planning her fifth home birth was talking to me about how much she liked Dr. Right. "Midwives do all that goofy backrub stuff," she said. "I hate that! I just want them to leave me alone." But I loved all that goofy backrub stuff. Whenever I voiced a need, and sometimes when I didn't, they were right there. They didn't hover, but they helped any way they could. I fretted; they reassured. I groaned; they encouraged. "It's more show! That's the way!" they would say. (In the moment I thought, "Oh, come on, anybody can push out MUCUS -- it doesn't have any bones!") Through the hard part of my pushing stage they would lean in and push on the top of my pelvis together as a contraction hit, making more room for Pete to descend. Oh, the relief.
Birth is at bottom a solitary undertaking: nobody can drink that cup for you. (I sound like a bluegrass singer here: You gotta wa-alk that lonesome valley.... It's true, though.) Dr. Right's approach was to give me plenty of space to do what I needed to do. I appreciated that. But my midwife came in close. She couldn't walk that road with me, but she could stand right nearby and tell me she knew I could get there. And get there I did.
She came back 36 hours later for my postpartum visit and asked how I was feeling about the birth. I said, a little choked up, "It was such a nice birth." She said, "It was a nice birth, the kind that fills me up and keeps me going." Suddenly I didn't want her to go -- she had been such a welcome, sane-ifying (what is the opposite of crazy-making?) presence during the last few months. I said, "Thank you." She answered, "It was an honor. Thank you for inviting me."
For a few days I couldn't even think about that without tearing up. An honor? To follow me around as I crawled on the floor mooing? To wipe up the blood and mucus and excrement? An honor? But I thought more about it, and realized that she was the person who first saw my little guy's face. She shared in one of the best moments of our marriage. She listened in as we got acquainted with the baby we had waited eagerly to meet.
And it made me think again about the paradox of birth. From what St. Paul calls my "less presentable parts," along with all the flushable stuff, have come my greatest treasures. The most physically demanding work I have ever done has opened the door for the most spiritually demanding work I have ever done, work that is fitting me for heaven. The most intense pain I have yet experienced has yielded to the richest joy I will know until the last great passage. On that day, too, I hope to see a Face -- deeply beloved and heretofore hidden.
Here we are together, just a little while after Pete (hiding in towels) was born. I am on top of the world. (Perhaps some people can get to the top of the world with tidy hair; I cannot.) She, I think, is enjoying the view with me.