Natural Life Magazine

The Gentle Art of Birthing at Home
by Debra Elramey

Baptism of Light by Sara TurnerIt was six months before I called a midwife to confirm that indeed I was pregnant. Never mind that my jeans were getting tighter by the day. I could not imagine myself being pregnant again after fourteen years, which was the age of my second child, Hannah. After all, I’d served my time. Had gone beyond the call of duty.

I’d nursed the first two children until they were three years old, and then had kept them with me in the nest until they were ready to fly on their own – it’s called homeschooling. My son Jesse was eighteen at the time and ready for college, and Hannah was beginning high school. And me? I was writing the Great American Novel and concomitantly trying to graduate my older two. No easy task, especially when the muse is sitting on your shoulder and whispering words in your ear while you sit taking dictation a mile a minute. My whole heart was in that novel. Besides, the high schoolers were independent by this time and didn’t need me standing over their shoulders. I worked indefatigably day and night on Broken Angels, the title of the manuscript. Synchronicities left and right: an editor shows up in my life and offers to help, my cousin’s surgeon’s daughter works for Algonquin, a publishing house… success was in the cards.

But alas I realized the inevitable: I was indeed pregnant with my third child. I decided I wanted a girl named Abigail. A boy would have sufficed, but I really had my heart set on another girl for some reason that reason knew nothing of.

There was only one problem: where to have her? At six months pregnant I still had no plan. No doctor, no hospital, no clue. I knew one thing for sure: I was not going back to the local hospital labor and delivery. The last birth experience had been an unspeakable hell. I’d been abandoned by the night staff in maternity and cannot imagine anything short of crucifixion being more traumatic. I might as well have been in a torture chamber. Reason enough to make a new plan Stan. But where to go? I called a friend named Susan who’d delivered her children at home. She gave me the name of the midwife she’d used. When I phoned Amy (as I’ll call her) to see if she’d take us on, she agreed to see me for the first prenatal visit within a couple of weeks.

The Midwives

When I arrived at her home in Raleigh for the initial checkup, a Native American woman answered the door. Her countenance was angel radiant and her smile warm and reassuring. She introduced herself as Julia, Amy’s midwife mentor, and invited me inside. I sat in the living room amid a number of other expectant moms. A lady beside me on the love seat turned my way and said, “You’ve had a difficult labor and delivery in the past and that’s why you’re here. Just to set your mind at rest, you’re in the right place. This birth experience will be drastically different from the last.” She didn’t tag her words with “trust me” but somehow I did. After all, the woman didn’t know me and had no prior knowledge of my past. She also predicted that this time around would be a healing experience, which proved to be true. Her words were the clear sign I’d been seeking. Here the atmosphere was entirely different from that of a doctor’s waiting room. This space held an ambiance of peace and joy.

At last, I went into a bedroom and met with Amy. I learned that she had six children of her own, all delivered naturally in the comfort of her home, and all homeschooled. She had a quiet air of confidence about her that eased any doubt in my mind that I was in the right place. In contrast to a doctor’s office, I didn’t get the feeling that I was just another number on the assembly line, that there was any real hurry to herd me in and out. Now I understood why Amy was in such popular demand: she was welcoming, genuine, and able to inspire trust. She was the au naturale type with a long braid hanging down her back, and she wore a comfy organic cotton dress. Tea for Two was the name of her homegrown herbal tea company – a thriving business designed for mothers and their babies in utero. Her red raspberry tea was the quintessential potion known to facilitate a quicker and easier childbirth, she informed me. In addition to the bag of crushed tea leaves, she also sent me home with a prenatal formula of squaw vine, blessed thistle and pennyroyal herb, black cohosh, and false unicorn root.

I asked Amy about the boiling water too. In black and white picture shows, when the women all had homebirths, you’d hear some frantic voice, “Quick, get the boiling water!” I’d always wondered exactly what the boiling water was for. She told me it was for making tea. If a baby is born in the middle of the night, say, the birth attendants have to stay awake.

When the time to deliver grew near, she gave me a book called The Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth and a list of things to have on hand for the big event. After reading about the Bradley method I preferred it over Lamaze, which I’d used during labor with the other children. Bradley was far less complicated and less hassle. Instead of distracting yourself from the birth process – as the intricate breathing exercises of Lamaze are designed to do – you are fully mindful and wholly engaged during Bradley’s method of natural childbirth. Among the items Amy had on the list was, “plenty of snacks.” I learned from her that, yeah, you can eat while in labor at home, as opposed to the stark hospital rules of no food no drink…a few ice chips during the heat of labor, maybe. This artificial atmosphere evokes the feeling of having a tumor removed instead of having a baby.

I asked Amy about the boiling water too. In black and white picture shows, when the women all had homebirths, you’d hear some frantic voice, “Quick, get the boiling water!” I’d always wondered exactly what the boiling water was for. She told me it was for making tea. If a baby is born in the middle of the night, say, the birth attendants have to stay awake.

It was August tenth around seven p.m. when I called to let Amy know my contractions were coming about three minutes apart. Approximately an hour and a half later I opened the door and there stood Amy, Julia, and Kim, a nurse-midwife. They came right in and made themselves at home. We had plenty of snacks and drinks on hand. And yes, the kettle was on the stove, full of water ready to boil, whenever.

By midnight, the contractions were coming less than one minute apart. Kim suggested we take a walk, so the two of us took a stroll outside. The fuchsia crepe myrtles lining my street were in full bloom and the moon was a bright lantern illumining our path. Kim said, “When you feel you can no longer walk, when the pain intensifies to that point, let me know and we’ll go back inside.” This was a first. In a hospital I would have been sentenced to bed, lying flat on my back way before now. They’d never have allowed me to go for a walk under the crepe myrtles. They’d never have allowed me to eat, drink, and be joyous.

Finally a sharp pain stopped me dead in my tracks. Kim stood by me and held onto my shoulder. “Is it that time?” She asked. It was. The two of us made our way inside. “She’s ready now,” Kim announced to the household. I can’t imagine a medical facility giving me the freedom to call the shots.

In bed, I breathed deeply and freely. No complex counting skills involved. No shaving or stirrups or strapping down. No needles and tubes and fetal heart monitors. With each intensifying contraction, I pictured myself on a surfboard riding the waves. I knew that the longer and harder the pain, the closer my baby was to appearing. “Let me know when you’re ready to push,” Amy said. When I was tired of riding the waves, I pushed. I pushed and pushed some more. Next thing I knew, Amy had caught the little one in her hands. “She looks like an Abigail to me,” my midwife declared. Never before had I heard any words that sounded more like music to my ears. Abi did not enter this world with the usual newborn wailing. Her first cries were a song. “La la la…” she chanted.

Debra Elramey’s writing has appeared in numerous literary anthologies, magazines, and journals across the U.S. and Canada. She has received, as finalist, a poet laureate award from the NCPS. Currently, she is working on a manuscript, School of Unschooling, a memoir about her family’s learning adventures at home and in the community. The accompany photo is by Sara Turner.


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