Category Archives: Midwifery

Is this it?

End of pregnancy. So much waiting.

Is it time? Is it not?

Big enough to bump into things with the belly.

How much longer? When are you due?

Cramping on and off. Discharge. Nesting.

How big is that baby anyway? What does your midwife think?

Well…we don’t really have a midwife here. Actually, we are on a road trip.

A road trip?! When your baby is due? Are you crazy?!

Crazy. Yes. This whole pregnancy has been a little that way.

My husband had to do a trip and I wanted to come along. Actually wanted isn’t quite it. I got tired of the gossip and the questions back home.

So we started out. On the donkey. At least he didn’t have a breakdown. I might have had a couple, but I swore Joe to secrecy.

Traffic was a mess. And I had to stop and pee every little bit. It was slow going for sure.

Don’t get me wrong. There were moments of sweetness. The stars for one. Seriously! This one was up there just for me I think.

I really thought the baby was coming at the last rest stop. The sign said you can’t stay more than 8 hours, but at that point I could have been good with a barn.

Which is sort of funny, looking back. After we did the government forms in triplicate, which was the point, you guessed it. Nothing but “no vacancy” signs.

I was starting to get that Crazy of pregnancy, I am now going to tip over the edge feeling.

I have to get off this beast! I would rock a little, then stop and away. At that point, I lost all sense of time.

At the height of the surge, I would do a little squat. Joe was getting nervous. He would try to talk to me, just as things got intense. I waved him away.

Finally, he walked off, probably looking for the Midwives. He came back, palpably relieved. “Come on Mar…”

We followed a path barely visible by starlight. A rough shed was around back, dry and warm. It smelled like, well…

I was just grateful. I moaned and swayed, an ageless singsong chant without words. I’ll never forget this cow looking at me with her big eyes.

Then the song changed. A lower, open vowel, with a grunt at the peak. The barn cat circled nearer.

Joe locked eyes with me, dancing with me in slow figure eights. There was so much pressure, but a bit of a longer break between now.

And then. It felt like the power of my mother and my grandmother guided me into a squat. I could feel a deep sense of “yes”. There was no going back.

I felt down there, and something warm and wet and “other” met my fingers. My eyes came open, and I saw tears in Joe’s eyes.

And then, with a primal roar, I surrendered. It wasn’t a poetic “be it done to me as you say”. It was raw.

But time stood still. I was outside of time. It felt like, looking back, that the veil between what is seen and what shimmers just beyond got really thin.

I pulled the baby up to my chest, crying and laughing all at the same time. “Oh baby, baby, baby. I thought you would never come!”

I nuzzled the conehead, smelling the musty sweetness. Joe wrapped me and the baby in long cloths.

Finally we looked. It’s a boy! The name was chosen before I even knew I was pregnant. “Oh, Jesus. You are finally here!” He looked up at me with those old soul eyes.

The reverie was broken with another surge. I came up into a squat again, and Joseph grabbed a milking bucket from the stall next door.

The placenta slid in, followed by a trickle, the cord still attached to the baby.

I leaned back, utterly done. I felt so much love coursing through me. My son was nuzzling now, crawling up my belly as if he knew just what to do.

I looked down, watching him nurse. Joseph curled up behind me, whispering in my ear as we gazed at this creature.

So much wondering. What would the days ahead bring? I felt so inadequate to parent this wise soul. I know Joe did too.

But for tonight, it was enough. Enough to just be.

Welcome, baby. Welcome. Welcome to this world.

epiphany: A trail of crumbs

Waiting

“I have fallen in love many a time in the fall of the year. I mean those times when body and soul are revived and, in the keen clear air of autumn after a hot exhausting summer, I feel new strength to see, to ‘know’ clearly, and to love, to look upon my neighbor and to love. Almost to be taken out of myself. I do not mean being in love with a particular person. I mean that quality of in-loveness that may brush like a sweet fragrance, a sound faintly heard, a sense of the beauty of one particular human being, or even one aspect of life. It may be an intuition of immortality, of the glory of God, of his presence in the world. But it is almost impossible to put into words. The point is that it is general rather than particular, though it may come as a reminder, this flash of understanding, of recognition, with the reading of a particular book, or hearing some strain of music.

“It is tied up in some way also with the sense of hope, and an understanding of hope. How can we live without it, as a supernatural virtue, ‘hoping against hope,’ during this dark period of violence and suffering through the world?

“I am bold in trying to express the inexpressible, to write of happiness, even of joy that comes, regardless of age, color, or condition of servitude, to us all. Regardless of failures, regardless even of the sufferings of others. If we did not have this hope, this joy, this love, how could we help others? How could we have the strength to hold on to them, to hold them up when they are drowning in sorrow, suffocating in blackness, almost letting go of life, life which we know with a sure knowledge is precious, which is something to hold to, be grateful for, to reverence.” The Reckless Way of Love, Notes on Following Jesus, by Dorothy Day.

I am in a season of waiting. Midwifery Grad school application out of my hands, last home midwifery birth logged in the national data base, phone off at night. I watch the world around me settle in for the long wait. The rains chase the last leaves down. The fog whispers of mysteries unknown. It is out of my hands.

My hands…these hands which doctor after doctor said would never catch a baby again. I told one specialist that my job is to hold the space, it is the mama’s to receive their babies. They gave me all they knew, these specialists. Words, so many words, statistics, prognosis, bathed in fear. Finally, I knew it was time. Time to settle into the work of healing. Healers are a rare breed. They speak in terms of listening, of knowing, of trusting. These are not the “faith” healers of my childhood, quick to lay on hands, with long and pious prayers. Those asked about private sins, insinuating that rheumatoid in a child must come from something more. They closed their eyes to the sin right in front of them, never daring to look into the eyes of that child, to wonder…

And so I sought out healers that listen for the old ways. They place needles and ask for wisdom. They extend their hands, for light and love to flow into tissues that have lost their message center. Three years now, nearly, since that driver ran a stop sign and sent us airborne; since the doctor said, “you will never practice midwifery again…”

Today, I wait again. The application packet out of my hands into liminal space, the space between. We are here in the old forest, and my senses awaken to memories, those of a child whose nights were full of terror, in the pacific northwest. The ancient trees hold their knowing, just as they did so many years ago.

There are others who wait tonight, in makeshift tents of plastic tarps. Their journey full of trauma, both in the leaving and the coming, and the in between. No country willing to receive them. Even a caravan could not magnify their voices enough to stir compassion. It is out of their hands.

Advent is a season of waiting. It is a season thick with silence. Four hundred years of it, broken only by one voice to one woman. And now she is waiting, enlarged by the secret. Eyes look, voices whisper, judgments pass from ear to ear. Even the government seems to be against her. Who wants to join a caravan on a long road, full of dust and bandits? Especially when a baby is coming.

Yes.

A baby is coming.

And in the middle of that dark night, hope stirred.

Perhaps it still stirs, even today.

The Advent Writings: Christmas night

All the stories start with Christmas morning. But what about the night?

I am a birthkeeper. I enter those spaces in the hours before and after birth, with reverence.

I know to keep the lights dim. A baby is new to the world. Eyes used to womb light, rosy in tone, are unsure about bright lights. The time is now, these hours of imprinting on mom’s face and dad’s voice.

Voices are low and singsong. Baby’s ears have heard these familiar sounds through the abdominal cushion. The startle reflex comes too easily, limbs out, eyes wide, head arched. We fold the arms and legs into the familiar, swaddling the wee one.

Smells are important too. The salty smell of amniotic fluid lingers on the skin. Vernix rubbed into soften, the new baby smell that Johnson & Johnson can never replicate. The baby follows the unique smell of the mother, able to pick out that one mom from a roomful by 24 hours of age.

Smells draw, and instincts follow, leading the baby to latch onto the breast. The golden milk, packed with goodness, drips out bit by bit. All this baby needs is here, unique for the gestational age, the perfect balance of protein and fat laced with sweetness.

And touch. Not the myriad of painful ways a baby encounters the world today. But gentle touch, reassuring this new one that the world is a safe space.

Was it like this, that holy night more than two millennia ago? One undisturbed birth, interrupted only by some sheep herders accustomed to dark and lonely quiet spaces.

It matters how we are born. It matters how we welcome new humans. And this more than a baby, welcomed as a caravan stopped for a government rule, deserved no less.

Oh Holy Night after.

The Advent Writings: watching the star

Last night I watched a star. Round and amazingly bright, it did a dance with the evergreen that tried to hide its brilliance.

I watched the star for hours.

I am sick, 3rd in the family to succumb to a viral throat morphed into bronchitis… miserable combo. Any mom of littles knows, coughing is worse at night. So finally I gave up on sleep and sat by the fire, watching the star.

photo: The star at sunrise

There were some smart fellows that did that some years back. Most people thought they were crazy. You see, they loved to get up in the night and look at the heavens. (That’s an old fashioned word for the sky). Then, get this…they made an international, once in a lifetime trip not because it got a five star rating; but because of a star.

A star.

This star, it seemed, was unusual. It moved. All stars move, in a seasonal pattern. And the stars in the Southern Hemisphere are a whole different sky. I don’t know quite where they lived, in the East. But these smart folks knew this one was doing its own dance. They couldn’t figure it out.

And they followed it.

Okay. I am identifying with this part of the story more this year. I am following a dream; or more accurately, a disruption. I didn’t invite it, and I tried to make it go away. Instead of diminishing, it got bigger, welling up in the most unwelcome places. Wise women around me began to affirm that this was not my imagination. The star, in fact, was moving.

And so we came. The star went north, where the air is clear (cloudy actually) and the stars bright. The whole group of us. And now we wait, for a sign. (An acceptance to grad school actually. It’s like a long pregnancy…September to May).

And when they came…they worshiped.

This is so often quoted it can get cliché. But really, take the churchy voice out and think about it. What do you do when you have no idea what you are doing? How do you respond when you come close to Mystery?

You fall on your face.

And maybe that is worship.

Late at night, coughing my socks up, and watching a star.

My epiphany.

Women’s Knowing

I am starting a course in herbal medicine for women.

In typical recovering Baptist fashion, tonight I dove into the first assignment. I looked at the objectives, read the key words, and made sure I understood how to turn in the homework. I had signed up for this to add to my knowledge of herbs, after all. And it was a chunk of cash! I even set up a study group to hold myself accountable.

It was a curious thing to notice there were reflective assignments that went along with the lessons. I added "get a new sketchbook" to my list.

The first chapter started with history. I settled in, pens in hand. The author, Aviva Romm, had suggested we write in the book; she gave her permission, she said. (The good girl lives in me still, but since I had permission…)

As she began to explore women's ways of knowing, I could feel myself settle deeply into my chair, tea forgotten. Yes! My heart resonated with the words. This is what women long for, to have deep meaningful relationship with a provider; to be heard. The work of a provider includes to learn to trust intuition and internal wisdom.

When someone begins to speak about "trusting the gut" and "listening to the body" I pay attention. These are themes that are woven deeply into the tapestry of my journey of recovery and healing. Radical phrases, in the context of my black and white upbringing, nearly tantamount to heresy. And yet here I am, taking another step farther in: learning about herbs. Steeping in the herbs, it sounds like, is the path ahead for the next 18-36 months.

I have been drawn to plants these last few months. I always thought I had a brown thumb. My mom never let me touch her plants, except to rub mayonnaise (Miracle Whip I think, as it was the 70's) on the leaves to make them shiny. I think she read it in a women's magazine in a doctor's office. My dad kept the garden, but he had lived on a farm off and on growing up, so of course he knew these things. My roommate in college said I could buy the plants and she would take care of them. That sounded good to me. Even when I put a few plants in the dirt, my husband always dug the bed for me. I bought well established plants, and he watered them. That seemed wise, because I had a brown thumb.

This morning I was out with a lightweight shovel I bought especially for myself, digging in the dirt. It is still 104 here in the desert, but fall is in the air. You can feel it in the first cool of the morning, in the breeze late at night.

And now here I am, deeply still as the words unfold on the page, aware somehow that I am entering another layer of redemption.

Maybe I will even start some seeds this year.

And you know what? My thumb looks to be just the right color for this season of life.

Extortion for birth. 

When we talk about the healthcare crisis or legislation and its potential impact, we must remember faces and stories of people. Real people, people with real needs. 

I hear the stories all the time. Women with a Medicaid plan that doesn’t cover prenatal care, only the birth. Women who are told they can’t get care unless they can pay a deposit bigger than a week’s income. Women who are told they can’t pick up records to change care unless they pay hundreds of dollars. Women who are told that their birth will be $20,000 cash. Women told they can’t be discharged from the hospital until they pay five or $10,000.

I could go on. These are just stories that I’ve heard this month. Legal? Yes. And no. But common, nonetheless. 

As a healthcare provider in this community in this time in history, how do I show up?

Showing up has to look like bold justice, gift wrapped in creativity.  


For me, it looks like a radical sliding scale, with births from $500 to 4000 depending on income. It looks like forgetting about what I’m “supposed” to be doing in my practice, and wrapping women around with the kinds of services I think they deserve. It looks like finding ways to nurture them, bringing in Wise and caring birthworkers who support Lactation, encapsulate placentas, give massages, do acupuncture. It looks like providing birth supplies and pools. It looks like five or six postpartum visits, maybe in the home if that’s what’s needed. It looks like herbs, lovingly crafted into teas and baths. 

I’m not saying this to promote my practice. I’m saying this is what every single one of us needs to do in some manner. Call the legislators yes. Yes and….

And come up with creative solutions within our sphere of influence, solutions that empower women. Solutions that treat them with dignity. Solutions that create safe spaces for their babies to be born. Solutions that hold space for trauma to be healed, for redemption to occur. 

Maybe that’s what’s required. To do justice. To love mercy. To walk humbly.

Letting go 

Yes, We stand alongside, lending support, and each one has to face her fears, find her courage and let go. 

Wise words from my midwife sister and friend. Words for the midwife, although they sound like they are for the mama. 

This is the work, isn’t it? Not just the work of having a baby; but the work of life. And I need others in this journey. To remind me of truth; to draw me back to trust.

The Lenten Writings:  April gives birth

This is a day where we remember the waiting, the not knowing what would come next on that long ago Saturday. The day between. 

Waiting is SO hard. Especially when you are 39 or 40 or 41 or 42 weeks. Or a giraffe who is 16 months pregnant. 

And the world watches. 

I got a call this morning, early, that a baby was coming. This happens to me pretty often. As a midwife, my phone is on loud, 24/7. But this was different. 

The baby was a giraffe, and two legs were already out!

As a midwife, I know that it’s “hands off the breech”. Let the baby come in it’s own time, letting the weight of the body gently drop. Don’t engage the startle reflex for the baby, or the tightening of the sphincter that fear produces in mom. Only touch if absolutely necessary. 

The zookeepers knew what many in obstetrics have forgotten. Birth happens best when it is undisturbed. 

And so we watched. The mama walked around, two legs out, taking an occasional lick of the amniotic fluid for energy. And finally, so slowly it seemed to the watchers, the body began to slip out. Slowly at first, then all at once, the baby giraffe emerged. 

And then the drop. Six feet to the ground, the whoosh stimulating the baby to breathe. And the mother watched, curious. She gently began to lick the baby with her tongue, encouraging it to breathe, replenishing her strength with the fluid. “Plop”, the placenta came. (They do that, you know, without pulling or tugging, often as the mom stands). 

Did you keep watching? Did you see the baby stand on wobbly legs, then fall down? The mama was so patient, letting the baby smell and nuzzle. Finally the baby found the teat and began to nurse. What a delightful surprise! The colostrum, or “liquid gold”, was tasty!

The zookeepers began to become impatient, their curiosity winning. They came close, talking and jockeying for a better view. April noticed too. Her tail began to twitch. She arched her head. She curled around her baby, shielding it from view. Mamas do that too. 

It matters how we are born. 

It matters how we welcome babies. 

April has given us a gift, this holy Saturday. Birth is holy ground, when we let it be. As a midwife, my “job” is to let it be. 


Welcome to the world, little one. 

The Advent Writings: love and respect 

When you think about starting out a new relationship, Mary and Joseph sure got thrown in the deep end! 

Strict dating rules, a betrothal, a long distance relationship without cell phone service, a sudden return, scandal and gossip, breaking up, and a nighttime angelic visitor. What a beginning! 

And that doesn’t count a donkey ride in the middle of prodromal labor! Seriously?! Not one of my midwifery clients would sign up for that. 

I love how the Nativity movie portrays the growing love and respect between this young couple. It is inviting to consider this home that Jesus  grew up in. They needed that foundation! They were about to become immigrants, and just have each other;  perhaps in a land that did not want them.  Not so different from our precious immigrant families I get to do life with. 

This is a hard season for us in many ways. The holidays, always; my father-in-law died our first Christmas as a young couple. But this year has been a hard season on so many levels. 

I am so grateful for the love and respect in our marriage and home, which undergirds this unknown path. This young couple, married 29 years last August, got thrown in the deep end too. 

This Advent, may there be space to remember the journey. Theirs and ours….

The Advent Writings: the long goodbye

I said goodbye to a precious friend today. Not the long goodbye, as C.S. Lewis says; but a goodbye nonetheless. And goodbyes are full of grief. They hold the not knowing and the not yet together in equal measure. They weave longing and loneliness into a braid of beauty and pain.

I wonder what it was like for Mary, holding a baby that she knew would move beyond her. Was there an ache mixed with the joy of watching him play? And then he stayed around longer than expected perhaps… 30 years. He left home to go be with a bunch of friends, new friends really. They were going to go travel the country without a real plan. Rumors came back, bits and pieces of stories. They probably seemed much bigger than life. And in the middle of the wondering, always the ache. 

So much of the story is not told. Perhaps there is beauty in the mystery.

So for today, I choose to hold the not knowing. I will trust that the beauty will come as the story unfolds. And dare to hold the ache of goodbye. 

Photo Credit Kate Wilder