A constant stream of profanities erupt from my mouth. At least in the moments when I find the strength to close it from its gape. She’s screaming, she’s wailing. Strong lungs. I expect to be crying real tears of emotion but I’m in shock and my mom is sobbing from behind her cellphone screen. My glance alternates between her, the midwife, and my new baby. My husband and 5-year-old still on the road, no where close to home.
Eight and a half months earlier, I walked into a modest house turned midwife’s office in Old Humble for an interview. Pictures of smiling women holding babies on every wall. We sat facing across from her in the living room. Her eyes were focused and her energy was magnetic. It’s our second child, we say.
We didn’t get the natural birth we wanted last time. The people at the hospital were pushy and inconsiderate and the fact that this 20 year old wanted to try to have a natural birth was laughable.
This time, we are committing to having this experience. This is going to be our last child. We are going to do it right.
The midwife starts by introducing herself. She tells us she’s heard all of the stories before. The people who were vaginally raped while birthing, the people forced into forceps use, the people pressured into cesareans; they have all been sitting on this same couch, waiting for someone that can tell them that their bodies are not broken. Waiting for someone to tell them they can give birth, they can experience expelling life from their organs, they can have the type of catharsis only this experience can bring. She also says she’s heard all of the questions. I mean, this certainly can’t be safe, right? What if there is an emergency? Prepping for cesareans takes 2 hours, there are very few real emergencies during unmedicated births and she has been trained for them. What if the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck? It happens for almost every other birth, you just unwrap it. What if I go over my due date and I have to be induced? We don’t induce, birth happens naturally. What if you are delivering another baby at the same time? No body asks doctors this question. She has attended every birth she has been hired to, since she was an apprentice midwife 30 years ago. What if, what if, what if. She asks them each and answers them herself like she knows what we want and what we think and what we need from her.
We trust home births, we tell her. My husband was delivered in a birthing center, caught by his paramedic dad after the midwife was late. His mother had two other home births after, my husband and his siblings made to stand along the wall to witness each one. There had been an emergency, however. The child that came right after him, his younger sister. She had cried and nursed and everything a baby should do when they are born. But the midwife noticed her hands and feet were purple. She noticed there was a discernible slant to her eyes, a fullness to her neck. The midwife noticed the baby had down syndrome, and that she most likely had a heart abnormality. She herself took the child to the pediatrician immediately, as the mom had to stay to rest. Even after the pediatrician assured her the baby checked out fine (I’m certain with the disdain that MDs give naturopaths), the midwife drove the child to Texas Children’s Hospital. She was instantly taken into surgery for a heart defect. That midwife, we explained, saved her life. And, although, we didn’t know her name, still spoke about her often.
Her name was Alice Brayer, the woman we are interviewing tells us. I was the one who delivered that baby, she says. It was destiny that we should find her, interview with her, and come to this realization. We hired her immediately. Throughout the pregnancy, she was opinionated and abrasive. She demanded a specific nutritional plan, vitamins, exercise routine. Regular visits. You are training for a marathon, she would tell me.
My mom flew in for the due date. A double cesarean person herself, she had been impressed with my prenatal care but was much too sensitive to the sight of bodily fluids to be present for the birth. That day came, but my husband had a family emergency and packed up our oldest and headed to San Antonio for the night, with the knowledge that most labors are hours long and he would definitely make it back in time if notified when my labor began.
All day I could feel the sensation of pressure on my belly. I was certain this was it, but hours passed an nothing changed, so we did not call my him home. Eventually my mom and I settled in for the night, rented a movie, and called the midwife for a check-in. She came over and opened a bottle of wine, which we all toasted and drank from. The sensations became stronger and I wanted to be in the bath. My mom called my husband and asked him to start heading home. I labored in hot water, which slowly turned warm, then mild, then cold. My skin couldn't feel the temperature. I was sweating. I was radiating heat from every pore… inside my body, I could feel heat all through me. With every contraction, all I felt was a band of heat around my uterus and eventually into the tunnels of my body that she was navigating through. It felt like just seconds, but I became impatient. The heat dissipated with groaning, so I groaned. But the midwife knew the groaning meant more. It had only been forty minutes, but it was time to push.
My husband not home, my daughter (my baby catcher!) not home. My mother reluctantly video taping because how on earth can we experience this again later. One push and her head is out. Chord wrapped around her head, I pause to allow it to be unwrapped. Her head in this world, her body still hidden somewhere inside of me, completely submerged in the water we never had time to refresh. My mom sobbed behind the camera and she said “Why do you keep putting me through shit like this?”. I laughed out loud. I laughed some more when I was instructed to push a second time. Like that was even humanly possible. But I did, and as I did I used my hands to pull her onto my chest. She choked and screamed and cried a cry so strong that the tears dried up from my eyes.
I have never felt power the way I did that day. I do not remember what it was like to be born and I do not yet know what it is like to die but I know that giving birth is what it must feel like.
Every inch of you that stayed dormant, every nerve ending that had been untouched, every emotion that had to be suppressed because it would have been traumatic to experience; it was all awakened that night. I gave birth to her, yes, but it was my soul that had not been born until that moment.