Over the last decades, the midwifery community has been struggling to increase the number of mothers who choose midwives and out-of-hospital birth. It seems to all of us (and our clients) that physiologic birth is obviously a safer, greener, more fulfilling option. So why don’t people get it? Why don’t people understand? Why do they put up with a 30%+ cesarean rate? Why don’t they read the research and convert? Why, indeed….
Let’s talk about the first stage of labor, especially for a first-time mom. I love helping women have their first babies; it’s such a special journey. A journey to bring a couple closer together and to show a woman how strong she is—physically, emotionally, and instinctively. I include in this group women who had prior babies in a hospital setting and do not understand the difference in having a baby at home—in the same environment where the baby is usually created. They are first-time moms, too, in having their babies at home.
The warm breezes of an almost-summer afternoon rustle through leafy stalks in the tiny garden outside their bedroom window. June sunshine pours in through red grid frames, casting its rays across a woman’s worn, bare feet. Bent over the side of the bed, arms resting on her handstitched quilt, Lizzie’s quiet laboring form breathes through another wave of labor. It’s Sunday afternoon, neighbors are gone away, and Aravah and I are here waiting with them in this little house on a hill, at the very end of a quiet gravel road. Beyond her bent and weary form, the hills and valleys stretch to the horizon, cattle graze, an old draft horse swishes his tail and gives an occasional whinny, birds call, and the clouds are soft and puffy against a deep blue sky.
Almost everyone has heard of Hercules—famous for his strength—who performed 12 great labors and many other feats, including holding up the sky for Atlas and bringing Alcestis back from Hades (death) to her husband (life). Once there is a Disney-animated feature film about a hero like Hercules (Disney 1997), the hero’s name becomes familiar to many children and their parents worldwide. But few people know the name of Hercules’ mother, Alcmene, and even fewer know about Alcmene’s friend and midwife, Galanthis, who used her wits to defeat the goddess who was holding back the birth of Hercules.
We must stop hurting babies in our effort to help them.
I rubbed Mary’s feet as she sat on a yoni steam throne made of herbs gathered through the year in my woods and gardens. I listened to her tell me her birth story while she sipped herbal tea and nibbled on bowls of nuts and honey graham crackers.
Where does the first stage begin and where does it end?
I walk into the house and this particular mother has a history of abuse. I will not be surprised if something during this birth arises from that experience … or doesn’t arise. We have decided as a birth team to arrive one at a time and ease our way into the space, keeping our distance as needed. We are tracking the birth and the effects of our presence. Privacy is a priority even more than usual.
As an expectant mother stands in the light of the sun, her baby is bathed in a golden rose-colored, energizing, and soothing light. It is as if the sun above is telling the baby how beautiful this life will be. The sun communicates warmth and, as the mother smiles, the baby receives her bliss. Flowers communicate with the language of aroma. When a mother, pregnant with promise, sniffs a frangipani, she communicates her pleasure to baby.
When I make a presentation on conception/pregnancy/childbirth/postpartum, I generally have about 30 minutes to speak. According to UNICEF and United Nations (UN) reports, within this time about 7500 babies will be born in the world, while about 29 mothers will die as a result of pregnancy and birth (United Nations 2017). As ibu and lola, midwife and CNN Hero of 2011 Robin Lim said, “And I ask you to help to change this.” I was blessed to meet Ibu Robin and kiss her hands in Bumi Sehat, while spending a couple of days in her Bumi Peace Kitchen.
We know that how a pregnant woman experiences, evaluates, and copes with labor depends on: where and with whom she is during labor; her personality; her past experiences dealing with love, empathy, compassion, depression, anxiety, and stressful life events; as well as her partner and providers—whether midwives, doctors, or doulas.