“You really wanted a natural birth didn’t you?” I whispered into Julia’s ear, as she lifted her full weight off the bed into a semi-backbend, eyes blazing, doing all she could to get away from the back pain and maintain internal control. She nodded. With compassion I affirmed the obvious, “But you didn’t think you would have to work this hard….” My voice trailed into the subconscious and she re-determined with her blazing focus to enter the river of mystery. With one contraction she was carried away into her phase of pushing.
I had only met Julia a few hours before. Alison Bastien, my friend and colleague, had greeted me warmly but briefly upon my arrival in Mexico. “Love you. Welcome! Hey, there’s this great gal in labor at the famous midwife hospital, C.A.S.A. She’s a determined VBAC and the sun is close to setting which means her labor is probably picking up. Please go see her.”
It was 2006 and my fourteenth year to come as a midwife volunteer to the brave and visionary midwives of C.A.S.A. They now have a fully functioning maternity hospital, their own midwifery collective (a mixture of professional and traditional midwives), an international midwifery school, government and international recognition, etc. But above all, they continue to be kind, skilled, compassionate, visionary wimyn.
Maricruz, one of our first midwifery graduates and now a staff midwife as well as the director of the midwifery school, was with Julia. So was Julia’s Mexican husband, Marco. So was the nurse, Marta. Periodically Nadine Goodman, the founder of C.A.S.A. and a devotee of the midwives, would call and offer support. Most importantly, Julia was with Julia.
Julia had chosen the C.A.S.A. midwives because she was determined to birth naturally after what was, in her words, a horrifying cesarean in the US with her first child. Her son, now six years old, was back home with grandparents while Julia sought and fought for a safe and sane place to heal the past and experience the power of natural birth.
I offered to rub her aching back and listened to the story of how the anesthesiologist made many attempts to get the needle into her spine. I noticed that it was that part of her back that required the backbend position. Julia refused to lie in any position that put pressure on the wounded part of her back. I rubbed her feet and listened to the stories that broke her heart and her body wide open. Every time she revealed another fact of the past, her labor leapt forward.
Maricruz whispered to me, “Estrella, she looks so uncomfortable in that backbend position. I am going to suggest another.” Maricruz suggested and encouraged but Julia declined. Indeed she maintained the inverted posture both during and between contractions. She worked with her body and with her baby in a wave of rushes and fluid and sweat and stillness, keeping her balance in the backbend. The candlelight and flower essences mingled with the moonlight and smells from the adjoining garden in a way that transcended time and space.
So much was glistening in the little room, catching hues of light from every direction—the sweat on Julia’s brow, the fluid surrounding the baby’s head as she emerged, the smile on Maricruz’s face, the candle and moon light, the hope in Marta’s stillness, the sparkle in my voice and the tear in Marco’s eye.
In that simple and sacred way another divine child was born into our world. Julia had done so well. Maricruz had done so well. Yet they are fighting a tough political battle to keep the right they both exercised with such power, grace, instinct and skill in that one simple act of VBAC.
Today, the issues are VBAC and recognized education and training, standards of health care that challenge the rights of both wimyn and midwives. But as a retired midwife with 30 years of experience, the issues seem to me to be inherent challenges to the power and instincts of wimyn.
Birthing without fear is not easy. Birth has an inherent mystery that easily invokes fear. Our own little spiritual community in Missouri enjoys successful homebirth of diverse natures by facing fears and mystery through ritual and storytelling. I shall never forget talking with a Bolivian traditional midwife at an international conference in 2000. She asked me, “Estrella, we know we must take our wimyn to the hospitals; but where are the prayers?”
I agreed with her unspoken concerns. Without the cultural ways of connecting with the spirit of the matter, a womyn in labor is soulfully abandoned and, equally so, her estranged health care providers. We talk in the health care world of the fear of litigation, perhaps because that is easier than speaking of the fear of the unknown inherent in birth. Fear of litigation has become a way to talk about the fear.
Marina was full of fear as her body rocked with the violent pains of a urinary tract infection and a rapid labor. Marina was a young, single, full term primipara from a nearby pueblo. One of our gentlest midwives, Fabiola, was guiding her with melodious litanies that mixed information with encouragement. Marina had only accepted that she was pregnant the day before. All alone, she feared her parents would discover her and cast her out or punish her. She had talked with girlfriends and was sure she was having digestion and infection troubles, not a baby. Until yesterday. Now she thrashed with the pain and the fear. Fabi circled close to her like a tender guardian of a wounded animal.
She kept her in the now and made friends with her. She gave her homeopathics to calm the fears. She used water to refresh her from the profuse sweating. She rubbed essences of sweet oils to relax her muscles. She constantly educated her as to what her body was doing and what it would do next. The bottled medicines helped the body and the word medicine helped the soul.
The rest of us stayed back, respecting the relationship of trust that the two wimyn were creating. Periodically the fear would rise in fury. Fabi faced the huge fears with Marina; and slowly and confidently Marina took Fabi’s word medicine to heart. She began to gain power over the very thing that had made her feel powerless.
She had started to push and Fabiola and I consulted. Indeed, the cervix was 8–9 cm with a well-applied head. I had noticed a pattern of early encouragement to push by our young midwives, leading to swollen cervixes, prolonged pushing, unnecessary medical interventions, tears and a loss of wimyn power. We agreed to take a step back and have Marina breathe with Fabi while I stayed outside the door. The transition changed the little girl into a womyn, readying her for motherhood.
In power she pushed her baby girl into Fabi’s loving hands. I covered the droopy baby with kisses until she wailed in strength for her mother.
“Fabi! Thank you, Fabi!” silently mouthed little Marina over and over.
Nancy, another C.A.S.A. midwife, announced the arrival of a man and womyn looking for Marina. Panic filled her shivering body and chased her eyes from her baby.
“Tell them I’m sick but not that I have a baby, please!” she pleaded.
“I cannot tell lies,” said Fabiola simply. “And I cannot tell what you won’t let me tell. You must face them. You can. You are a brave and strong womyn.”
Marina faced her biggest fears, both known and unknown. Fabiola stayed by her side. The baby worked her magic. The family dealt with the shock and grew in mutual commitment. The parents forgave. A little girl became a powerful womyn and mother. All in one day at C.A.S.A.
My habit of offering a Cherokee Blessing at birth was passed on to Fabiola. Holding the girl child high in the presence of her mother and ancestors Fabi spoke in Spanish, “Que vives lo suficiente para que sepas por que naciste.” May you live long enough to know why you were born.
The echo is still in my soul and I pass it on to you.
I wish to personally thank Laura Cao for her donation of the Ticime library to the C.A.S.A. midwifery school. You too can help our Mexican sisters by making a generous and compassionate donation to help support midwifery students ($4,000 covers tuition, books, room and meals for one year) or to help buy needed supplies, books, teaching tools and equipment. Every dollar makes sense. If you know Spanish, are an experienced midwife and have a heart for special circumstances, consider volunteering through the C.A.S.A. internship program. After 14 years as a regular volunteer, I can assure you C.A.S.A. will bring you to the best of life.
Tax-deductible donations may be made to: San Miguel-CASA, Inc., and mailed to: CASA A.C. PMB 264 220 N. Zapata Hwy., Laredo, TX 78043
— Sister MorningStar, Cherokee Hermitess