By Whitney Canales
I believe you never know what you’ll want or need in labor until you are there. Some mamas imagine they will want to be alone, when they find they actually need supportive hands and a stream of gentle whispers from other women lifting them up. Some may picture moving their hips to the rhythm of energetic, positive music, but when the time comes, they long for pure silence beyond the sounds of their moans and cries to push their babies earthside. It amazes me how well midwives read the laboring woman and her needs. They bring the very unique and particular support that individual women crave in their most vulnerable and empowering moments. I think that’s what makes midwifery so personable and tender. Somehow they just know. Christy and Jenny offer safe, professional, evidence-based birth support, but I will pretend that this is the unexplainable folklorish magic of midwifery, silent and knowing.
I knew Jenny and Christy through my midwife in Texas, and right around the time we moved to Washington, so did they. It couldn’t have been more perfect — two women whom I already knew and trusted would be there beside me on the journey of having my third child!
My last labor had been so fast and furious, my midwife arrived just seven minutes before my daughter’s birth. Even though it was a swift two and a half hours from my first contraction to the moment she slipped into waiting hands, it was the most painful thing I had ever gone through, and watching the birth video two days later left me in tears. I had been emotionally unprepared for the pain, and was fearful about going from one child to two. Something told me that had a lot to do with how the birth had affected me. I was determined that this time, I wouldn’t let fear dictate how my baby came into this world. And I had been praying for nine months for a six-hour labor.
On the morning of my due date, I woke up to slight cramps at 7am. I was optimistic; my story would be different this time. I woke up my kids and packed their bags for spending the day with Grandpa. I called my mom and my sisters, letting them know that today was the day. A few hours later, we all gathered in the small room at the birth center, warm and welcoming light splashing golden upon the walls. Native American flute music was the soundtrack as I sat on the couch, comfortable and quiet and at peace.
When I needed to walk to further my labor, Christy and Jenny suggested I walk. When I was lying on my side and my baby’s heart rate slowed, they let me know and gently asked me to stand. When in that cloudy, quiet place of laboring and unable to make my own decisions, they encouraged me to take advantage of the warm waters of the bathtub. When my body began to grunt and tighten and clearly wanted to push on its own, and I asked them if they could check me first to make sure I was ready, Jenny looked me straight in the eye and said, “You have done this before. Trust your body. I can check you if you really want me to, but your body knows.”
Writing this now brings tears to my eyes. It was such a powerful moment: the gift of being able to bring my own baby into this world, with my own instinct; to trust that this is what is supposed to take place. This should be a given, but in a society where women are so often not offered the opportunity to simply trust their bodies, it was just that — a gift. It’s one that I’ll never forget. I agreed that she didn’t need to check me for dilation, and I began to push.
After a few pushes, my water broke and a small cloud of meconium billowed in the tub. This was the first time I felt fear during my labor. I knew meconium aspiration was a risk, and my entire body tensed. Jenny spoke to me in a calm voice, reminding me that I was so close to holding my baby and that they would make sure she was healthy as soon as she came out.
Sun breaking through clouds – that is what it is like, every time a baby comes wailing and wriggling out of their mother, and the entire room is filled with joy. Bright, yellow sunshine. I am never aware of how long I hold my baby in my arms while we are still attached to the cord that brought them blood and life, as they breathe in cold air, using tiny, strong lungs for the first time. There we held one another, there I traced the wet curls that cradled her ears — I am never one to count toes until hours later; my fingers are more interested in feeling every tiny bone and soft limb. There we stayed until it felt just right, while my sweet midwives’ skilled ears listened for clear airways, until finally I decided it was time to transition to a dry, soft place.
After we moved to the bed and I had settled down with my brand new nursling, my older babies came in to meet her. From the moment my three-year-old walked into the room, she went from the baby to big sister. When the next youngest sibling meets the newest addition, the transformation is always sudden and shocking. One of life’s bittersweet nothings it whispers in your ear: do your best to hold onto these years; they are like water through your fingertips.
The telling of a birth story is so familiar a feeling to me, and yet, brand new every time. I will always cherish this peaceful, almost six-hour labor (my wish came true!), and will forever be grateful to Christy and Jenny for their quiet presence and skilled hands, and their faith in the wisdom of the body of a laboring mama.