tree of life

Birth Stories

Alison's 999th Birth & Claire's Home Birth

Alison’s 999th Birth - by Elizabeth De Sa

On February 15th 2009, I gave birth to my daughter, Althea, at home. She was Alison Osborn, my midwife’s, 999th baby. 999 babies may seem a small number over a thirty-plus year career compared with the thousands obstetricians might rack up in a similar period. However my whole prenatal, birth and postnatal experience was radically different from what we have come to understand as the conventional form of healthcare.

In Patch Adams’ book, Gesundheit, he writes about how a total reform of the healthcare system is required, a change that goes far deeper than addressing merely the exorbitant cost and the greed of the industry, though these characteristics are symptomatic of the malady. Real healthcare comes from having a relationship with our healthcare providers; confidentiality and trust are at the roots. And the low time factor, high cost and standardization of care I would probably have received from an obstetrician would not have been a corollary of such a relationship.

My prenatal visits with Alison were long and leisurely. After the routine checks were complete, we would sit and chat. It was a relief, in what I have come to expect as the routine busy-ness of everyone’s lives, to be with someone whose priority was to get to know me, and for me to build trust in her preceding what is, of course, a vulnerable experience nine months down the line. There was an easy intimacy in our visits. I could ask her anything, from questions about my sex life to my fears about becoming a mother. And she always had the time and space to hear me and be really present with me. She would share wisdom from her own birth and parenting experiences and her life. In short, she became a friend. And following the birth, she has been available to answer my questions – a loving and wise presence reminiscent of the wisdom the elder women of our extended families would have provided if we didn’t live in such fragmented communities.

Alison walks her talk. Midwifery is her passion and vocation. She provides her services at a low cost because she believes in the power and strength of the female body, and in offering choices to women to enable them to discover that power. Her commitment to her vocation and her emphasis on slow time and relationships has been a huge gift to me. So while Alison could have hit her 999-babies mark many years ago if she’d done just the catching, it’s hugely impressive given how much times she devotes to every mother and child.

In the 1960s birth options were standardized and limited. Midwives have been persecuted since the Inquisition because of the competition to the establishment. Yet midwives like Alison are committed to their art because it’s their gift to the world.

On February 15th 2009, I gave birth to my daughter, Althea. I labored for four hours at home, and it really hurt! Yet I was part of a process of creating and growing a precious and perfect life, then witnessing my body’s power as it delivered her into the world. I am over-awed at the beauty, strength and wisdom of my body. I learned to surrender to the moment, to a wisdom greater than myself or my will. I have entered the sacred passage of motherhood. I have built a close relationship with an inspiring woman who supported me and held me through an experience like no other, a woman who is committed to giving women choices. And I have a beautiful daughter in my arms.

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Claire's Home Birth - by Lisa Eisenrich

For the most part, we’re all familiar with what happens during a hospital birth. We know the cast of characters (nurse(s), obstetrician, husband, doula sometimes) and generally what to expect (that bed, the fetal monitor, the pain medication if requested, the doctor coming in when it is time to push). But unless you’ve done it, and only one-half of one percent of women do, home birth is a mysterious thing. At least it was to me, right up there with what really happens at the event horizon of a black hole and does bigfoot really exist.

First, you have to get your mind around the fact that home birth is a reasonable choice. That women who choose home birth are not very different from women who don’t. Let’s face it: birth is huge. We all want the same thing: a healthy baby and, implicitly, to be healthy ourselves after our babies are born. The simple fact is that planned home birth is a safe alternative for low risk women. Research supports this.

Second, you have to understand that midwives are birth professionals. In just the way we still sort of imagine that Alaska is full of Eskimos living in igloos, it is hard to resist the idea that a midwife is just some ol’ gal with candles and a first aid kit.

Not true.

Though I am a middle class girl from Idaho, much more Brady Bunch than hippy, for my second pregnancy (my first birth was by cesarean), we called one. Of course, my eyebrows were raised and I had a healthy skepticism and I felt as though I was calling a psychic hotline or an informercial number. My husband has made a precursory call, sent this midwife, Alison Osborn, the notes from my first labor, all the prenatal records.

He has dialed the phone number and placed the receiver in my hand.

After meeting with Alison, however, I am convinced. Her knowledge, training, and experience are indisputable. And, there is this: a midwife’s paradigm is holistic. The midwifery model of care assumes health and wellness in pregnancy and birth. The party line is: A woman’s body is perfectly made to grow, bear, and nourish her baby.

Alison is in her fifties with radish-colored cheeks. She used to wear her silver hair long, and it hung like waves to the middle of her back. Now it is stylishly short, Jamie Lee Curtis with some curl. There is a sturdiness about Alison, a fearlessness and wisdom distinct enough to be unusual. She is not only the most experienced midwife in the county, she is one of the most experienced midwives in the state. She has caught enough babies--almost eight hundred and sixty--to know some things about having babies that the rest of us don’t.

“I see spirit enter this world. I know better than to be afraid,” Alison says while looking you in the eye. Alison will always look you in the eye.

Alison’s office is cozy like a living room. The walls are covered with thousands of photos of beautiful (and less beautiful) babies and joyful pregnant mothers. Over the course of my pregnancy, I begin looking forward to my prenatal appointments like I look forward to chocolate milkshakes and Christmas. They are an hour or so long, and I know invariably that when I leave, I will leave feeling fabulous. The same things happen during these visits as at all the prenatal appointments I’ve had with obstetricians: I am weighed, my urine tested, blood pressure and fundus measured. Leopold maneuvers are performed, and we listen to the baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler. (“Happy baby!” Alison usually declares after calculating the heart rate.) But the effect is decidedly different. Alison and I are, somehow, equals. We have become friends.

Alison’s disclosure statement says: “I am available to answer questions regarding normal care, breastfeeding, and herbal alternatives or additions to allopathic therapies pretty much forever.”

I go into labor knowing I am not alone.

So, here’s how home birth ends for us.

Claire Kaitlyn was perfectly born in our home on a rainy night in November.

I delivered her wearing my favorite shirt, lying on our secondhand bed on a striped, hand-me-down sheet from my dad.

I labored for just over three hours, pushed for thirteen minutes.

I spent early labor alone (always in phone contact with Alison, of course) searching eBay for cutie girl clothes and watching Sex and the City dvds. When the contractions became too intense to ignore, I flopped to my hands and knees to rock and moan, then was up again: the computer, the television, puttering around the house. I took those last hours of contractions in the company of Wayde (my husband) and Alison and Cathy (who is a midwife, too) wide-legged on the pot, in the industrial-sized tub Alison loaned to us for the birth, then lying quietly on my side on the bed under the midwives’ firm and reassuring touch. Wayde lay in front of me, silent and supportive, holding my hand for encouragement. Alison lay behind me, her body curled next to mine, her hand on the small of my back, warm and calm and certain and capable of great strength.

The labor was meticulously documented, Claire’s well-being and my own vigilantly monitored. Every time she’d hold my arm or hand or foot, Alison was taking my pulse, feeling the texture of my skin, writing down data. I was given oxygen. I was sutured while Claire lay naked and nursing, covered with blankets on my chest. (I tore because Claire was born with her elbow by her ear.)

Wayde and I couldn’t stop admiring Claire’s wide, dark eyes, her chubby, pink body and her hands twinkling like stars.

“Oh, She’s a beauty!” Alison said when kissing Claire. “Welcome to the world!” Alison talked to Claire when she performed the newborn baby exam, then wrapped her in the soft cloth of the hand-held scale to weigh her.

Eight pounds, five ounces.

Wayde gave me a whopper of a kiss.

Claire lifted her head from the bed. “I’ve never seen that before,” Alison said. “Strong little woman.”

Alison filled out a birth certificate complete with Claire’s footprints, then put a onesie on Claire and swaddled her.

“Do you want to keep the placenta?” Cathy asked. She showed it to me. It was in our cookie-making bowl. “This was the part attached to the uterine wall,” Cathy said, pointing, but it all looked the same to me.

Then, it was my turn. Alison and Wayde helped me up from the bed. Alison hugged me, and then looked at me with a big smile. She and Wayde walked me to the birthing tub and helped me in to rinse off. The water was still warm. I thought: The last time I was in this tub, I had a baby in my body, now there’s just me.

Alison and Wayde dressed me in my pajamas. I felt like queen of the world. Alison told Wayde to give me a cup of sweet, white grape juice.

“Are you hungry?” she asked.

“No. Tired. It’s past my bedtime.” It was almost ten o’clock. We laughed.

Wayde and Alison stripped the top set of sheets off the bed. We had made the bed that morning with two sets. I climbed into our bed. Cathy handed me the baby.

I cupped Claire’s head in my palm. It was big and firm and round.

“She has a big head,” I said, mostly because it had felt so big coming out.

“It’s a perfect head,” Alison said.

“You are both so beautiful,” my husband said, and I knew it to be so.

Honest as a stone, Alison kissed me and held me before leaving me and my sweet, sweet baby to sleep. “I love you,” she said, and, God help me, I wanted it to be true.

The midwives did laundry and ate pizza before they left.

I remember these things being said during the birth: “Your energy has changed. Can I check you?” and “This is what we call ‘cooking,’” and “If your body is doing it, it’s fine,” and “Good, good, good. You’re doing so good,” and “Use that energy to push the baby,” and “Isn’t that the most beautiful sound in the world?” when Claire cried. I remember the rainbow of light on my husband’s face and Alison’s calm, confident smile, and how I trembled with joy and disbelief when I stroked that slippery, little baby body so freshly and beautifully born of my own.

Claire’s birth was holy, and I was radiant and powerful and (mostly) unafraid.

“I think it will be the best day of your life,” Alison told me after our first prenatal appointment when I had cried from the fear and uncertainty of what lay ahead of me. And, being the wise, experienced baby-catcher that she is, she was right.

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