I was 8 years old when I attended my first home birth. It was for a close family friend planning an unassisted, free-birth. To this day, the faint scent of baby powder takes me back to that small bedroom where I massaged her back with the powder as she moaned through contractions. I remember her crawling around on the bed on her hands and knees when the baby’s first leg was visible (Footling Breech). I remember the body slowly sliding out and how hard she pushed to deliver her baby’s head. He was limp and pale. I watched as CPR was performed and 911 was called. What I remember most was how badly I wished that I had the knowledge and skill to save the baby. He was transferred to the hospital, but tragically wasn’t saved.
This heartbreaking event set off a spark in me to learn more. I wanted to hear every birth story, and watch every birth video I could get my eyes on. Before the days of YouTube, I had limited options. In fact, I would beg my mom to let me watch and rewatch my own home birth video. “Only if you watch it without any volume; I don’t want to hear myself whining!” she would say. “Deal!” I loved watching my head emerge before “turtling” as some macrosomic (big) babies do, then hearing Midwife, Skippy King quickly instruct my mother to rotate to her hands and knees to allow my broad shoulders to disengage from her pubic arch. This “Gaskin_Maneuver” was just what she needed to release my 10 pound, 12 ounce body into the world.
By age eleven, I was certain that midwifery was my calling. Looking back I see the little things in my life that prepared me for this path. My mom had a paper route for the “Citrus County Chronicles” with a shift starting at 2 A.M. and ending with the sunrise. I used to insist on her waking me up so that I could have driving lessons on the empty county roads while she tossed papers into dirt-driveways. No matter how badly I wanted the chance to drive, it was always difficult to choose getting out of my warm bed in the middle of the night, but I learned to force my sleepy body up and into motion. In summer camp as a young teen I remember explaining the physiological details of the menstrual cycle to not only other teens who were asking questions but some mothers as well who knew the “what” but not the “why” of menstruation. During high school, I babysat every day after school and through each summer to save money to pay for midwifery school.
When I enrolled in the Florida School of Traditional Midwifery, I was 19 years old. Midwifery school was far more challenging than I expected. The 24-7 on-call internship, combined with projects, writing papers and studying chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology and so forth would have been difficult enough, but I decided to add growing a baby to the mix. I had gotten married 6 months into midwifery school, pregnant almost right away, miscarried 14 weeks later and then pregnant again almost immediately. Exhaustion soon became my closest companion.
In the beginning of birth-attending, I didn’t understand the importance of sleeping whenever the opportunity presented itself. After my first all-night-birth, I decided to push through and stayed awake all day so that I could sleep that night. Sure enough as I was brushing my teeth around 8 P.M. before getting into bed, my phone rang with my preceptor on the other line. “Time to go again.” “Oh my gosh…I can do this; I can do this” I told myself. I pushed through the second birth wearily. The sun was just coming up through the fog when we were packing up to head home. “We won’t get another call for a while after this one, right?” I asked, secretly on the verge of tears. “Who knows?” the midwife and birth assistant laughed. I nodded, got in my car and balled my eyes out the whole drive home. “Maybe I can’t’ do this.”
That 2 hour weekly commute to and from Gainesville for 3 years provided plenty of time to think. I’d run through my doubts. “Would I ever master the skill of placing an IV? Would I be able to make quick decisions when every second counts, Would I pass the NARM examination?” The only acceptable answer was, “I have to.” I graduated FSTM in 2009, passed the national exam my first try and became Licensed Midwife 236 in March of 2010. Being a midwife isn’t really about catching babies although I must admit that it’s my favorite part. Being a midwife is about waiting patiently, ready to intervene in only the few occasions when a complication arises. It’s about keeping the space safe and reminding women that they are strong and capable. It’s about standing back and watching the miracle take place all while being diligent to recognize what’s normal and what’s not. It’s an honor to work in the birth field in any capacity and I feel passionate about my role as a licensed midwife helping women of all backgrounds who choose home-birth as a safe, wonderful way to bring their babies into the world.
This is a beautiful piece of writing, April. It is so incredible that God used such a tragic event to ignite your passion to help so many women at such a powerful, yet vulnerable point in their lives. Keep up the good work…because you have a gift!