HomeBirth—The Power of One
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 122, Summer 2017.
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Quietly, I crouched just inside the walk-in closet while the birth sounds rose and fell and the morning sunlight crept deeper into the bedroom that had become a sanctuary overnight.
Bailey was a new mother. I had been the midwife for her mother. Bailey was so clear about how she wanted to birth her baby. She was brave, confident, calm, young, healthy and surrounded by a loving support system that included her partner, Darin, her mother, siblings, grandparents and Darin’s parents. We had many an honest face-to-face dialogue. I tried to talk her out of wanting me as her midwife because I am retired, travel much and have lost all interest in routine midwifery standards as a hallmark of superior care. We spoke of the importance of relationships, time in nature, every bite counting, dreams, desires, demons and the intense soul-work necessary for birthing with the modern current of technology and fear around birth. I spoke of the importance of creating a prenatal village for her and other young, expecting mothers and how a postpartum plan is part of every prenatal visit. But I did not talk her into hiring another midwife. She convinced me to cancel some of my international trips and stay close to home in the summer of 2016.
So here I crouched, having created my nest inside a closet during her labor, close enough for her to call out to me if she wanted, yet just out of view to protect that halo of privacy and independence so critical for an undisturbed birth. I learned the phrase, “You don’t have to be in the room to be at a birth” from a wise womyn once at a Midwifery Today conference. It is true. That is how I birthed my second-born. My midwife was just outside the door, crouching on the hallway floor, holding sacred space, just as I have done for a thousand mothers since that powerful first homebirth in 1978.
I could see the tails of the two dachshunds wagging as they circled the birth pool and powered the mammalian energy growing in the room. Sometimes Bailey was right-side-up in the pool, leaning over the edge, eyes locked with Darin’s and breathing like a strong, wild animal. Sometimes all I could see were legs hanging over the pool edge as she sank deeper into the warm, soothing water and the hard work that would wash her baby to shore.
Bailey had stood up and swayed, sat down on the toilet, crawled on all fours, paused between leaning over the sink, the couch, the kitchen counter and the supporting arms of her beloved. She had walked around the house, making it only to the back door. She had started with the excitement of a schoolgirl and was finishing with the self-knowing born of a warrior womyn.
With Darin behind her and her mother, sister, Darin’s mother and the most maternal of the dachshunds creating an at-distance crescent moon of human living light, Bailey and Shiloh gently turned each other inside out. First the tuft of hair, then the head rocking back and forth with the bearing down breath of each wave of contracting energy. Slowly a water-born crowning head emerged and held steady. Crowned with the hand of his mother, baby rested between worlds while Bailey lifted her chin like an ancestral goddess figure familiar to all anthropologists. Time did not stand still. Eternity entered the room. Something ancient. Something new. Something of the future.
Then the full head emerged from one pool of water to a bigger one. Another pause. A cord. I crawled forward. I whispered. “Give me just a minute.” Two loops. I whispered more softly. “Give me just a little minute.” Bailey’s hands were in the water around her love-made-flesh. Bailey looking, touching, lifting, whispering her love song, holding her new love close to her heart, stroking, mouthing the life breath of love into the first breaths of her first-born son.
I had crawled back three feet to complete the human crescent moon of living light shining around this new holy family. Quietly, tears bathed the cheeks of the sister and wet stars glistened in the eyes of the grandmothers. The silent emotions of centuries of time waved across on the face of the father. Many worlds for each one unfolded while Bailey was in a world all her own—Darin’s face behind her. The faces of others in the room beyond her view. Bailey met her son and her motherhood with the first moments of life, protected and undisturbed.
Undisturbed homebirth is preserving the human species as we know it.
Three weeks after Bailey’s birth, Francine birthed her third baby at home. Her support team was her mother and 12-year-old daughter, with me on the phone 1000 miles away. Wimyn are resourceful, brave, creative, powerful, wise, holy. What one womyn can do, all wimyn can do. This is the power of one.
You don’t need to be a professional of any sort to see what is happening. Look at your families, your cousins, nieces, sisters. Walk the streets and ask your neighbors. Can you find a womyn who has grown her baby with no technology? No ultrasound or Doppler touching her belly or baby? No tests taking blood from her veins? No papers to sign that say she is taking life-and-death risks by declining the medical or midwifery standard of care? How many mothers do you know who simply eat, sleep, live their life and grow their baby? There are a few. They are rare. If such a mother is carrying a she-child, we are looking at the last of the organically grown specimens of our species with a potential to grow a similar future generation.
The most powerful, informal, persistent act of civil disobedience and conscious resistance in our modern times is homebirth. The brave resisters are the most vulnerable in our midst—pregnant wimyn. I have spoken for over a decade about the human as an endangered species. Most humans are not only born in captivity (MorningStar 2012); the interventions surrounding their birth have placed us on a path of biological, psychological and physiological extinction. What starts out as a diagnostic test or tool to keep at-risk mothers or babies “safe” becomes routine. A common routine such as induction or the use of synthetic oxytocin during third-stage management is endangering the human female’s capacity to produce the levels needed for natural initiation of labor and timely and sufficient levels to naturally contract a postpartum uterus to avoid a hemorrhage (Odent 2014). Egg-harvesting, freezing embryos, in-vitro fertilization, genetic altering, medicated pregnancies, inductions, augmentations, vacuum extractions, episiotomies, continuous heart monitoring, fetal-scalp electrodes, uterine electrodes, cesareans, active management of third stage, early cord clamping, neonatal resuscitation, motherbaby separation, newborn observation are all dangerous yet common procedures that affect much more than bonding and breastfeeding. But who feels routine when they are making decisions for themselves or their baby?
Technology has become a central element in conception, pregnancy, labor, birth and first breaths, without creating alarm or consciousness of long-term outcomes. Who thinks about compromised reproductive futures? Who knew of the microbiota? Who speaks of decreasing oxytocin levels affecting uterine contraction? Who discloses the studies of increased head circumference? Who looks for artificial hormonal effects on pelvic bone structure? What about links to autism, cardiac or pulmonary compromise in later life? Who talks about increased suicide rates of the cesarean-born? Who thinks about the effect of fear on the female psyche to be a sustainable life form capable of wombing a future generation? Does it matter? Does any of it matter? Will technology catch up in time to replace the female womb in growing future generations? (Raine-Fenning 2016) The capacity of the human female to conceive, grow, birth and feed her offspring naturally (meaning without the aid of pharmaceuticals, machines or maneuvers) is now questioned by doctors, researchers, scientists, historians (Harari 2017), indeed, grandmothers and the mothers themselves.
Vulnerable pregnant mothers are the brave souls who are single-handedly holding the edge of this paradigm. Sometimes they do so with support and help, sometimes alone. They birth cephalic babies, breech babies, twin babies, early babies, late babies, small babies, large babies and, considering the fact that they are often hunted down—including by helicopter in the Australian bush, it is remarkable that they have as successful a rate of healthy outcomes as they do. Who knows their real statistics? Their numbers are now too small to be included in mega-studies that continue to guide a misguided evidence-based global childbirth monopoly.
Scientists call it the F4 factor. Genes that are not used become recessive genes. A mother who does not breastfeed a female daughter who does not breastfeed a female daughter who does not breastfeed a female daughter gives birth to a daughter who doesn’t produce milk. China and Russia now have three generations of cesarean-born females. The head circumference of the babies is measurably larger and the levels of labor-inducing oxytocin is measurably less (Odent 2014). With the confidence, comfort and growing intention of birth by cesarean, we will have only a few opportunities with the F4 generation to see who gives birth vaginally, even with synthetic help.
I care. Sometimes I wonder why. I love my Cherokee grandmothers and my training to watch the world with 1000 eyes. I love living in the woods and building my instincts every day with wild animals all around me. I love wimyn and mothers and birth. I know when things are right for me or wrong for me without consulting the Internet. I love my global travels and walking into villages and asking how the babies are born. I care about the power of wimyn. I see that innate power to preserve the sacred feminine is ignited during a powerful undisturbed birth. It is why I say that birth is the beginning of everything else. What one womyn can do, all wimyn can do. It has always mattered to me and now I see that it matters to the ultimate survival of my people. Of your people.
I recently returned from India where I met Savita, 43-weeks pregnant with her second breech daughter. Every day from 41 weeks forward she had to come in for special testing and to discuss life-and-death risks. It was so much pressure for her and her midwife, Vijaya, who was present for Savita’s first footling birth. I had the unique privilege of being with Savita in a special prenatal village with other pregnant wimyn and birthkeepers. We had flowers, rituals and a feast. It was there that she spoke of her wish to birth her breech baby naturally at 43 weeks. I also accompanied her on prenatal visits, where we discussed both risks and ways to accomplish this. I was so honored to observe her eventual power birth.
The night before she went into labor, we talked. Savita spoke to me with these words: “Sister, wimyn do not want a cesarean for many reasons. It is so much about what happens to the mother. But I am an adult. I can have surgery and heal. But what about my baby? She will be born in India. She must be strong and confident. She will face many difficult challenges and decisions. Her sister is strong and confident. I want her to be strong and confident. How will she be if she can’t even get herself born?”
I sat humbled beside Savita. My heart was broken wide open. My eyes were wet. I felt my heart expand. We held hands and sat quietly. We shared secrets and promises and made prayers, like wise wimyn do.
Savita birthed her second breech daughter at 43 weeks into the arms of a loving, caring, brave Indian birth team in the city of Hyderabad where the nearby hospital cesarean rate is 80%. This is the power of one.
White Crow is a Cherokee elder in our tribe. He carries a medicine bag around his neck, which holds a piece of the umbilical cord from each of his grandchildren. He was born 10 feet from the barn door, three months early, weighing three pounds. His mother was “slopping hogs” when he “slid out.” He was placed in a shoebox in a dresser drawer with a chick-warming light. The country doctor came five days later. White Crow has a birth date that is five days different from his birth certificate date. He has a dozen siblings with equally powerful birth stories. By listening to survival birth stories and relearning to observe, I have discovered universal maternal behaviors that directly contribute to Newborn First Breaths. It is one of my new passions. We all must learn how to protect the first moments of life. Are we aware that nearly all humans are born in hospitals and they are touched by someone other than their mother? That their first contact is with plastic? That the first microbes in their gut are mutations living in institutions? That so much has already been disturbed by the time baby is “skin-to-skin”? Those are the lucky babies—the vaginal-born.
I wanted to write solely about a beautiful undisturbed homebirth. I am a storyteller by nature. Stories are the facts of life. I think the power of wimyn is so important I wrote a book about it (MorningStar 2008). I used story to keep the facts alive. Stories defy statistics. Stories become myths when they are not lived for a very long time. Homebirth is at risk of becoming a myth. A fairy tale. An old wives tale. Maybe you, like me, are becoming a living myth. Maybe our greatest power will be to keep telling the positive stories of homebirth. Maybe one night long after we have walked on, some great-great-granddaughter will remember and find her way to a nest in the woods and birth her baby under the light of the moon. Maybe those eyes will dance together and something that cannot be measured will be kept alive. Maybe the spirit of my people and the spirit of your people will live in them and give them strength and wisdom. They will need it. Just as you and I have needed it.
May they be protected. They are not only our way back. They are our way forward.
- Harari, Yuval Noah. 2017. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.
- MorningStar, Sister. 2008. The Power of Women. Eugene, Oregon: Motherbaby Press.
- MorningStar, S. 2012. “The Newborn Imprint.” Midwifery Today Issue 104, Winter 2012.
- Odent, Michel. 2014. Childbirth and the Future of Homo Sapiens. London: Pinter and Martin.
- Raine-Fenning, N. 2016. “From Frozen Ovaries to Lab-grown Babies: The Future of Childbirth.” The Conversation US. Accessed March 28, 2017. http://theconversation.com/from-frozen-ovaries-to-lab-grown-babies-the-future-of-childbirth-59912.