Birth Story #18

This week, I’ve decided to write a couple births of the most amazing woman I have ever heard of.

Ina May Gaskin.

The first is a sad one, but I think it is necessary to read so you can understand her.

10th Caravan Birth

My next strong lesson in midwifery came on the tenth birth on our caravan – that of my own baby. Just before we reached Nebraska on our way to Tennessee to buy land, I started labor two months before my due date. My rushes were light, so we decided to drive on across Nebraska. As it turned out, we had to stop in North Platte for a couple of days because of a blizzard. I’ll never forget how kind the people there were; they brought us boxes and boxes of bread, milk, and eggs. All this time I was trying to keep the rushes at a minimum, but by the third day it became obvious that I was going to give birth pretty soon. We had driven on from North Platte, and we found a place to park the buses for one night in Grand Island, and Stephen, with Margaret’s assistance, caught my boy a few hours later. He was tiny – three pounds or less – and had extreme difficulty breathing right from the first. He lived for twelve hours, enough to see the light of day, and then he died in my arms, probably of hyaline membrane disease, the most common cause of death in premature babies in those days. I was filled with grief. At the same time, I knew he had taught me something I was never going to forget. I was also relieved that if we had to lose a baby that it was mine and not somebody else’s. But it still took me several months – in fact, until the birth of my next child – to heal from the grief I felt at his death.

Just knowing that she lost her child makes me love her all the more. She bounced back and has delivered at least 1000 babies, healthy and happy.

The second birth is that of her son, Paul Benjamin.

I started having some convincing-feeling rushes one night about three weeks before my due date. I knew my baby was big enough and done enough, so I was quite ready to go on ahead with it. My last baby had weighed nine pounds, fourteen and a half ounces and had been ten days early. After having a few consecutive rushes a few minutes apart, I told Stephen that I was going to have the baby pretty soon. He said, ” I thought you were looking pretty psychedelic back there.” We alraedy had two kids together, but he hadn’t been able to be at either of these birthings. It was about ten o’clock at night and we had all had a long day, so Stephen and I agreed that it would be nice to get a few hours’ sleep before I started getting really serious about having my kid. That felt nice to me because then I really knew it was okay for me to take my time, which of course I would do anyway. Stephen had been telling me that I was prowling around the house like a mother cat looking for a place to hve my litter. He kept telling me that I could do it any time, that I could have my kittens in his dresser drawer if I wanted to, which I thought was a funny thing for him to say to me. But I was glad he was accommidating.

So we went to bed. I was pretty excited, knowing that I was really on that train and was actually going to see our kid soon. I was pretty sure though that I could sleep, at least for a little while. We both slept all night. Whenever we would roll over, I would be aware that I was still having light rushes quite regularly.

In the morning we woke up early to have the baby. We talked about whether it was a boy or girl. Stephen had dreamed that the baby was born and that it was a girl, but he didn’t seem to believe the dream. He had already said that a few months back that this baby felt like another boy, and I kind of felt that way too.

After a few minutes of being awake I had a couple of rushes that began to remind me of what it felt like to have a baby, that it’s heavy every time, no matter how many times you’ve done it. I was pretty sure after these two rushes that my cervix was open a little. We called Mary Louise to tell her that my labor had started. Stephen was going to deliver the baby, but we both wanted to have Mary Louise there too.

My good buddies Margaret and Louise were already with me, helping me get nested and getting my three other kids settled. Mary Louise arrived about fifteen minutes later with a big grin on her face, her birthing bag in one hand and a sterile pack in the other.

She checked my dilation. “Yup, you’re going to have a kid. You’re four centimeters dilated,” she said. My rushes were pretty mild but very psychedelic and I could tell that it would be a few hours before the baby happened. I have always taken at least twelve hours to give birth.

I told Stephen that it would be all right with me if he went out of the Farm for a while to do some business while I was still in the early part of my trip. We women were having a nice time with each other and I thought it would be nice if he could get out on the Farm and see what was going on.

I spent the next several hours having rushes, writing letters, and talking with Margaret, Louse, and Mary Louise about the kind of stuff we thought ought to be in this book. Mary Louise read some of the stories that other women had written about their birthings and sat down and wrote about hers. Every now and then we would all get curious about how much I was dilated and Mary Louise would check me. I took a few pictures of her while she was doing this, thinking it would be nice to have a few shots of a midwife from this point of view.

Stephen called home a few times to check on how I was doing. All this time there didn’t seem to be much hurry; my rushes didn’t take all my attention, so I decided to just do whatever I felt like doing, as long as it didn’t slow down my labor any.

When lunchtime came, I considered whether or not I ought to eat anything. Someone had brought us some good-looking sandwiches that had me pretty interested. Most folks don’t seem to feel like eating at five centimeters’ dilation, but there I was, hungry. So I ate. I figured that eating would either make me strong or make me sick. I could use that strength if that’s what I got, and if I got sick, it would cause me to open up faster and that would be nice too. At about three o’clock in the afternoon I was between five and six centimeters dilated and started to feel like it would be nice to have Stephen around. He called right then and said he was on his way home. My labor picked up as soon as he arrived. It felt like I could handle the energy best if I looked at him while I was having a rush. Each one was heavier than the last, and by the time I didn’t have any attention left from dealing with my rushes to write letters or eat or anything. Louise and mary Louise sat on either side of me and rubbed my legs and my back. Stephen wanted to know if it was okay with me that he was sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed, not actually touching me. I knew that he would move if I wanted him to, but I felt best with him being where he was. I felt very high and one with him just looking at him. I felt very grateful to Stephen and my friends were helping me do this; I loved them all a lot for being with me while I was tripping so heavy.

In between a couple of my rushes, the baby began punching me with its fist at regular intervals, not very heard, but very steady, and I was sure he was a boy. I suggested we think of boy names. We all liked the name Paul and Benjamin, but didn’t come to any final decision.

Mary Louise checked me again and said that I was seven centimeters dilated now. By this time I was beginning to long for the time when I would be fully dilated and could push the baby out. I felt like I would like to get clean and cool before having the baby, so I asked Stephen if he’d pour a bucket of water over me while I stood on the porch. He did, and it felt great. The baby moved down lower while I was standing up, and I knew it wasn’t going to be long now. I hoped that I would have the baby before dark so that we’d be albe to get some pictures after he was born.

Mary Louise checked me again as soon as I laid down and said I was almost completely dilated. I was glad to hear that because it certainly felt like it and I did was to push. On my next rush I tried a gentle push during the strongest part of it to try to move the baby’s head on through my cervix. I could feel the baby’s head come through my cervix and move into the birth canal. That’s always an amazing feeling. Stephen cut his fingernails and got all washed up, ready to catch our kid. It ook a few short pushes to move the baby’s head down so that he was crowing. Stephen, Margaret and Mary Louise kept telling me that I had plenty of room to stretch around the baby’s head, so I kept trying to move it farther. I looked down and could see the baby’s head when it was halfway out and decided to push it the rest of the way out. Stephen checked and said there was no cord around the baby’s neck and began to pull gently on the baby’s head to stimulate another rush, which was exactly what I wanted him to do.

It felt really beautiful to push his body out, just a beautiful feeling of fullness and then relief. Someone picked up the baby’s legs and I saw that we had another boy. He started moving and sputtering and crying all at once and turned from a pale purplish color to a beautiful rosy pink. I reached down and touched his hand, and it felt really nice. I felt so good and so grateful to have another live healthy baby. I just overflowed with that for a while. Everybody there looked really beautiful and alive. We named out boy Paul Benjamin.


One Response

  1. She is amazing. I think her terminology is a bit humorous. That she was tripping hard, and psychedelic and stuff like that. It definitely shows her hippie side.

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