The Gentle Birth of Bethany
by Kristen Maaherra
All four of my children were born at home. My first born, Joshua,was “delivered” by a naturopathic physician. It was a good experience, but some part of me longed to give birth alone. When I conceived my second child, Becky, in 1972, I thought I would finally get my chance, but my family objected so strongly that I decided to take a wait and see attitude.
As it turned out, the day I went into labor, I was at the swimming pool with my parents and my brother, David. I actually wasn’t even sure if I was in labor, but my mother somehow knew. “Go home,” my mother said, “and take David with you. It would make me feel better if I knew he were there.” I agreed, and several hours later, Becky was born into David’s hands. It was 1972, and David was on leave from the military. He had just come back from Viet Nam, where everyone in his platoon had been killed except him. Catching Becky, he said, turned his life around. It changed his thoughts from death to life. He is now a successful artist in New York doing one man shows.
When I conceived Bethany in 1977, I considered giving birth alone, but my family and friends were so adamantly opposed to it that I acquiesced to their desires and hired a midwife.
The day I went into labor with Bethany, I was out in my garden planting flowers. Once again, however, I wondered if this was labor. My contractions were mild but my consciousness had changed. I had felt this way with my other births, also. It was as if a window inside me had opened up and I could see everything very clearly.
I continued to feel contractions throughout the day, but whenever anyone came over for a cup of tea, they would stop. As soon as I was alone again, the contractions returned, but they were so mild, I still wasn’t sure if I actually was in labor. I worked in my garden until it was so dark I couldn’t see. The dirt felt good in my hands. Somehow, it grounded me.
After fixing my children dinner and putting them into our family bed, I decided to take a bath. It was a stormy night, and it felt wonderful to slip into a nice, hot tub of water. So wonderful, in fact, that I fell asleep.
At 1 A.M. I awoke with a start. Now this, I said to myself, is labor. I stood up, reached down and felt Bethany’s head at my perineum. I assumed my water had just broken but it was hard to tell because my body was all wet from being in the tub. I don’t want to give birth in the bathroom, I thought, I want to be in my bedroom. I walked down the hall holding onto her head. As soon as I got to the bedroom, I pulled my perineum to the side and out slipped her head. She made the sweetest little noise and started to breathe. She was so perfect and beautiful. She looked like a little Dresden doll.
And then the most amazing thing happened. Her whole body just turned inside me, as if a hand – an angel’s hand – had reached inside me and turned her body into the perfect position to be born. Who is turning her? I thought, how is this happening? It was a miracle.
And then as I was standing there, she delivered her own little arm and hand and the rest of her tiny body slipped into my hands. There she was! Instinctively I put my mouth on hers and sucked out what little bit of mucus there was. I felt as if I was watching myself from afar. Instantly, I put her to my breast and she began to nurse. Soon the placenta slipped out and I tied and cut the cord.
About a half an hour later, some of my friends who had visited me earlier in the day, stopped by to see if anything had become of my “labor.” When they saw me peacefully nursing Bethany on the bed, one of them yelled, “The baby’s here!” This woke up Becky and Joshua, who were sleeping next to me, unaware that anything had happened. Soon, everyone gathered round and sang “Happy Birthday” to Bethany.
An hour or so later, my friends all went home, and Joshua, Becky, Bethany and I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.