Feb 15, 2023


Leah Libresco Sargeant points to this passage on birthing in Kristin Lavransdatter:

The women told her to walk around as long as she could bear it. This tormented her greatly; the house was now crowded with women, and she had to walk around like a mare that was for sale. Now and then she had to let the women squeeze and touch her body all over, and then they would confer with each other. At last Fru Gunna from Raasvold, who was in charge of things, said that now Kristin could lie down on the floor. She divided up the women: some to sleep and some to keep watch. “This isn’t going to pass quickly but go ahead and scream, Kristin, when it hurts, and don’t pay any mind to those who are sleeping. We’re all here to help you, poor child,” she said, gentle and kind, patting the young woman’s cheek.

Birthing my children at home with midwives was among the most profound experiences of my life. I almost never I talk about it, because so many birthing experiences don’t go well for many women, even if the broad outcomes of healthy mom and baby are achieved.

When I birthed my first, we called the midwife in early labor, when I was already in a lot of pain, and she said, so casually: Sounds like a warm-up. Call me in the morning. She was right, and she came at the proper time the next day, probably 9 am. I was in a small pool my husband had assembled by that point. I’d been awake all night. My body was so efficient with the labor that I would fall into micro-moments of deep sleep, replete with trippy dreams, in between contractions. It was drawn out, that first labor. The first time around you think: I can bargain my way out of this. I’ll sit this one contraction out. Because there’s no way I can allow this giant bowling ball to emerge from my actual body. Ha. Well.

I begged the midwife for help, I remember. She was on our couch, filling out forms and chatting with utter nonchalance. I learned later that this performed calm is all calculated. She was sending me every nonverbal animal cue that everything that was happening was normal, absolutely normal, and I had nothing to fear.

She wanted me to get all the way to the instinctual urge to push, and then she went into equally calm, nearly silent action. Pulling the baby up from the pool, doing a dozen efficient vital checks on me and on him, at the ready with oxygen if she needed it. With every readiness to go to the hospital if it had come to that — we all had the map printed — but no. A rush of water to break the quiet and a living breathing human being. January in Los Angeles, late morning, the sunlight and mild air coming in the screen door.

Midwives don’t say they deliver your baby. They say they attend the birth.