Prior to Keegan’s delivery, we had teased our friend Karlin about whether or not she could be in the room for the delivery. We had every intention of her being there, but it was quite humorous to watch her sweat over being there to see our sweet Baby Trike being born or not. In the end, we are so thankful she was there because my sister, who was supposed to take pictures for us, was a wreck of emotions and could barely manage to look at what was going on through her tears much less take pictures. As Karlin made moves to leave the room, Jessica handed her the camera saying she had to take pictures because she couldn’t do it. I also think having her in the room made me control what was coming out of my mouth a little bit more, because there were several times I said “God…” and trailed off, not finishing that statement how I wanted to.
When it came time for Karlin to deliver her own baby last year, I had told her that while the decision was obviously up to her, I would love to repay the favor and to at least keep me posted as I am perfectly happy and content to sit in a waiting room to be among the first to wish babies a Happy Birthday. Thus, I set my little cell phone to a special ring tone just for Karlin and eagerly awaited the news that Baby Bumble was on his or her way. Several weeks before Karlin’s due date I prepared my class letting them know that I may be missing class time to be there for a friend who was having a baby. This brought an onslaught of questions my direction; the most disturbing being asked if I would bring them pictures/video to see of the delivery. I immediately protested “no”, but now that I think about it, if it led to more abstinence in the 15 year old population then maybe I should rethink that policy! In the week leading up to Baby Bumble coming, it became increasingly evident that Karlin’s body was gearing up for labor. Each text message would send my heart racing and palms sweating as I waited for the “It’s time” to be sent my way. I spent several afternoons over at their house, walking with Karlin, visiting, and letting her and Ryan to attempt a date night. In fact, I already lined up a substitute for the day I got the call because we were all pretty sure that the big day was coming.
Very early in the morning, I got a text saying that they were headed up to the birthing center and that I could make my way there when I wanted. Which is hilarious…when I wanted…when I know a baby is making it’s way and my kids are taken care of, then I will be there as soon as I can. I hurriedly got dressed, brushed my teeth, and headed in their direction making two stops to try and find tangelos, Karlin and I’s special postpartum present to one another. Seeing as it was “very early” no stores were open and I had to resort to bringing them later that weekend. When I got to the birthing center I sat in my car wondering if I was in the right place. The birthing center is located in two houses that have been remodeled to fit the needs of the midwives and their patients for delivery and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was expecting before that. Going inside, it was still set up very much like a house with a few tweaks here and there, mainly having space in the rooms for a tub and bathroom for the laboring mothers. I am a little freaked out by this being an old house, but reminded myself that this is Karlin’s thing and Karlin’s day and that I am here for her 100%. I am slightly comforted when looking in a closet to see that there is an oxygen tank ready to go, why that gave me comfort, I’m not sure, but it seemed like a little assurance or reminder that we are all on the same side…to deliver a baby safely!
When I arrived, Karlin was receiving her first and only dose of antibiotics for Group B strep which had been a large worry for quite some time, she really wanted to labor at home for a large portion of her labor and was worried about having to head into the birthing center and stalling. As she continued to labor, I was hesitant on how to help. I knew instinctively how I wanted to help, but we had never sat down and discussed what she may want or need from me. Within a relatively short amount of time of being there, several tasks presented themselves to me and I was slowly able to work my way into being more supportive of her. I knew the number one thing I want during labor is for someone to ease delivery in the small of my back so that is what I did, rubbing her back with each contraction hoping that it was providing some relief. It seemed to help, or at least didn’t hurt anything because, trust me, she would have let me know.
For awhile Karlin walked through the birthing center hoping to progress further and rocked back and forth on the labor ball. Ryan and I took turns with words of encouragement and Ryan took the opportunity to read several Bible verses to Karlin as labor became more and more intense. I think Karlin could have kissed the midwives when they said she could get in the tub to continue laboring there. After all, isn’t a water birth (or at least some portion of labor taking place in the tub) kind of a requirement for a non-hospital birth? Once in the tub, Karlin went into a focused Mommy zone that only laboring Mommies can. We would try to ask her questions to help provide her with relief and would be answered with very noncommittal one-word answers or not at all. Ryan and I tried to guess at what each answer or not answer meant and there is no funnier communication that non-verbal “What did that mean?” over a laboring woman’s head. Words of encouragement continued on both our parts and Ryan worked hard to physically and emotionally support Karlin. Karlin would utter words like “Hot” and we were left to interpret what that meant…is she hot from the water, hot from the air, or does she like the hot water…we turned the water on and were met with fierce head shaking and a firm “No”. We guessed that she meant she was hot, but not wanting to leave the warm bathtub and all of the relief it provided her, I set myself up for washcloth duty. In washcloth duty, I had a rotation of four washcloths that rotated in and out of ice (yes, ice) water. One was for Karlin’s head (and often had to be held there as she moved to different laboring positions) and the other was for her neck, while the final two were icing back down. Each time I plunged my hand in the icy water to retrieve the next one I was worried she would freak at how cold it was, but she never did. In my mind it was like she garnered strength from the ice whereas us mere mortals would find it paralyzing! As labor progressed and Karlin moved more and more, it was hard to move the midwife “supplies” from side to side of the tub and along with it, the washcloth tub. However, we would occasionally hear a “Cold” from Karlin and that meant that I was on duty to provide that cool relief she needed.
All the while, Karlin is doing amazing working through her contractions, which were progressing quickly and a midwife assistant was in sitting with us. She asked if I was Karlin’s Doula, which gave me a great sense of pride that, “Hey, I must be doing something right!” I quickly shook my head no and the assistant continued on. Several times as Karlin started vocalizing as she was working through contractions, we would hear a tone similar to that being uttered from elsewhere in the room. I would look up at Ryan as he looked at me, wondering if I was matching Karlin. When it became clear it was the midwife assistant I suppressed my laugh not wanting to frustrate her or Karlin. I did really appreciated the relaxed nature of the birthing team as one of the midwives brought her baby daughter to the delivery and she snoozed in another room as Karlin delivered and we all got a chuckle out of her rainbow striped socks. It was all so intense and so incredibly normal at the same time.
Karlin tells us that at one point she was hit with an overwhelming feeling of this whole natural childbirth thing, at a birthing center, might not be such a great idea. And I think this is a point that all of us hit in our deliveries, like "oh God, what were we thinking, God if you could do me one last little favor, get me out of this..." I rarely saw Karlin at this point during her delivery, but it became sort of noticeable in a moment shared when only her and I were in the room. She was moving in and out of her "zone" in the tub and I hear the faintest sounds coming from her. As I strain to hear her, it becomes clear that she is saying "help, help me". I want to cry now thinking about it, that most vulnerable point in her labor, feeling so desperate that she whispers a plea for help. My resolve strengthens for her and I quickly assure her how amazing she is doing, I remember telling her that we were all there to help her, that Ryan, the midwives, and myself were there to help her however she needed, but truthfully, she needed help from no one. That she was doing this all on her own, that SHE was doing it, and doing it really well. I held her hand and we prayed for strength and calmness and relaxation and for little Baby Bumble to be protected through this process. After that she settled back into her zone and continued on as before. It was an amazing moment for me because I knew, as I have in my deliveries, that she probably felt incredibly small and a little helpless, while those around her saw her as being strong and powerful and amazing as she worked to deliver this little miracle.
Once delivery got closer, the details on the timeline become less clear, at some point the midwives asked about her water breaking to which Karlin protested that she was in the bathtub, how was she supposed to know that her water had broken… they smiled and knowingly answered to let them know when it does. Sure enough, a bit later Karlin was able to tell them that her water had indeed broken. Karlin also became more and more adamant about the midwives getting close to her or touching her to check her progress. Her increasing discomfort told the midwives that delivery was near, but they couldn’t get a sense of the actual process. Karlin was told that she really needed to get the baby into a better position and sitting on the toilet was suggested as a good place to do that. For hours, we hadn’t seen the clear and decisive Karlin and suddenly she made her appearance. “The toilet?!?” and protests of not being able to get up soon filled the room. The midwives assured her that she would have support, and that she shouldn’t deliver the baby in the toilet, and even if she did, the baby wouldn’t actually come out in the toilet… How reassuring… So up Karlin goes (good thing Ryan is a strong guy and not some little beanpole) and half way to the toilet (a good ten feet away) here comes the next contraction. Ryan supports Karlin, I take PG pictures, and there goes the midwife…on the floor…with a construction grade flashlight checking Karlin as she contracts. This is the scene they should show on “crazy hippy birth stories”- a toilet in the background, a rainbow socked midwife crouched on the floor, a Mommy in the throes of labor working through a contraction, and an assistant uttering vocal tones in the background. It was a little crunchy and was in desperate need of sage burning and some tribal drums patting out a little rhythm. That being said, the toilet positioning worked wonders and before she knew it, Karlin was moved back in the tub and was ready to push with full force.
The best moments of course, were the moments leading up to the actual delivery. Karlin is making sure that the midwives aren’t touching her, to which they reply that nobody is touching her, that is the baby crowning and that she is doing amazing. I love that moment of reassurance to a Mommy, that she has done well and that her time, her reward, is near. Ryan is poised, ready to catch the first glimpses of his baby girl or boy, trying to be cool, but is hesitant in the way that all Daddies are before they meet their new little ones. The midwives are calm, knowing that everything is going perfectly and are just waiting for that moment a new life is brought forth. And then, there it is, clear and blurry all in the same moment, like flashes of memory because your mind can’t grasp the wonderful things taking place. The baby is turned and waits patiently under water to be brought up onto Karlin’s chest, laid close to the beating heart which is the most constant and comforting sound it has ever and will ever know. Karlin joyfully welcomes her little one into her arms and has to be reminded to look and tell us that it’s a girl! Praise is showered on her for a job well done, for a job done perfectly. And there are many tears of happiness that Hanne Elyse is here, as Mommy is busy soaking in all of those first moments, blinking eyes, first kisses, tender touches, all meant to reassure this new life, “Welcome little one, you are loved”.
It was an amazing day and interestingly, reaffirmed my growing desire to become a Labor and Delivery nurse. While I think that midwife groups and birthing centers do a great job coaching their mommies through childbirth, they have the “natural thing” covered. We need more women who are experienced in the field of natural birth in our hospitals, empowering women, educating women, and supporting women whatever their choice may be. Having a good support staff is crucial in making it through a natural delivery and I want to be able to provide that for women in the hospital. Hanne reassured me of that. I shook on the way home from her birth, a jumble of nerves and adrenalin and a lot of smiles that made my cheeks hurt and exclamations of “That was amazing, I want to do that professionally!” It was an amazing equilibrium of pouring completely into a dear friend and receiving complete satisfaction in return. To Hanne, Karlin, and Ryan I will always be grateful because she was the first child I saw come into this world that wasn’t my own.
Happy Birthday Hanne!