Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Miracle of the Helpers

To say Leila and Julia were the "icing" on the cake of our experience of Gabriella's homebirth would be a grand understatement, unless we were speaking of such cake/icing combinations as lemon meringue pie (really useless without the meringue!), or carrot cake without the cream cheese frosting.

Several weeks before our baby was expected, Bryan and I discussed what we would need help with during my labor and during the birth of the baby. For Simon's birth, we enjoyed the support of two family friends: one was there to care for Anna, who wasn't yet two, and the other took some much-cherished video of my labor. Neither of those women would be able to attend this birth, and our network of support people didn't include anyone with the kind of availability we'd need (any time, day or night!) who also fully embraced our choice to give birth at home. We could not allow someone who questioned the practice of homebirth into our space; the negative energy would have been unacceptable.

I initially sought the counsel of my online parenting group. Did we need a doula, or were the things we sought "beneath" the expertise of a doula? Were there untapped resources we weren't considering? I am terrible at asking for help. I am always happy to offer help and do anything for someone in need, but I am very uncomfortable asking others to support me. On the other hand, we knew we'd be financially tapped out after paying our midwife (thank you, Keller, for jeopardizing our chances for reimbursement from TriCare...) and hiring a doula would not even be possible for us.

Martha, our midwife, suggested I contact Leila, a midwifery student at Yale. Leila is from Rockland County and had attended some births with Martha over the summer; I had the opportunity to meet her briefly at one of my prenatal appointments. Leila was working on a project for her degree in which she photographed the faces of women in various stages of labor, to illustrate that those facial expressions could be used as another tool by a midwife to gauge how far along a mother's labor was. Martha felt confident that Leila would be glad to photograph and perhaps even take video of the labor and birth for us. Since we did not get Simon's birth on video, we really wanted to record the entry of this baby into the world.
I contacted Leila and she was very excited. She offered to bring her friend Julia, also in the midwifery program at Yale, to be in charge of Anna and Simon. The two young women came to visit us after Thanksgiving and we knew instantly that they would bring wonderful, positive energy and four helpful hands to our birth party.

When I knew I was in labor, I called Leila to let her know it was time to make the 2-hour trip from New Haven to our home. I had awakened her after a late night (even though it was after 9 a.m. when I called her!) but, such will be the lifestyle of a budding midwife! She and Julia arrived and made themselves at home with us.

The support they provided went far beyond caring for Anna and Simon or documenting the labor and birth. Each of them checked in with me periodically, offering exactly the words of encouragement I needed to hear. Indeed, Anna and Simon felt cared for and will remember the day their sister was born as a day they got to spend drawing, playing, singing, and enjoying the company of their friend Julia. The photos Leila took with our camera were fabulous and we're certain the ones she took for her praxis will also leave us in awe of the beauty and miracle of labor and birth.

Words cannot express how magnificent the birth video turned out. There were a few minutes of video taken each hour as labor progressed, so we can see how I was doing as the hours wore on. The birth itself was captured in its entirety, but there is never a moment where the viewer can say "oh, there's Diana naked!" Somehow, the camera angles and lighting worked in our favor and we are undistracted as we watch Gabriella Cecelia enter the world, under the water, gently and peacefully (except for my screaming as I pushed her out). Anna and Simon's excitement is palpable on the video, as well. The video will be a huge piece of our family's history forever.
After the birth, Leila and Julia, who were both thrilled to witness our homebirth, stayed on hand to support me; as well, they made light work of cleaning up so that we could enjoy our first hours with Gabriella as a complete family. Bryan, Anna, and Simon all stayed on the bed with me and the baby. None of us could take our eyes off of her, she was finally here!

If we have another baby, Leila and Julia will themselves be practicing midwives. We are wondering how we'll possibly have another baby without them. Their roles were so significant, so vital to the experience being as whole and perfect as it was. I am unable to find a gesture that will adequately thank them.

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