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Homebirth - as seen by an observer

It was in the late afternoon when Theresa called me, sounding a little upset. She had gone for a nap with light, irregular contractions, and had woken up to find she was in heavy labour. All alone, she was feeling uneasy.

Theresa’s husband Gary was home by the time I arrived and she was quite relaxed and smiling, happy that the baby was finally on its way. How beautiful she looked, her face glowing, her eyes shining with anticipation. She was a little disgruntled about experiencing back labour, and my offer of counter-pressure was not helpful. In spite of the back labour, she was coping well with the contractions every five minutes.

The first midwife arrived and examined her, saying her cervix was 5-6 cm and very stretchy. I busied myself clearing off the top of the dresser for the midwives’ equipment, and made the bed up with nice clean sheets, after putting a protective plastic cover over the mattress first. Theresa laboured in the kitchen, sipping raspberry-leaf tea, and leaning on the counter when she had a contraction.

By the time the second midwife arrived an hour later Theresa’s labour was getting more intense as contractions lengthened and the rest between them shortened. Between periods of deep concentration during which counter-pressure on her back was quite helpful, she would still laugh and joke.

She moved up to the bedroom where the area was prepared for the birth. While Theresa wandered between the bathroom, bedroom, hallway, and rocking chair seeking a comfortable place to labour, I listened with interest to the midwives chat about the last few births they had attended. I felt guilty being there. Why did I deserve to be present for this occasion, merely as an observer? What does Theresa think about this? I wondered. Does she want her helpers to stay close by in case she needs us? Is she reassured by our presence? Or does it annoy her that we chat idly while she faces painful contractions every few minutes? I don’t know how to ask her -- I don’t want to burden her with questions. It’s hard to think outside of your body during labour.

Gary never left Theresa’s side. The quiet rapport between them made it clear that the labour was Gary’s too. He rubbed her back, hugged her, whispered sweet things to her. She needed him, and he responded, offering himself to her in whatever way he could. It was like a dance – a lover’s dance – to the slow rhythm of labour that encompassed them both.

She began to tire of the endless contractions, but with courage she decided that rather than seek postions of comfort to escape the relentless contractions, Theresa wanted labour to come stronger and harder, the sooner to bring the baby. Deciding she
laboured better in her kitchen, she waited for the contraction to end, and rushed down the stairs before another one hit. What a joy to run down the stairs and into the kitchen at eight centimetres!

Stronger and harder the labour came. Theresa noticed a difference – the baby had shifted with the motion involved in running down the stairs. She began to swear,
banging her head repeatedly on the kitchen cupboards. The midwife offered helpful tips. One of them was to lift up her belly with her hands, which seemed put the baby in a better position and eased the pressure off her back. Theresa's movements changed:
she swung her hips back and forth like a hula dancer, instinctively moving the baby into position.

The midwives asked her to decide where she wanted to give birth. They should either
go back upstairs, or bring their supplies down to the main floor, because things could move pretty quickly from this point. If Theresa felt most comfortable in the kitchen and wanted to give birth right there, fine.

Upstairs again - Theresa’s labour is coming hard, the contractions back to back. She barely has time to take a breath before another one hits. Her arms around Gary’s neck, she suspends herself, moving her hips in circles. Breathing gives way to moaning and then crying.

“I don’t want to do this anymore!” she sobs. I turn, so she doesn't see my tears. I want to help her, take her pain just for a while to give her some rest. I press hard against her back. She’s drowning, going under the waves again and again, crying for help. Does she not realize how close she is to the shore?

"How many more contractions like that do you think you can handle?" I ask.

She looks confused. "One!"

"Could you handle ten?" I ask, "Ten contractions like that and you'll be over transition and pushing your baby out."

She looks surprised, "I'm in transition?"

The midwives and I laugh. "You sure are!"

She seems incouraged now that she sees how close she is to shore. Another wave
come crashing over her. We wait in respectful silence for it to pass. The midwives
explain that if her water has broken, she might have the baby sooner. Possibly.

"Break it!" she decides as she climbs into bed before another contration hits.

A splash of water soaks into the padding, and Teresa shutters with relief. With the next wave she cries out, rolls to her side and wraps her arms around Gary, hollering for Someone to hold her leg up. I climb onto the bed and kneel behind her, supporting her leg.

She screams long and loud, a cry of power and of pain, a cry that recognizes the inevitable. There's no turning back - she's under the command of the force within her. I look over my shoulder at Madeleine, six years old. Her eyes wide, she stands at the foot of her parent's bed, watching as three women hover near her screaming mother. I grin
at Madeleine and wink. This is OK. This is how it's suppose to be. She smiles back. I watch her expressions change a dozen times as the moments pass, from concern, to fear, to anticipation, to joy, to excitement, to worry. I was try to see what Madeleine
was looking at and a report to Teresa what she just felt was a nose being born.
Another primal scream and the grunting noise that one makes with great effort.
Maleleine looks at me again for reassurance. Tears streaming down my face with emotion, I want to laugh and cry at the same time.

It's a boy! A boy! And he's perfect! Cameron weighs 10lbs 4ozs and Madeleine wants to call him Camera for short!

I wish I could've recorded those moments, but instead they remain in my mind, etched in a way no film could ever portray. Those gentle words of encouragement, the deep powerful sounds a woman makes as she gives birth, subtle scent of vernix-coated newborn, the wordless sounds of joy and delight uttered at the sight of the baby and the gurgle of a baby's first breath -- these cannot be recorded.

And I am amazed that I was privileged enough to be allowed to share it.

Thank you, Teresa and Gary.

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