This is my journey to becoming a home birth midwife.
I was in the shower early in the morning when my cat dragged herself into the bathroom howling like she was on fire. Schmitty Kitty. She was named after the cheap beer we drank when I lived in a tiny, dirty, cockroach infested Seattle apartment the year before.
My transgender neighbor Dean/Deana had thought I needed a pet to love and brought her to me in exchange for a month’s supply of my birth control pills. I couldn’t say no.
He stood in my doorway, his hairy breasts spilling out of a lacy green nightgown, tears streaming down his face and a tiny ball of tiger striped fur in his outstretched palm. I handed him the pills, reluctantly taking my new black market kitten and having no idea that she would change my life forever.
Now, nearly two years later, at 6 a.m., that kitten turned cat was crying on the bathroom floor with a half birthed kitten hanging out of her. She was writhing and scooting trying to dislodge her stuck baby.
Soaking wet, naked, squatting on the bathroom floor I called for my house mate. Still barely awake and also very much naked she held Schmitty while my finger tips fished around inside my wailing cat’s vagina. How hard can it be to dislodge a kitten, I wondered. I imagined it would be a little bit like scooping the last pickle out of a narrow neck jar. No problem, I’d done that a hundred times.
In addition to the scratching and howling there was a lot of pushing and pulling and a little twisting and then some kind of corkscrew motion that my hand made without consulting my brain. It was the corkscrewing that resulted in that kitten literally squirting onto my lap leaving both me and my sweet house mate sitting naked on the bathroom floor in a sticky puddle of my soapy shower water, amniotic fluid, placenta, cat vagina blood and God only knows what else.
Schmitty kitty purred, the baby kitty breathed and at that very moment, at 19 years old, I decided that I wanted to be a midwife.
I lived and still live in Eugene, Oregon. Home of Ken Kesey, The Merry Pranksters, micro brew, organic yogurt, dark roast coffee, punk rock folk music and the country fair. Known for its alternative, counter culture and almost bohemian qualities it’s safe to say that in Eugene pretty much anything goes.
Eugeneans hike and bike and raft and camp and smoke pot and American Spirits and we don’t always shave our legs. We wear body glitter and tie dye to the Saturday market, we have drum circles and play hacky-sack. We get tattoos. We become friends with the hitch hikers we pick up on the way to the hot springs.
Back then we listened to the Grateful Dead and barbecued tofu. We drove Volvos or Volkswagen vans and rode skateboards. We protested wars and capitalism. We had tarot cards and full moon parties. We took echineacea instead of antibiotics and we had our babies at home.
Well, in my world we did.
I was 20 when I started studying midwifery. I was 22 when my first daughter was born at home, I was 23 when I started a study group and became an apprentice midwife, and I was 24 when I caught my first human.
At first I fetched water and babysat older children at births. I cleaned up afterwards and made soup. I did pretty much anything to be invited to attend births.
I remember the first woman who let me check her dilation during labor. That poor woman. I was like a 15 year old virgin boy getting laid for the first time.
Sweating and groping I had no idea what the hell I was doing and spent forever digging around looking for her cervix. I have let many interns or students draw my blood as cosmic repayment of those first few clumsy vaginal exams that taught me so much.
Birth fascinated me. Not so much because I loved babies. I didn’t really. Little babies are just sort of parasitical blobs that sleep, eat and poop. My friends and I affectionately referred to our own as “tit worms.” It wasn’t babies but the actual birth that fascinated me. The on-the-floor-outside-the-shower-blood-and-amniotic-fluid-all-over-my-lap excitement of birth.
The fact that we grow people inside our bodies and then they come out and everything goes mostly back to normal makes it pretty interesting too.
And milk, wow, as if breasts aren’t cool enough without milk.
Yes, birth fascinated me and I learned everything I could about anatomy and physiology and emergency care and breast feeding support and infant care. I read every book I could get my hands on and went to every birth I was invited to. My friends were all having babies and I was catching them.
It was a challenging yet wonderful life.
Homebirth is not a widely accepted practice in this country despite the fact that only recently have women been birthing in hospitals. Women who choose to birth at home are usually fiercely independent, private and strong. They have faith and confidence and possess the power to surrender. Over the years I have known many incredible women whose births helped shape my life.
My daughter attended her first birth with me when she was four. When she was ten she caught her baby sister at home on my bed. Over the years she was invited to several births with me. Being born and everything that went with it was just a normal part of life for her.
Many years into being a midwife I attended a birth with a large and very stuck baby. She would not come out and she was not going back in. Her shoulder was wedged under her mother’s pubic bone and as I was wiggling her from side to side trying to dislodge her, my hands, without consulting my brain made a corkscrew motion and the baby literally squirted onto my lap.
As she breathed and cried I thought about what an honor it was to usher life and as I looked at the blood and amniotic fluid and God knows what else that was all over my lap, I thought of Schmitty Kitty on the bathroom floor with two naked women covered in birth stuff.
By then that cat had been gone for years but as I thought of her I wondered if I would have taken this path without her. I will never know, but I do know that in all my years as a midwife hers’ was the only birth I ever attended naked.
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Editor: Travis May