Imagine having an unexpected cesarean section for the birth of your first child—common, yes, but an undesirable procedure for most women. Imagine being pregnant again with your second child and being determined, if you could find a fantastic midwife, to have a VBAC (Vaginal Birth after Cesarean) and deliver naturally. Imagine someone believing in you enough that you begin to believe in your body’s ability to do this thing. Next, imagine not only deciding to birth naturally, but to have an HBAC (Home Birth after Cesarean). Imagine, when the birth is over, not only being able to say, “I did it,” but also being able to use “silent” as the descriptor for the experience. This is the story of Harrison’s birth.
Deborah, the midwife, almost wears Tina down with encouragement throughout her pregnancy, never giving her an opportunity to have a negative thought. Tina is a perfect candidate for an HBAC given the circumstances of her previous c-section, and there is no reason to think that things should not go as smoothly for her as for any other healthy woman.
It is 3:00pm, and at nine months pregnant, Tina is picking her son up from school as contractions begin to surge through her. Experiencing a stage of manic nesting, she does not rush home, but instead drives her car, her son, and her very pregnant self to Whole Foods to do some grocery shopping.
Hi, Honey, her husband Anthony says as he calls her to check in via cell phone, I’m on my way out to eat.
You can’t go out to eat, Tina responds through her own phone, a slight edge to her voice. Come home.
I’ll be right there, is his understanding reply, and soon things are underway with the family gathered together within the familiar walls of their own home.
Labor has clearly begun for Tina, the real thing, and the confidence that she has gotten from her midwife, along with her strong belief that her body can do this, allows her to be calm, excited, and relaxed. Peacefully welcoming the process of birth into her body, she feels no pain as she works with and through the contractions, awaiting the arrival of her baby.
By 5:30 PM, Tina’s contractions begin to strengthen, and at 7:30 PM it’s time to put her young son, George, to sleep. They read books in Mom’s bed, and Tina fades into sleep herself. There is no moaning, certainly no screaming—the “stereotypical” noises of birth do not define this labor—just the silent sounds of home ringing like lullabies around her as she rests with her son, his brother just hours away from joining them.
Two hours later, Tina wakes up to a distinct wetness; her four-year-old son is potty-trained, so he is clearly not the cause of the flood that she feels beneath her. Her water has broken, and as she inspects it more closely she notices that it is slightly tinged.
Don’t worry is the mantra that the midwife once again echoes at the suggestion of concern voiced over the phone. Completely reassured, Tina hangs up and continues her tranquil laboring. The sheets are changed and George is moved into his own bed upstairs.
With the contractions now two minutes apart, she stops keeping track of their frequency as the intensity of her labor peaks.
Just as the primary midwife arrives, around 10:00 PM, Tina has a nuclear-like contraction, and a surprisingly strange, unpreventable guttural sound, like a long, reflexive grunt, emerges from her throat. At the surfacing of this rare noise in the silence of this labor, Tina climbs into the tub and is checked by Deborah. Fully dilated now, she drapes her body over the side of the tub where she will sit, on her knees, for two hours. Eyes and mouth closed, Tina is in her own place, birthing silently and from within and letting her body do what it must. There is no urge to push, and there is no pushing; Tina’s body lets the baby move down through her birth canal. As the intensity peaks again, she says the first words in her entire labor, When will this be over?
Soon, the midwife says, You’re doing great. Just like that. Plain, simple, filled with conviction. Her trust in her midwife complete, Tina births on.
Still hanging over the edge of the tub after two hours in the same position, without any conscious pushing, her body moving that baby down, her second son is born quickly, almost effortlessly, into the water.
It’s a boy, is the chorus that is sung as Tina laughs, a family of four boys and her now in this house. There is no need to get out of the tub, no concern for toes that look like prunes or water that could be cleaner, for it is as pure as it can be as Tina holds her baby in her arms, and the midwife cuts the cord. George, an older brother now, sleeps, still, as he has all night. Tiny and alert in these moments, Tina’s new son not only looks back at her, but right on in to the depths of her soul.
With the cord cut, Tina gets out of the tub and onto the bed. Push, the midwives now instruct for the first and last time, one of the few words spoken in this silent night, and the placenta is delivered. Anthony plunks it in a disposable aluminum pan that he has retrieved. He quickly segues and next deftly prepares a light meal—a ham and cheese sandwich--for the mother of his newest son.
Deborah and the other midwife, Laurie, stay for a while, and later, downstairs, they all share in celebration with champagne.
When the midwives leave just a little while later, Tina and her husband are unable to fall asleep from the excitement of the day, from the joy of this new life in their arms. When big brother George wakes up, he cannot believe the little life that he sees before him.
At home, birth for Tina is a calm and relaxing experience, defined by a quiet built on trust, and with her baby in her arms she is enamored, pleased, and happy.
When everything is over, and the once–again new mother rests at a distance from the birth, she wonders, Was it really as calm an experience as I remember? But the midwives reassure her yes, she was very, very quiet as she brought this baby forth.
Of all that was important to Tina through this pregnancy and birth, what resonates about midwifery care is the significance of words spoken and unspoken. Both the silence allowed her when she sought it and the carefully chosen words gifted to her from the point of conception onward instilled her with strength to birth with confidence in the comfort of home.
Brief Bio of This Powerful Birthing Woman:
Tina Cassidy worked at the Boston Globe for more than a dozen years, editing and reporting on everything from business to politics to fashion, the very things that have influenced birth over the centuries. She is the author of Birth: The Surprising History of How We are Born, published by Atlantic Monthly Press. She lives in Boston with her husband, Anthony Flint, also an author (This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America), and their three sons, Hunter (12) George (4) and newborn Harrison.
Archived Birth Stories