The Best Time I Didn’t Deliver A Baby

Dear Millicent,

I now know what kind of person I am in an emergency.  Yesterday morning, I went to meet a couple who I would be doulaing for, ready with my bag of tricks.  I had my lavender oil, my breath mints, my mantras and my own sense of calm. When I got to the door, the baby was crowning, and would be born two minutes later on the bathroom floor.

This happens, and homebirth is not by definition an emergency.  Planned homebirth is awesome.  Doulas are trained for what to do in an emergency delivery, but it is the kind of training that my brain did not hold tightly. I absorbed it like learning how to punch a window out if your car falls off a bridge and is submerged into water: it is big time useful, but also something that only happens in movies.  Except that it all actually happens sometimes.

This was an emergency in the sense that there was no control. Whatever this would be, it would be, and it was happening RIGHT NOW. The dad asked me if I knew what to do. I said what my gut said. “No.”

And then I got thwarted by the fact I don’t know how to use an I-phone.  Me and 911 kept saying “hello” to each other. I was waiting for all those important instructions to pour out–look for this, look for that. But I couldn’t get the damn speaker phone off, and asking for directions about a phone is stupid compared to the fact that a baby is coming out, right now. And it did.  The baby came out. And started crying. It all worked the way it’s supposed to work, and firemen came, and everything got taken care of.

The Iphone never made sense.

For the entire 2 minutes, I had no idea how to help.  I felt like the clumsiest person in the world.  It was all very slow, and very fast. It was all high panic, and incredibly calm.  A part of me surrendered, knowing that I had no idea what to do. And a part of me insisted that there were practical things to do. Look for towels! Pay attention. Watch. Look around for clues. Look for bad things.

But there were no bad things. We weren’t called on for that kind of adrenaline. It worked. It was a household event. Not a crisis. The firemen seemed happy to have such an easy emergency to attend.  All was well. Babies are born every day.

I can’t believe that is how I spent my morning.

When I got home and looked up emergency home birth on the internet, all of the instruction guides (which I imagine freaked out people reading with the laptop set up next to the birthing woman, pissed that the screensaver came on because now they will have to click, then wash their hands again, and that baby is coming!), were amazingly soothing.  They promised that this was rare, and that it usually happened with very healthy moms and babies.  That birth, often enough to hope for the best, took care of itself.  “When in doubt,” one content farm version of instructions said, “do nothing.”*

In the best of emergency circumstances, delivering a baby means lightly holding the head, making sure no cord is around the throat, and catching it. Then, putting newborn on mama’s chest. There are other facts. Babies are blue when they’re born. If the baby isn’t crying, to press its nostrils downwards. To keep the umbilical cord attached.  There is a lot of information, but the basic instructions for a routine birth are simple enough to fit into a small bullet list.  The internet could get you through it.

For myself, I’m not sure in that moment I would have remembered how the internet worked.  But, I now have even more trust in what the body can do.  This was the first non-hospital birth I have been at. It wasn’t an ideal birth. It was scary, and fast, and the amount of adrenaline drenching the house was insane.   I don’t know if the mama is going to remember it as traumatic or wild.  The experience brought home how birth is really about the woman and her body, and that the hospital is an accessory, a location. A minor distinction, one that I had not realized before this, emphasizing how disempowering many hospital spaces are for laboring women.  Also, the immense blessing of people who actually know how to deliver babies, be they nurses, firemen (firepeople?),  midwives, or OBs.

So, lessons learned:

  • Time gets slow in crisis, but crisis keeps moving.
  • Figure out how an I-phone works.
  • Trust women.
  • Babies don’t give a shit about your plans.
  • Sometimes, things work out seriously fine.
**As for the “do nothing” style, there is a whole kind of  planned solo birth where the mother attends herself.  Often, a midwife will be present as backup for complications or support, but the birthing mother will actually deliver her own kiddo.