Pamela’s Birth Story

Pamela HuntBeing a midwife is not what I thought I’d do when I grew up. I didn’t even know what a midwife was until we came across the word “midwife” in the Bible in my high school church youth group. Our minister told us that midwives were women who delivered babies in the old days before doctors began doing it. I put it out of my mind.

My mother had all her babies in the hospital, and she loved us very much, so I supposed it was a good experience for her. I remember her looking beautiful each time when my father brought her and my new baby brother home from the hospital.

Pamela’s Story

excerpted from Spiritual Midwifery

Being a midwife is not what I thought I’d do when I grew up. I didn’t even know what a midwife was until we came across the word “midwife” in the Bible in my high school church youth group. Our minister told us that midwives were women who delivered babies in the old days before doctors began doing it. I put it out of my mind.

My mother had all her babies in the hospital, and she loved us very much, so I supposed it was a good experience for her. I remember her looking beautiful each time when my father brought her and my new baby brother home from the hospital.

In college I studied interior decorating and fine art, and my studies brought me to the University of Guadalajara in Mexico for two years. Here, one of my art classes was a class in anatomy. One of the field trips for this class was to one of their state-run hospitals. While there, I observed two “natural” births and one cesarean birth. In all three births, when the doctor pulled the baby out, which he had to do because the women were given epidural anesthesia, he slapped the baby on the butt, swung it in the air and gave it to a nurse. Then he walked out of the room. All three mothers looked tired and forlorn after the births. Their husbands had not even been allowed in the room to comfort them. No one else did this either, and here was this class of anatomy students observing, a group of total strangers who didn’t know the first thing about birth. Why they arranged for us to be at these births and put these poor women up as models at this most vulnerable time in their lives, I’ll never know. We certainly didn’t learn any anatomy or compassion for the mother or baby.

I was shocked. Is this what my mother went through? She, too, had an epidural with her babies. I didn’t really think she got this treatment
when she had her babies, because she always looked so pretty when she came home from the hospital, but seeing that this could happen convinced me that I would find another way to have my babies.

I started to notice when my Mexican school friends talked about their aunts or mothers having their babies at home. About that time, I read a novel about how the peasants in China just squatted in the field to give birth and then went on with their work. That was enough for me. I didn’t want to give birth in the field, but I was sure if the peasants could do it that way, that I could do it at home in my own bed with my husband at my side Actually, the whole idea of becoming a peasant myself was intriguing to me I saw peasants as honest, hard-working people who loved each other, had big families, believed in God, and knew how to have babies. I had put value in these things for many years already.

During the next two years, I moved back to the United States to finish my education. My parents sent me to San Francisco in 1965 to attend
my senior year at San Francisco State College. There were hippies with flowers in their hair everywhere. They looked pretty and had fun and seemed to share a lot of the same ideals that were strong in my mind, so I became a hippy, too. I hitchhiked to school, figuring God would provide me with the safety I needed. I wasn’t afraid of work and worked hard at whatever I did at school or at my jobs.

Around this time I met Stephen Gaskin, a teacher at San Francisco State College. He said, “Helping man is a good place to start your search
for God.” I was depending on God’s help a lot and wanted to be close to him. San Francisco in those days was pretty wild, and I was single and young. I knew I would need His help to get through. Stephen provided me with the spiritual guidance I needed to be close to God at that time.

My mother had also given me a good spiritual background, which kept me in touch with God. I became part of a church that was ministered by Stephen Gaskin. We traveled in 1970-71 around the country, stopping at churches and universities to talk. There were about three hundred of us on the trip, living and traveling in old school buses that we had painted very neatly in pretty colors. They were fixed up like homes inside with rugs on the floor and ceiling, beds, easy chairs, and kitchens. We had about fifty buses among us. There were six or seven families who were expecting their first or second babies. My husband and I were one of these families.

Our first woman went into labor in the parking lot of Northwestern University while most of the group were inside the university meeting hall. Three of us stayed out in her small bus lit by kerosene lamps and helped her through her labor. She had a fairly short labor and,a healthy boy. I remember her looking beautiful all through her labor, kind of rosy and glowing.

The second birth took place in a park in Michigan. Cara, later one of our midwives, went into labor. Everyone wanted to see the birth, and as many people crowded into her tiny bus as could squeeze in. The vibes felt strained. One woman who was there was superstitious about any conventional information and criticized Ina May when she began looking through the Mexican midwifery manual we had. This person also thought the husband should be the one to deliver the baby and that no one person should be in charge. The situation felt shaky. Ina May was backed off, even though she was the best qualified person in our group to help the mother.

Cara was young and brave. Her baby was born blue and not breathing and weighing just a bit over five pounds. The father was in the catching position, wondering what to do. A woman went over to Stephen’s bus and told him the baby had been born, and he knew by the tone of her voice that something was wrong. He ran over, took up the baby and breathed into her. She took a breath immediately and turned pink; our first miracle and our first heavy lesson. After this birth we didn’t allow random people to attend a birthing, and Ina May was established as our main midwife in charge.

One of our women, pregnant with her third baby, went into labor as we were entering a small town in upper New York State. She, too, had a short labor. As her labor came on stronger, we realized we would have to stop the Caravan. We ended up in front of an old church. When the baby was born, the minister rang the church bells, and the townspeople of Ripley came out and brought food and good wishes.

The rest of our deliveries went smoothly. By the time my turn came to have a baby, I had complete confidence in the natural birthing process and in Ina May as my midwife.

The birthing of my first child tested every bit of faith I had. It was a forty-eight hour labor in the middle of Wyoming, with the temperature ranging from zero Fahrenheit to twenty-three degrees below zero, and with the draft board hot on my husband’s trail. Every time we crossed a state line, we had to call his draft board. They threatened to come and take him at any time.

I was so grateful for Ina May, Margaret and Mary Louise, who helped me through the long hours of my labor. I never doubted that the baby
would come out and that the outcome would be good. I did wonder when it would happen, and I asked often. I learned a lot from Ina May
at Christopher’s birth about how a midwife is really a wife to the mother. She stays with you through all your changes in labor.

When Christopher was born in the early morning, it felt like a miracle. He was healthy, and I felt tired but good. When he was two days
old, we took him to a supermarket in Rock Springs and weighed him on the produce scale in the vegetable section of the store. He weighed
7 pounds and 2 ounces. Then we took him to the local hospital because we wanted a birth certificate for him. We told the lady in the records
office that we wanted a birth certificate for our newly born baby, and she looked at us and said that they usually only made birth certificates
for babies who were born in their hospital. After all, how could we prove the fact of the birthing, she wanted to know. There I was, with my baby
in my arms, milk leaking through my sweatshirt. I was amazed that she doubted me. It was kind of funny, really, so I smiled and so did she.
She did fill out the certificate and wished us luck.

My husband and I traveled back to California after Christopher’s birth to figure out what to do about the draft board. At the time we turned
back, a week after Christopher’s birth, we didn’t know that Ina May and the Caravan were headed toward some of their hardest times. We
didn’t hear that Ina May had lost her eight weeks premature baby until we reached The Farm in July. When l arrived in Tennessee, I found Ina
May, Margaret and Stephen and many other friends yellow with hepatitis. They had eaten watercress picked from a local creek that was contaminated.

Ina May was skinny, yellow and still sad because she had lost her baby, but she continued to be strong in her convictions to make the community work. She was a real inspiration to me, as well as a good friend.

The day after we arrived, everyone got a gamma globulin shot from the Tennessee Health Department, so those of us who weren’t already
infected didn’t get sick. We healthy ones helped care for those who were sick. We were already in touch with the health department about the
hepatitis, and our local doctor, Dr. Williams, was aware of us. Ina May asked me if I would watch out for the health of the thirteen or fourteen
children we had with us. These included some new babies and toddlers on up to a twelve year old. She gave me Dr. Williams’ phone number.

This was a turning point in my life. I was not only responsible for my baby and husband, but also for a handful of kids who were running barefooted in the summer heat. The woods were full of poison ivy and chiggers, little larvae of mites that burrow under the skin and cause an irritation. The kids, especially the young ones, would scratch and their bites would get infected, which happens easily in Tennessee’s sub-tropical climate. I gathered the group together every day in the morning and the evening and took them to the open air shower house the construction crew had built just up from a spring. I would get them nice and clean and then put antibiotic ointment on their infected scratches. I tried to teach them to take care of the bites instead of scratching. Most of the scratches healed right up, but there was one child whose didn’t. His skin kept breaking out in little red swollen-looking blisters. l took him to Dr. Williams’ office, and he told me how to care for the child and what antibiotic to give him. Dr. Williams was always a help to us.

Around the same time, a local pharmacist gave me a Physician’s Desk Reference and Stephen gave me a Merck Manual to use. I started to read medical books. A young nurse name Kathryn joined our community, and she taught me how to give injections. We worked with the health department and started immunizing our children against infectious diseases. The health department was interested in us and befriended us. They gave us enough prenatal vitamins, iron and vitamin B12 (an essential vitamin for complete vegetarians) for all our nursing and pregnant women.

My husband built a lean-to next to our bus and hammered an orange crate onto a tree This was our first clinic. In the orange crate were bandages, tape, alcohol, disinfectant and a bottle of antibiotics that Dr. Williams had given us with instructions on when and how to give them.

At the same time that I started helping with the kids, Ina May asked if I could help her with some of the pregnant women we had. I wanted to help her in any way I could, being grateful to her for helping get Christopher out and I wanted to help her do more of that. She showed me how to do prenatal checks, how to check the position of the baby and how to measure a woman’s pelvis. We read everything we could find on pregnancy, birth and obstetrics. We made friends with our local doctors and called them whenever we had a question.

After helping Ina May with twenty-three birthings, I was left on The Farm to deliver several babies while Ina May and Stephen went on a trip to Ohio. One of these babies had the umbilical cord wrapped very tightly around her neck. I followed the steps Ina May had taught me from what she learned from Dr. La Pere. I clamped and cut the cord, unwound it to free the baby, and the mother pushed out a healthy baby girl, beautiful and pink. It worked so well. Every time we ran into a problem, we would read about it and talk it over with Dr. Williams. This is how we learned.

Our land consisted of a thousand acres, mostly woods, with a few fields, one house and a barn. One of the rooms in the house was given
to the clinic crew, which now consisted of four women; Ina May, Margaret, Kathryn and myself. One wall of the room was lined with shelves which soon housed our medical library and medicines. By now we had a collection of antibiotics and cough syrups and a few other specialized medicines that were donated to our clinic. Once every couple of weeks we would go through the medicines and read about each one in the Physician’s Desk Reference, when and how to use them, as well as the side effects of each medicine. When we had a question, we would call Dr. Williams or a pharmacist friend.

The house had a telephone, so we no longer had to go to the local bar to call our doctor. Meanwhile, The Farm grew in population. Not only were we having babies (about fifty the first year we settled), but new people had heard about our community and wanted to join us. Dr. Williams helped us a lot. Once when one of our mothers had been pushing for four hours with little progress, I called him and he came out. He examined her and said she had a small anterior lip of cervix caught between her pubic bone and the baby’s head. He reached in and held the cervix back for one contraction and said, “You’ll have the baby in an hour, honey” and then he left. He always made you feel good and the mother did have her baby in an hour. When Dr. Williams got a citizen’s band radio for his pickup truck so we could talk to him while he was away from a phone, his radio handle (nickname) was “Dr. Feelgood”.

A few months after we settled in Tennessee, Ina May got pregnant again. This time we took very good care of her. Ina May wanted to come to the prenatal clinic we had for all our women by this time, so we put a big, comfortable chair in the clinic room so she could sit if she got tired. She came to birthings, but that was about all we’d let her do. Cara and Kathryn were helping with birthings, too, so I wasn’t alone. Actually, all of us were pregnant, and all due between June and August. We had enough pregnant women that we were delivering between four to six babies a month. Starting families was one of our goals when we left San Francisco to find a place where we could live; we wanted to raise our families in the healthy environment of the country.

In early June, Cara went into labor. She lived in a small bus down a dirt path in the woods. Kay Marie, who was also helping with birthings now, and I had to walk the last 200 yards to her bus. Cara was beautiful in the lamplight and gave birth after an eight hour labor to a healthy, full term, chubby girl. As soon as we had Cara cleaned up, the call came that Ina May was starting labor. Kay Marie was three months pregnant and feeling nauseous, so she went home and I went on to Ina May’s.

Ina May was on a bed in the corner of their big army tent with a lamp lit next to her when I arrived. She looked pink and golden as we exchanged smiles. This baby was full term and a good size. She was five centimeters dilated and having good rushes when I got there. I lay down to sleep for a while and dreamt about her baby and Cara’s new girl and my baby. My baby was very active that night and kept turning and kicking in my belly, which was very comforting. It felt like there were babies everywhere that night.

I woke up two hours later hearing Ina May, and by the sounds I knew she would have the baby soon. I went to her and about half an hour later, she had a healthy, pink, beautiful baby girl. After Eva was born, my baby settled down inside me and I went home to catch up on my sleep.

A month later on a hot July night, Ina May delivered my baby, Stephanie, outside our bus on a large wooden platform that we had built under the trees for a cool place to rest in the summer. I remember feeling very well cared for pushing Stephanie out with Ina May, Cara and Kay Marie all helping. As the sun came up, a dewdrop fell from a tree and hit Stephanie’s forehead. I felt she had been baptized.

Stephanie and Eva, both seventeen now are still good friends.

Carol was a young woman due to have her first baby. We had been on The Farm for a year and a half, and two small A-frame houses had
been built from wood we had cut and milled at our own sawmill. Carol and her husband didn’t have a place to live and have their baby, so the
community gave them a loft in one of these houses. It was very rustic but warm, and Carol had it neatly fixed up with curtains on the window and a covered stand to hold a kerosene lamp.

The loft was only eight feet by ten feet, and you had to climb up a ladder to get to it, but it did have a skylight and was open to the rest of the house at one end, so it was bright and didn’t feel that little. Carol felt very grateful to live here. There were two other young couples in the house who helped her with cooking and laundry. She was a quiet woman with long, straight brown hair, and when she smiled, I knew she was glad to be pregnant.

Ina May was off The Farm when Carol went into labor, so I was to deliver the baby with Cara’s help. We went right out when we got the call and hoisted the birthing kit up over the edge of the loft, because it wouldn’t fit through the hole for the ladder. We got everything ready and Carol proceeded right along with her labor.

After about six hours, she pushed out a healthy boy. As soon as the placenta came out, I noticed something else was out of her and realized immediately that it was her uterus inside out. I put on a sterile glove, made my hand into a fist and gently pushed the uterus back up inside
her where it belonged. I massaged her uterus for a few minutes to stop the bleeding.

Carol was a little dizzy for about five minutes after all this happened. She started to nurse her baby and felt better so we fed her some warm
soup. She was tired, but her color was greatly improved.

I had read about inverted uteruses and what to do about them a few weeks before this birth, but I didn’t really think I would ever see one. When it happened my reaction was instinctual. I didn’t think about it; I just did what was obviously necessary. I found out from a doctor years later that had I waited, the cervix would have closed and it would have meant an operation to get Carol’s uterus back up in her pelvic cavity. We asked Carol to do shoulder stands against the wall and Kegel exercises* for a couple of months following this birthing.

I always say a prayer as I’m going to a birthing or sometime during the birthing. Sometimes I ask for God’s help and sometimes I tell God
exactly what I need and ask that He help with that specific thing. He has never let me down.

I sort of feel that I have a working agreement with God, that I promise Him I will do the work He puts in front of me. I haven’t put any limits on this work. He can give me anything he wants. In return, I ask that He help me when I need help. I feel He is always there for me and I always feel His presence, especially at birthings. (Somehow I think He likes midwives.)

*Kegels are exercises of the muscles of the perineum and the pelvic floor. The woman alternately tightens and relaxes the anal and vaginal sphincters.

 

Comments are closed