These times! These times have been among the most incredible times of my life so far! Three weeks ago my own daughter gave birth to her own daughter! The wet, tiny, wiggling thing I once pulled to my heart through effort and pain and waters and blood and wails that filled the room, reached down herself and, with spectacular strength, pulled her own tiny, wet, wiggling, wailing thing to her heart before my very eyes! I’ve held the daughter of my daughter in my arms and next to my heart! I’ve touched her soft skin and smelled her sweet smell and kissed her smooth cheeks, I’ve marveled over her ears and lips and chin, I’ve counted her fingers and toes, I’ve lost myself in the depths of her ageless bluish-grey eyes. I’ve felt the full reality of her existence while feeling unable to truly believe she’s real.
One of the most amazing experiences of my life was discovering my strength through birthing Hannah at home. The fact that I accomplished her birth by my own power within my own home transformed me, and I’ll remember till the end of my days the feeling of triumph I felt as I reached down and took up my squirming child! To have done that, and to have passed that down to my daughter and granddaughter has been beyond transformative!
Is this how it feels to be a grandmother? Is this how it feels to be a great grandmother? Is this how it feels to find your life has passed from your life to take on a life of its own? My psyche is a sea of thoughts, wild and wildly churning, ebbing and flowing, sweeping and crashing. Here and there a thought manages to beach itself upon the shores of my mind, allowing me to get a bit of a better look at it. Among those thoughts is one I’ll share with you today.
As of tomorrow afternoon my family will have been without my grandmother – my grandmother, Hannah’s great grandmother, and Evangeline’s great-great grandmother – Helen May (Face) Banfield, a year. It occurred to me afresh as I thought about her, that she was born at home. She was born at home, and then no one was born at home till I birthed Hannah there sixty-nine years later, December 8th, 1991.
Helen was born on January 19th, 1922, with all the odds against her. She was born at her very poor home in Jackson County, Michigan, two months early, and weighing a mere three pounds, four ounces. She was born to a man and to a woman sadly ill-prepared for the responsibilities and privileges of rearing a family, a fact that would be revealed as my grandmother grew up. The doctor who came to tend Helen and her mother announced that tiny Helen wouldn’t live. Rather, then, than being snuggled close as she expired– she was bundled into a box and placed out of sight next the woodstove to slip away from life on her own. But Helen, true to Helen form, took matters into her own hands and, not only did she survive her birth, she struggled through and survived her challenging childhood too – she survived and even thrived!
Helen Banfield survived and thrived and became a woman of remarkable strength who, with her husband, Arthur – a man of similar strength – crafted for her family the life she ought to have had crafted for her, passing along measures of strength to her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren as she steadfastly crafted.
I’m in awe of, and I celebrate the unique way her strengths have manifested themselves in her offspring – uniquenesses, idiosyncrasies even – that are the vibrant colors comprising the tapestry of our family. As my own strengths began to emerge, it took awhile for us to find the way they fit into the work, and a period of dishevelment followed. Grandma, though born at home herself, was, at first, the most vociferously opposed to my plans to birth my babies at home and to pursue a career as a homebirth midwife. In fact, only four days before Hannah was born, she stood in my living room and let me know just exactly how opposed she was! I doubt I ever managed to change her opinions on the subject, but, through the years, as I, Helen-style, stood my ground, and we, Helen-style, continued to love one another with ferocity, she retired her arguments and accepted my choices. Whatever her opinions, she eventually began expressing pride in my accomplishments – she even once came to watch me present midwifery as a career option to a roomful of school girls – and was faithful to praise Hannah as she began making her way into and through homebirth midwifery.
So, Helen Banfield, after having her doom pronounced within hours of her birth, lived to see nearly ninety-three birthdays, and when her true time to pass from this earth came, she did it – not by her lonesome – but surrounded by her loved ones, including both Hannah and me.
One of the thoughts that’s washed ashore in this inimitable time, in part, is the fullness of what it meant to me to watch my daughter see her great grandmother off on her way into eternity.
The part rounding out the fullness of that thought is the thought that the legacy of women claiming their inherent strength by birthing at home, last experienced by my grandmother at her birth, was returned to the women of our family with Hannah’s birth and reinforced with the birth of Evangeline.
The photograph leading this story illustrates what I’ve attempted to share here, I think – Hannah’s tiny hand reaching up to touch her great grandmother’s face – a meeting of legacy, heritage, and generations – strength perpetuating strength.
Photograph by Kim Woodard OsterholzerThank you so much for the gift of your time!
Thank you so much for the gift of your time!
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Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author
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