Well, it’s Friday, October 27th and I’m eight days home from Michigan. My husband, Steven, and my middle bonus son, Adam, are hunting up in the mountains. I’m away in the mountains, too, alone and relishing the quiet. I’m perched beside Fall River with the song of rapids in my ears and clean air in my lungs and such a sense of fullness washing over me! But I didn’t come to explore the terrain this trip. I spent nearly every day of summer out in the American wilderness. This weekend I’m just being, thinking about, writing about, and absorbing all that happened through my months in Michigan.
Those happenings are burned into my mind and heart as some of the most meaningful of my life. I’ve been blessed to have experienced more than my fair share of meaningful things, I know that and am so grateful, but to have experienced the births of my own grandchildren! Nothing else compares. The births of Evangeline and Brent and Elyse marked a completion to my existence. When a friend, a grandfather himself, said to me when I shared our happy news, “Well! So, now you can die,” I understood exactly what he meant. I believe I’ll live on to be and do and enjoy many other things before I cross to the other side, but I can’t begin to imagine anything reaching into the creases and crevices of my being the way the emergence of these singular souls have.
With my memoir complete and slated for publication, and the time I need to attend to my work readily available, I’m pleased to be able to set this weekend aside to weave a record of our happenings to treasure as well as to share with you.
We’ll begin with one of the more poignant elements of my pilgrimage through grandmotherhood.
I tumbled into the idea of birthing at home as a teenager, and came away from the encounter determined not only to birth at home myself, but to become a midwife. Six short years later, within the palpable surprise and fear of most everyone I loved and respected, my daughter, Hannah, was born at home into the massive, yet gentle hands of her father in the safety and solitude of our home.
Paul bounded along two and a half years after Hannah, also upon our bed and straight into his daddy’s grasp. He went on to spend a good bit of time jumping on that worn-out bed and attempting to wriggle away from any and all grasps.
Between the kids’ births, I began my apprenticeship with the midwife who’d served our family. Paul actually tagged along to nine of the first thirteen births I attended as a tiny secret stowed away in my womb.
Through the years that followed, both Hannah and Paul found themselves at or within ear-shot of a number of births, and midwifery and homebirthing appeared to be as natural a concept to them as breathing and sleeping. I’ll never forget the day they asked if the job I had tending to the elderly while I was pregnant with Hannah was the last job I had. They didn’t realize midwifery was my job! They seemed to suppose what I did for other families was merely an extension of my duties as wife and mom.
And, really, down at the heart of it, that’s exactly what midwifery is.
One afternoon when the kids were still on the little side, maybe seven or eight and five, I popped a film called “Gentle Birth Choices” into the VCR. The sound of the television drew the children from their play and soon they were nestled into my lap to watch the miracles unfold.
When the closing credits began to roll, Paul wrapped his spindly arms around my neck, fixed his big brown eyes on my face, and said, “Mom, when I grow up, I’m going to have gentle birth choices!”
When I mentioned it would be his wife having his babies, he said, “Oh, hmm… well… then how can I make sure my wife wants to make gentle birth choices?” His words melted my heart, and we had our first talk about how important it is to make sure the people we join our lives with share our values.
The experience highlighted how important it was for me to keep my kids and the spouses and children of their future bathed in prayer, and it was then that I began to engage in such prayer in earnest.
The years passed and my children burst into adulthood. Hannah met and married Jesse, Paul met and married Megan, and I soon discovered that Jesse and Megan were more exquisite answers to my prayers than I’d known to hope for. There isn’t a sun that sets on this earth without me thinking of them and thanking God for them – and the blessing they are to me steadily increases.
Megan Laurel Woodard – once upon a time, Donahue – sprang into our lives in that elfish, sprite-like way of hers on the evening of ThanksGiving, 2014.
Paul had driven up to Michigan on leave from the Army, fresh from his deployment to Afghanistan, and I’d flown back from my new life in Colorado to celebrate ThanksGiving with him and Hannah and Jesse. It was Hannah’s first time hosting and the day filled our bellies and our hearts to the brim. We roasted one of Norma and David Yoder’s turkeys, kept the traditions sacred to our family, and lingered long at the table both to reminisce and catch up.
When we stood to whisk the kitchen back into line, Paul excused himself. Hannah had arranged a blind date for him with the sister of one of our clients-turned-friend. He wasn’t especially enthusiastic about the outing, but he loved his sister and trusted her too, so, he yielded, shouldering his tan Carhartt and exiting the house with a wave and a, “Be back soon…”
An hour or two later, Paul called to say he was on his way back and was bringing Megan home with him! Moments later he was ushering his unexpectedly glorious find through the Simmons front door!
I must admit the first thought that crossed my mind as I absorbed the slight young woman was a question. “Oh! She’s lovely, but will she be able to press babies from the depths of such a slender frame?”
Then I blushed, ashamed of the faithless thought, reminding myself of the great many slim women I’d served who’d given birth like it was the most natural thing for them to do in all the world. Which, of course, it is.
I recovered myself and we spent a wonderful evening that lasted past the witching hour. We all four fell in love with Megan as we discovered, though she floated within the ethereal beauty of a fairy, her beauty was the least of her virtues. She proved thoughtful, intelligent, brave, compassionate, accomplished, adventurous, independent, and impossibly hard-working. She was quick-witted and heaps of fun, too.
One year later to the day, Paul bowed his knee and asked for Megan’s hand in marriage with the very ring his father had used to secure mine.
They were married beside a laughing brook the next summertime and, by Christmas, Brenton Moses Woodard had sparked to life, taken root, and begun making his way toward the light of day.
Oh, how I hoped Megan would want a homebirth! And how I hoped beyond hope she’d want me to attend it! But I’d told my children when they were still children that I’d stay out of their business and respect their decisions when they became adults. I made the same as clear as I could to their spouses as they became the spouses, assuring them what I wanted most was for them to be and do and have whatever their hearts’ desired. I told them if I could help them achieve their hopes and dreams, yay! Otherwise, I promised I had no expectations.
I hadn’t any clue as to Megan’s thoughts about her birth as she’d never mentioned the topic in my hearing, so I was thrilled when Hannah called to say she’d decided upon a homebirth and had asked Hannah to serve as her midwife! When Hannah made a comment about how “we” would proceed, I warned her it was likely Megan wouldn’t want her mother-in-law to attend. Hannah was doubtful, but soon learned Megan was indeed undecided and even leaning away from the idea.
Then one wintry afternoon the telephone rang again. It was Megan herself. She said she was calling to invite me to be at her homebirth! I nearly washed away in the waves of joy that flooded me. I thanked her even as I made sure it was really what she wanted.
Around that time, we learned Hannah and Jesse were expecting their second child. They too, again, wanted me to attend them, and my already full heart overflowed.
I passed the weeks of springtime preparing to spend late summer and early autumn in Michigan for the births, then was blessed to receive a foretaste of the goodness that was to come when both the Woodards and Simmons decided to join us camping in northern Minnesota. It was a cold and rainy two weeks in body, but sparkling with fun and anticipation in spirit! I delighted in meeting my two newest grandchildren through the veil of their mothers’ smooth, round bellies, absorbing the sound of their vigorous hearts and the feel of their tiny bodies as they shifted and rolled beneath my hands. We parted too soon it seemed, but the next thing we knew, I was pulling my vehicle into the Simmons’ driveway and plunging into all manner of doings with the two families.
Yet, our reunion was touched by a shadow.
Megan’s baby was breech.
The baby had been breech through most of the summer, but we hadn’t worried about it too much till Megan reached the homestretch of her pregnancy. While lots of babies hang out oddly positioned in the womb for a time, most of them turn once their heads get heavy enough to pull them down into the preferred starting position. For those that linger otherwise, we’ve got a whole Mary Poppins bag worth of tricks to employ and, generally, the tricks work.
Hannah had started Megan working to coax her baby to turn head down a week or so before I arrived and through my second week with them, we thought we felt a change. But I wasn’t 100% positive about it and, if I’ve learned anything as a midwife, it’s that when things feel mostly right, they likely just aren’t.
Seven days before Brent’s birthday – two weeks before he was due – I felt Megan’s belly, said I thought it felt pretty good, but asked if I could confirm the baby’s position by vaginal exam.
Though Megan was okay with me attending her birth, she’s the sort who’d just as soon tuck herself alone and away into some dark and cozy corner to have her baby, so I wasn’t surprised when she begged off the exam.
Three days later we felt her belly again and, feeling as I had before, suggested a vaginal. Again, she declined.
Two days after that we felt her belly once more. I felt horrible to ask, but that nagging uncertainty persisted. “Megan,” I said, “I’m sorry! But would you consider a vaginal exam now? I’d just really like to know for sure what part of your baby’s in the doorway.” We left Megan to discuss it with Paul in private and, to my relief, they decided we could go ahead and check after all.
They requested Hannah perform the check, as Hannah was the lead midwife. Hannah checked and, with a funny little smile on her face, said, “Would you mind if mom checked, too?”
I slipped on a glove, eased inside, and –
Icy fingers squeezed my thudding heart.
I felt a minuscule tailbone hovering against Megan’s tailbone, a set of wee buttocks, and one string of tiny toes nestled against Megan’s pubic bone.
I ached to see tears spring into Megan’s eyes as I withdrew my hand and explained what I found.
Her baby was a posterior breech with at least one foot poised to exit first.
And her baby, I now knew, was also a boy, but that I kept to myself.
We spent the next hour talking. Paul was remarkably calm and asked excellent questions.
The pressing question, of course, was whether we could continue with plans for Megan to birth at home.
I reminded them that, though I’d attended several good breech births, even one footling – a second twin, the one and only baby I’d lost through a labor and birth was a breech baby – and a favorably positioned breech baby at that – whereas their baby was anything but favorably positioned with a foot leading the way and his back mirroring the line of Megan’s back.
But I also reaffirmed my belief that women are more than able to birth the babies they carry – even the breech babies. And, though Megan was a first-timer, tiny, and born by cesarean herself, she was early yet and the baby within her felt small.
We embraced and parted, agreeing to think and pray each on our own, then to reconnect the next evening.
The hours of that night ticked away one by one by one, and “I slept, but my heart was awake,” as Solomon wrote in the Song of Songs while my soul communed with the Lord.
I rose feeling encouraged. I took a cup of coffee and my Bible out to Hannah and Jesse’s front step to read and think and pray in the birthing of the day. The passages of scripture I read spoke to me, a plan began to take shape in my mind, and a sense of peace began to strengthen and steel my soul. As the morning moved along, I shared my thoughts by text with Megan and Paul and, when Hannah woke, I shared them with her as well.
That afternoon, Megan paid her twelfth visit to the chiropractor in a quarter as many weeks, then came over to pass the evening with Hannah and Evangeline and me while the men worked.
It was a nourishing evening and we said goodbye after dinner, still nervous, yes, but even more at peace.
And Megan called the next morning to say she was in labor.
Hannah and I packed up the car for the journey north to attend her and, on the way, I called Susan Rusk, one of the most amazing midwives on the face of the earth. Susan Rusk, the most common-sense, skilled, and humble midwife I know. Susan Rusk, who’s been there for me through the best and the worst moments of my calling.
Sue and I talked through the facts and my plan, and she armed me with a fresh bolus of wisdom and courage – so much so that we entered the Woodard apartment filled with excitement to be there.
Megan has written the story of Brenton Moses’s birth herself, so there’s no need for me to do a retelling. Suffice it to say, Megan demonstrated herself to be stronger and braver, more collected and determined than I ever could have imagined, Paul made me swell with pride at the way he supported her as she worked, and little Brent – as little he proved to be, indeed, at six and a quarter pounds – nearly stopped our hearts as he backed into the world, insisting his aunt and I use every last ounce of our knowledge and skill and fortitude.
Obviously though, his birth happened at home and boasted a gloriously happy outcome.
I spent the remainder of the week with Megan and Paul and Brent, suspended in an altered state of mind, amazed at the boundless and ever growing love I had for the three of them and marveling as I watched them unfurl into a family.
When I was a young wife and mom myself, caught up and often overwhelmed in the minutia of our daily life, bogged down in messes and tantrums, and desperate to make it ANYWHERE on time, I didn’t see so clearly what I was sowing. But I can see from the vantage point of this grandmotherhood what I was doing, and, oh! How I’m reaping the rewards!
So, yes, I guess I can die now, thoroughly pleased with the fruit of my life.
I just hope I don’t have to quite yet.
Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author. And Grandma ♥
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