We: Hannah, Jesse, Sarah (friend and photographer), Heather (friend and midwifery apprentice), and Kim (friend and mom and grandmom and midwife) have made a collective attempt to tell the tale of little Evangeline’s birth on Monday, November 9th, 2015, from 1:09 till 9:12 in the morning. You’ll find no quotes from little Evangeline within the tale, as all she did during our attempts to write was eat and poop and sleep.
A line from Heather describes the atmosphere with perfection, “I’ve never been to a birth quite like Hannah’s. While it’s true that no two births are ever the same, this birth had a supernatural energy I can still tangibly feel.”
We all felt that way. Except, I guess, for Hannah, who began her part of the narration with, “Everything didn’t help at all and everything made it worse.” But she DID giggle when she said that. I did too. After all, I gave birth to her and her brother once upon a time, so I knew exactly what she meant.
Join us now, as Hannah herself opens her tale.
HANNAH: “On Monday, November 9th, 2015, three days after the last birth I attended, two days after my baby shower, four hours after our childbirth education class, and two weeks before my due date, I awoke in the night with an intense cramp and the knowledge that I needed the toilet. NOW. I tried to sit up. Ouch. Bad idea. I looked at my phone. 1:09am. The cramp eased some and I took off for the bathroom where I had the most violent bowel movement of my life. When the violence passed, I intended to return to my bed and to sleep, but there I had more cramps (which I eventually realized were contractions), plus I soon needed that toilet again, so up and off I went. I spent about an hour glued to the stool, and that’s where Jesse found me. I told him, ‘I may be in labor,’ and I thought to myself, ‘But if this isn’t labor, when real labor starts I think I’ll probably die.’ I told Jesse we should get the plastic on our bed, so we worked together at that, stopping every couple minutes for my contractions, which were now absolutely breathtaking. We finished with the bed, and I made another trip to the toilet. I decided to call my mom (who also happened to be my midwife), and she suggested I rub on some lavender oil and soak awhile in a salty bath. I put the oil on and got into the tub, sending my husband to bed. The contractions eased back to four minutes apart, and were a bit more bearable.”
KIM: “When Hannah called, I remember thinking she just couldn’t be in labor – most of my clients (and hers too) go past and well past their due dates! We’d both expected her to have her baby in December! She really only told me she was having some cramps and pooping like crazy. I figured she’d eaten something that didn’t agree with her, so I suggested she do the oil and the bath, and fell right back to sleep. A couple hours later I woke. Just as the thought that things must have settled down for Hannah materialized in my mind, the phone rang.”
HANNAH: “I stayed in the tub about forty minutes, and then I tried to lie down awhile. My first contraction in the bed sent me right back off it, and a wave of nausea sent me running again for the bathroom. I was actually encouraged by that – my biggest fear to that point being that I was still only in early labor (in other words: death pending) – it crossed my mind I might even be in transition. I went to the living room where I knelt on the floor and leaned over the couch, and I called mom again. It was 4:44am. In spite of wondering if I was in transition, I told her I didn’t know if I was very far along yet, or whether I really was doing it or not, but I felt like I needed her. She asked if she had time to brush her teeth, and I assured her she could take her time coming, that she could even take an hour.
And then I regretted saying that, because she DID take an hour!”
KIM: “Yes, I did take an hour. She told me she didn’t know if she was really doing it or not, and, though she wanted me to come over, that I needn’t hurry, so I took my time preparing to wait for who-knows-how-long with a first-time mom as ‘long’ is pretty often the operative word with the first-timers, especially if you go to them with gritty teeth and fly-away hair. Extra especially if there’s a photographer.
I drove to my daughter through the delicious crispness of an early autumn morning, following just the slightest edge of a crescent moon hanging low in the sky. I pulled into her driveway at exactly 5:44, not knowing what to expect, but feeling the most amazing surge of joy rush through me. That joy prepared me to find Hannah on her hands and knees with an emesis basin by her head, in the midst of a strong contraction that was followed soon after by another, and then another. I fished my fetalscope from my bag, and knelt down beside my daughter to listen to my granddaughter tell me hello with her rapidly pattering heart. I smoothed Hannah’s back through a contraction or two, then got up to get things around for a birthing! Their home was in a bit of mild chaos, thanks to Hannah’s birthing beginning three to four weeks before we ever dreamed it would. Their room was still overflowing with packages from the baby shower, and the birthing supplies were buried underneath the packages. Jesse had filled the living room with items of bedroom furniture in order to clear a space for the pool and to get it set up. I scrambled to fetch Hannah’s gear from her car. I had to inspect every square inch of her bags to find what I needed, as I just hadn’t been there with her long enough to know where things were kept. I could hear Sarah getting herself around and ready. I summoned Heather then, and when she asked how far along Hannah was, I realized I didn’t actually know. First-time moms can be funny creatures. It can SEEM they’re moving right along, while being, in fact, scarcely in labor. When I got off the phone, Hannah expressed her concern she ‘might only be dilated to one.’ I felt confident she was further along than one centimeter, but, with her remark following so closely behind Heather’s question, I decided to offer a check.”
SARAH: “When I came into the room where Hannah was birthing, I knew immediately that her body was doing its work. She was kneeling on the floor in front of the couch, head bowed, swaying with her contractions, her voice working in harmony with her body and each contraction. Kim tended to Hannah, and I helped Jesse with the birthing pool. After the two of us got the pool set up, it became clear that the hose would never reach it! But just as soon as we realized that, Hannah announced she wouldn’t need it anyway.”
JESSE: “And the only stressful part of the whole birthing was trying to get that darn pool set up!”
HANNAH: “Mom arrived. Finally. I regretted telling her she could take an hour, even though I didn’t really NEED her. I just wanted her. I think I hoped it would hurt less with her there. I immediately felt calmer, but it still did hurt just the same. Mom offered to check me. I decided I wanted to be checked – if I was only one centimeter, I needed to know! So I climbed up onto my bed and tried to lie down. I tried to lie down, but had to get up with the contractions. After moving from down to up to down to up a few times, I made myself stay down long enough for mom to START to TRY to check me. But, the moment she touched my cervix, another contraction started, and I was too overwhelmed to allow her to finish. I sat back up on my knees, and had the contraction of a lifetime. I could feel my cervix pulling up, and I could feel my baby moving down. I didn’t want mom to try again, but I did want to know where I was, plus, I felt like I needed to touch what was happening, so I slipped my fingers inside me. There was the water sack, big and bulging, and could feel nothing but it. I told mom I was complete, the next contraction began, and I found myself pushing a little! I felt the baby move down, and it felt awesome!”
SARAH: “So it was that we transitioned to the bedroom where Hannah labored on the bed, Jesse beside her, Kim, Heather, and I gathered around. What followed over the next few hours was an incredible demonstration of love and appreciation for what Hannah’s body was made to do. We worked in harmony, quietly maneuvering about the room as needed, my camera clicking at every precious step of the process – Kim supporting Hannah and Jesse, listening to the baby’s heartbeat, and smiling hugely through it all. Kim, Heather, and I couldn’t stop smiling it seemed! Even as we heard Hannah express her pain, or watched her face grimace through a contraction, we knew that everything was beautiful and right and as it should be. Hannah gently, patiently worked with her body, her strength and courage easing her through every contraction. Jesse was a quiet, steady, strong support through it all. I thought throughout the morning how sweet and miraculous it was that not only was every person in the room there to do a job, to support and enable the process of birth, but every one of us shared a great love for Hannah and Jesse and their baby. The room was thick with love.
HEATHER: “Getting there and seeing Hannah complete and pushing… watching as, with her own hands, she gently massaged and connected herself to her baby’s entrance… I don’t have adequate words to describe that. The way she and Jessie leaned into each other, while Hannah deliberately connected with the physical entrance of her baby made me feel as though I shouldn’t look. In fact, at times I felt compelled to look away. It was so sacred. The veil between realms was so thin.”
KIM: “And what was already amazing became truly the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never seen a woman birth a baby quite like Hannah birthed Evangeline. She was entirely, utterly instinctual. She finished with that one ferocious contraction… she reached within to examine herself… she descended into her depths… she shifted and breathed and stroked and cried out and moved exactly however she needed to as, little by little, with supreme gentleness, she eased her child into life…”
JESSE: “Hannah’s labor was intense, and, still, I was ecstatic. Once, when Kim called for me to come look at the little bit of water sack that was showing through, I couldn’t believe my eyes – I couldn’t! I’d never seen ANYTHING like that! Throughout Hannah’s labor, there was no doubt in my mind Hannah could do it. That actually was how I felt from the beginning of Hannah’s pregnancy.”
HANNAH: “From there it felt like a dream. It was just so much pressure. Pressure with the contractions, pressure without the contractions. Just so intense. Every time a contraction came I could feel my body press my baby down. At the end of the contractions I’d add just a little bit of effort to the push, though I mostly just breathed and breathed and breathed. I felt like my bottom was going to explode, so I reached down and held it with my hands. It felt like something bad was happening when I didn’t hold my hands over my bottom. When I held my hands over my bottom, I knew everything was okay. So I just kept them there. For two and a half hours, I kept them there. Breathing and breathing, I kept them there. Here and there I checked to see how much further my baby had moved down. I stroked my tissues with oil, and the stroking seemed to link some pleasure to the pain, and that released a measure of the tension I was feeling, making my tissues relax more and making the pain more bearable. It was all just pressure. Little by little, I could feel my baby’s water sack opening me up. It was so slow, and the progress so slight, and the pressure so intense, I kept asking mom if I was making progress. She always said, “Yes,” with a smile, but I knew her, and I knew that meant the progress was mere millimeters.
Every now and then, I’d look up at the people in the room, and each one would smile and nod and say, “Yes, yes. You’re doing it,” and that was encouraging.”
HEATHER: “There were moments Hannah consciously pulled her focus away from her baby to ask without words for strength from each attendant. Her huge, loving eyes would connect with mine and wordlessly ask, ‘Can I keep going?’ Sometimes I nodded. Other times I answered, ‘You ARE doing it.’”
KIM: “And that’s all any of us did – smile and nod and whisper encouragements. Occasionally, Hannah would extend a cupped hand. I’d dribble a puddle of oil into her palm and she’d massage the oil into her spreading tissues. As she breathed and rocked and groaned and stroked, a shimmering teardrop of water sack began to appear toward the ends of her contractions. She rolled from her knees onto her back after a little while, and more and more of that sack began to appear. Swirls of vernix floated in the waters, swishing and waving over the fine hairs on Evangeline’s scalp, making me think of a glistening opal.”
SARAH: “And then baby Evangeline came in her water sack! Something I’ve always hoped to witness and capture, and the tears began to flow! I looked around the room and every face in the room was graced with a glowing smile, and tears on cheeks. We all knew we were witnessing something immeasurably special.”
HANNAH: “When I was still on my knees, in between contractions I couldn’t completely relax, and my back began feeling tight. So I rolled over onto my side. That was awful! It was better in between, but worse for the contractions. I pulled myself back to my knees, and, again, found myself longing for a chance to rest. I went back down on my side, and with the next contraction, I rolled onto my back and pulled a leg up. Again, little by little, eternity by eternity, my body eased my baby down, down, down while I breathed and breathed. At one point, I noticed a smear of blood on my fingertips, and my heart sank, thinking I was tearing in spite of going so slowly. I thought, ‘Ugh. I’m done being careful, I’m just going to get this child out.’ Mom must have read that thought on my face because she immediately encouraged me to continue being gentle with my efforts. A few contractions later I asked her if I was tearing, and she assured me she didn’t think I was. Before I knew it, after forever with my baby moving forward and sliding back, with my mom whispering, ‘Easy, easy,’ Evangeline moved forward and stayed forward. It burned, but it was wonderful, because I knew it was almost over, and with the next contraction she came even further, till she came far enough for me to have a little relief. Mom had Jesse get up then – he’d been snuggled in next to me on the bed – so he could receive her. With the next contraction, her whole head was born, still enclosed within her water sack. Mom carefully broke the sack and swept it away from her face, and I pressed Evangeline into Jesse’s strong hands. She gave a little cry as she spiraled forth, and I said, ‘I want her!’ I reached down and took her. I drew her up to my chest, and said, ‘Oh! It IS our girl!’ And she is!”
JESSE: “When I was catching Evangeline, I felt EVERYTHING! I felt true joy! I felt she was an angel sent from heaven! I felt the reality of becoming a father! It was the most amazing bonding experience of my life – intimate and sacred.”
HEATHER: “Most of the time, women attach to their midwives through such a life event. I’m beginning to realize midwives attach to their clients in the same way. How can we live through such a thing as this and not grow to feel like sisters? We can’t.”
SARAH: “I can’t express the honor it was to be present to witness and capture the birth of sweet Evangeline. Her mama is my great friend, and both she and Kim attended the births of my own precious babies. I absolutely cannot wait to share the photographs from the birth of sweet Evangeline. They’re glorious! Not because of my camera gear or my ability, but because every photo captures, to quote Heather, ‘the supernatural’ essence of birth – this birth in particular – the way birth was intended to be.”
by Hannah Simmons, Jesse Simmons, Heather Cross, Sarah Donahue, and Kim Woodard Osterholzer
Photos by Glorious Birth Photography
Thank you so much for the gift of your time!
If you enjoyed this article, let’s stay connected! I welcome you to subscribe to my blog, and to join in the conversation by commenting below! And be sure to poke around here a bit, as there are lots more stories awaiting you.
Books by Kim: