This article is from my book, Nourish & Thrive: Happy, Healthy Childbearing.
A sentiment expressed in the 2004 documentary, “What Babies Want” moved me to tears. It’s the idea that even babies need our love and our respect, that babies aren’t only conscious participants in their births, they’re more acutely conscious through and around the time of their births than they’ve ever been yet or will ever be again, and that they remain in a heightened state of consciousness for a quite a while afterward. I watched the film a week or so after attending Karen Strange’s Neonatal Resuscitation Course, a wonderful course which advocates in favor of mindfulness regarding the baby’s experience of birth, even while working to revive or rescue him.
This is a point I’m passionate about as a midwife. I’m passionate about it as a mother and, now, as a grandmother, too. I’ve fashioned much of the way I practice around the understanding that birth is a once-in-a-lifetime event that creates much of the foundation and framework of the baby’s—of this person’s—spiritual, psychological, and physical health. I believe how the baby—this person—views and relates with the world around him is inextricably affected by his entrance into it, and that the way the baby stands to view himself is influenced by the way he experiences his emergence into the light.
The way women, the way fathers, and the way families experience birth matters very much to me, too, but I have to say it’s the baby that matters to me in the most tender places of my heart. They’re so new, so innocent, so vulnerable, so forming! Even times I have to fiddle with a baby a bit—when I have to help a baby get born or have to help a baby get started breathing—I try to do it with love and respect, and I always tell the baby I’m sorry.
A host of experts were interviewed through the film and I enjoyed all they had to say, but the part that touched me most was the part describing what happened when a woman brought her six-year old daughter into a clinic designed to help families address and resolve the effects of childbirth-related traumas. The little girl had been whisked away to the NICU the moment she was born, and her mother felt the incident had hindered her relationship with the child afterward, as grateful as she was for the help her baby had received. At the clinic, a stunning opportunity for healing and restoration between the two was initiated when the child selected a basket of toys to play with—a basket of items you’d find in a hospital room in miniature, patients included. The woman’s daughter used the toys to recreate the scene of her birth and she did it with eerie accuracy, right down to the very spot her mom had stashed her slippers!
I discovered my daughter, Hannah, remembered her birth when she was five or six years old in a similar way. Hannah had been born at home with a midwife in attendance. We learned one springtime that May 5th had been designated International Midwives Day, so we decided to make a card for our midwife. Hannah busied herself with a sheet of paper and handful of crayons, then came to me with an illustration that made the shivers skitter along my spine.
Hannah was born in the first house we lived in when we came to Battle Creek, a quaint bungalow on Iroquois Street seated between the Reece Realty office and Jeffery Turcotte’s dentistry. We lived there till she was about fifteen months old. I gave birth to Hannah in her purple and grey bedroom, reclining on a twin bed tucked into the southwest corner of the room, across from the crib and underneath a bank of windows trimmed with fluttery lavender curtains. Brent sat on the edge of the bed at my left, and the midwife stood to my right, guiding us in her quiet way as we received Hannah into our lives and hearts through the early hours of a snowy winter’s morning. We haven’t a single photograph from Hannah’s birthday besides a snapshot of Brent’s mom holding her out in our living room when she was a few hours old and, for all I’d told Hannah about her birth, I’d only ever shared the warm and fuzzy portions. Details about the colors and the arrangement of the furniture in the bedroom had never come into any of the telling, nor had I ever mentioned where anyone sat or stood.
But there on a sheet of paper folded into quarters was a bird’s-eye view of Hannah’s birth, each piece of furniture properly hued and placed, every person scribbled into exactly the spot they’d occupied, doing exactly what they’d been doing as she emerged.
I shared a blog post a midwife had written about children remembering their births on Facebook a couple years ago, telling this story about Hannah as an introduction. A client of mine saw it and asked her then two and a half-year old if he remembered anything about his birth. His was a birth that had wound up a bit on the exciting side. I attended it with the woman’s friend as my helper. His mom shared what he said in the comments of the post:
“I asked my son if he remembered his birth and he said (with confidence), ‘Yes. There were two angels there, and they kept you and me from dying.’ We’ve never talked to him about his birth in detail and he was using more vocabulary than usual. Then he said there were other angels there and named every person present (all his siblings, but one). I can’t recall telling him his siblings had been present and it was sweet that he saw them as angels, too. I think the two angels that kept us from dying were you and my friend.”
I remember attending a birth where a three-year old sibling mentioned remembering his birth—a birth I’d also attended. He and his two older brothers watched as their mom worked their newest brother free from her body and, once he was loose and wailing, they crowded around their mother’s elbows to admire him. The three-year old, with a broad grin spreading his chubby cheeks, kept nodding and saying, “Yep, he came just like I came, he came just like I came.”
And, indeed, he did!
I’ve never doubted that at some level babies remember their births, maybe because I myself have a number of memories from my own first year of life. Now as a midwife, the certainty of this grows and grows. I’ve encountered so many of the babies I received later in their lives and, time after time, have come to realize, somehow, some way, the children know me. Only just recently I ran into a client and the four little ones I’d helped her with through the years. We stood about awhile, enjoying the surprise of seeing one another and the opportunity to catch up on all our goings-on. While we talked I bent over to tug up one of my eternally sagging socks, and as I did, I felt something brush lightly across my forehead. I looked up into the bright blue eyes of the littlest of the woman’s littles. He was just around a year old. An expression of wonderment played on his chubby face and a scarcely audible greeting escaped his smiling lips as he reached a stubby hand out to touch my hair. His mom said, “Gosh, he’s usually shy about strangers.”
I thought, “But I’m not a stranger, am I?”
So, babies need and want to be loved and respected, even from their very first moments. Wouldn’t it be miraculous if we determined to make this happen for each of the little ones joining us here on earth?
The pictures in this post are pictures of some of the love and respect that was showered upon me as a little person ♥
Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author
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