Good morning, Friends! I thought it would be fun to, every now and then, give my clients a chance to tell their own stories! I’ve decided to do just that today, and to begin with one of my oldest clients, Kristen Ratkos. Kris, as you’ll soon learn, is also my very oldest friend. We met September 14, 1971, on the afternoon my parents walked her through the front door of our home, fresh from the hospital. I was only fourteen months old, but I clearly remember the way her dark, dark eyes studied me from beneath her fringe of spiky black hair. I was taken with her instantly, and I’ve never been the same since. Kris and her husband, Ron, honored me beyond description by inviting me to join them at the birthdays of all four of their glorious children
I’m Kim’s sister and earliest fan: blessed for life with her friendship, inspired for living by her walk with God and people, avid lover of her many stories so beautifully told. My loving husband of twenty-two years and I make our home in the middle of Michigan, tending our family of four children, two of whom are grown. We’ve homebirthed and homeschooled each one. As our younger children aren’t so little any longer, I’ve begun to cook for some sweet elderly people a few hours weekly, which brings both new challenges and pleasures. But who am I, really? First and foremost, I’m a child of God. As one who’s struggled with a negative outlook for many years, I’m thrilled to experience renewal of my mind through inductive Bible study, journaling my thanks daily, and keeping my focus on Jesus via worship mixes on You Tube. I long to love God and people; and, like all mankind, I fail often. I’m nothing without Christ; yet with Him, I can do all things He’s called me to do.
The Beautiful Birth of Elizabeth Grace
It was a balmy spring day. A green mist hung about the trees – diminutive leaves beginning to unfurl. A new life was preparing to spring from my body as well. I felt it that afternoon of May 2nd, the day before my due date. Awakening from a pleasant nap, I recognized the familiar sensation of waters breaking. My husband, Ron, and nine-year-old son, Daniel, were about to leave on errands, so I instructed Emily, six, who was playing nearby, to get her daddy. My voice must have betrayed a note of urgency, because she immediately rushed from the room and called out loudly, “Father, mother needs you!”
The look on his face mirrored what welled up in me in that joyful moment, all the anticipation of the past months washing over us. After a six-year hiatus from sweet babies, our family was about to receive a new child into our home! We had moved to our present abode just days before Christmas – a cozy dwelling nestled in a wooded area. A baby would arrive in the comfort and safety of our own bedroom under the capable oversight of my midwife. And not just any midwife; my own dear sister and friend. To this day I marvel at the blessings that were mine: to be attended at each birth by one of such lifelong significance to me.
Over the years, some have wondered at our wisdom in choosing homebirth. As college-educated individuals (my intelligent mate holds two science degrees and teaches at both secondary and community college levels), how could we choose the backward avenue of birthing at home? I must admit, I sort of thrill when someone challenges homebirth. Birthing at home is sadly misunderstood and maligned by our society. I love an opportunity to educate – to set the record straight – to offer accurate information about this wonderful, valid choice that so many families benefit from. I first became aware of homebirth during my teen years, as Kim began to explore midwifery. She devoured reading material of all kinds, but I especially remember her reading about homebirth. I deeply admired my sister, just fourteen months my senior; what she read, I read. So I read of midwifery. I learned of the beauty of homebirth, as well as the safety. And when Ron and I first conceived, we read again, and accepted the data, concluding that in low-risk pregnancies, home birth with qualified attendants is the option least likely to result in complications for child or mother. So as a woman blessed with four normal pregnancies, four times we came to the logical conclusion that homebirth was the best option for us.
Kim had played vital roles in the births of Daniel and Emily, and it was with utter confidence that Ron and I awaited her arrival. I looked forward to her presence: with intuition, gentle ministrations, and quiet encouragement, she offered just the support I needed. My labor began slowly and quite comfortably. We were laughing and happy and it was a family affair of tidying up and preparing our birthing space; a sort of pre-celebration. We ordered pizza for dinner and chatted happily around the table. My mom, who lives just four miles away, had come to help; to tuck the kids into bed. Her presence served to heighten our excitement.
My contractions were still easy and fairly far apart when Kim arrived. She lived over two hours away from us and had set off lickety-split when I called. I seemed to be making little progress at that point, and was hoping things would start to move along. Kim knew just what to do, sending me to lie down and rest with my hubby. Soon the contractions grew stronger and longer. I had a flash back to earlier labors, a recollection of the pain, and thought, “Oh yeah, this is the real thing.” For a brief moment dread slipped in, but I recalled the truth instilled in me by my wise big sister. I knew my body was made to do this remarkable thing, akin to a marathon, to mountain-climbing – this noble task – to give birth.
Twilight crept upon the woods. I watched in wonder from my large bedroom window at the beauty surrounding me. And though many details of that day nearly twelve years ago are as vague as the haze of those early spring woods, what I do remember is that I felt fully alive, like the trees sending out their leaves. Such peace! Such joy! Such anticipation and fulfillment! I think I even told Ron and Kim (to their slightly-disguised amusement) that this labor was fun! Of course, I changed my mind with each new contraction, but, truly, it wasn’t bad – it was pain and work and … delight. Inevitably, the intensity increased as Elizabeth Grace drew near, and the labor pains became, well, painful and requiring all I could muster – all the reserve God placed in my body just for this – but I never lost the sense of sweetness, of beauty, of joy. I had tried calming myself with music during my earlier births with little success, but somehow this time was different, as I’ve discovered each birth is. Music soothed and inspired this time. I praised God as my body opened up to allow her passage, and it became an act of worship – worship of the One who had planned this precious life.
Kim was there doing all she knew best so wondrously. Unobtrusive. Aware of every need, every change. Offering words of instruction and comfort when needed, and most of all, allowing Ron and I the space and place to welcome our little daughter. Elizabeth Grace arrived at 1:01 a.m. on her due date, May 3, 2004. I can still picture in the dim of the bedroom my man’s capable hands lifting Lizzy to my chest, his face pure joy. Kim had given me a flashlight to squeeze so I could surrender his comforting hand to receive our babe. A flashlight! I found it
surprisingly sufficient. Elizabeth was alert but silent, her dark eyes darting back and forth. Kim, hovering nearby, told us to talk to her, to rub her tiny body, and as we did, she began to breathe, to whimper, to cry. We allowed the cord to pulse unimpeded – providing all the oxygen my body would supply before demanding sole reliance on her fledgling lungs. I fed her, and she knew just what to do. And in it all, I was once again vastly thankful for this privilege: a quiet welcome; a safe welcome. No prematurely snipped cord, no whisking away of baby, no subjection to cold machinery and bright lights. She was safe in the circle of her mama’s arms, resting on the belly that held her nine long months. Her daddy’s familiar voice did not have to project over an array of hospital sounds to reach her. Mother and Father were prominent among her first impressions. The tasks that remained – the exam, the weighing – were provided with supreme gentleness and respect. Minimal interference lending maximum support.
Ron gathered the children from their beds soon after so they could meet their new sister. Then we settled into a peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. Although I was blissfully unaware, I know my servant sister. I realize that on top of baby and momma care, she had cleaned up all the messes, started laundry and checked the fridge for a nutritious supply of food. Kim peeked in on us early next morning as Daddy, Momma, and baby slept long. Sleepy-headed Daniel and Emily offered her a bowl of cereal before the long drive home. Our sister-aunt-midwife, basking in the joy of a new niece, shared just a few precious moments with us and, then, as was her custom, left us to bond as a family. She returned many times over the next days and weeks for checkups and advice and cuddling of sweet baby Elizabeth. Once again, we’d experienced the remarkable gift of homebirth.
By Kristen Ratkos
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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