I went to a catching class with my full-bellied friend and doula client, Heidi, last night. Catching class? Yes, as in catching babies. Who in their right mind will be throwing said babies, you might ask? Not who, but what, and that ‘what’ in this case is an over-zealous uterus, from time to time. Though it is not common, some babies kind of, well, fly out (not into the air, though that would be totally awesome), but I mean super fast, with little or no warning. A Tongan woman just gave birth in the Tongan LDS Temple after a 20 minute labor. I met a woman once who had given birth in front of the dairy case in a market after only two contractions. It happens.
I know it happens, because I once caught a flying baby. I wasn’t meant to (or I guess I was, because God put me there and readied me for it long before that day), but I did.
Last night’s catching class brought back memories, and heck, memories are for sharing, right? That’s what the whole scrapbooking industry is counting on, after all.
I once was helping a midwife friend of mine with a preggie mama who would be birthing here in Sacramento. It was to be her second baby, her first having taken 16 hours for its début. I had met the mama once prior to her birth, at her lovely 20’s built home where she lived with her hubby and daughter, it’s thick walnut banisters, built-in cupboards and 14 foot ceilings making the place step back to a more charming time. I wondered if perhaps babies had already been born in this house back in the days before women fled to hospitals to be saved from the prospect of experiencing their own births.
One morning I received a call from the midwife, who was two hours away at a slow moving birth. She explained with a tone of perplexity, that the couple had just called, and though this was their second child and the mama had only been contracting for about 45 minutes, the father was acting very nervous and seemed almost frantic. She asked me to stop by and check in on them, scope things out and get a feel for her labor pattern, and maybe just calm them down a bit. Her other laboring mama might be going another day or two, so she was on her way, but it would be a while.
Not one of my back-up childcare providers was answering their phones. A sense of urgency settled over me, and I called one of the 73 year old grandmas at church who I knew would be home and happy to help, but I hated doing it to her. Still, the urgency pushed me forward.
I soon found myself in the van, zipping along the freeway far too fast, arguing with myself that a woman in labor just one hour should not illicit this degree of frenzy from me. But every time I uttered a prayer, I heard myself saying, “Please Lord, I can’t catch this baby. Don’t make me catch this baby.” Still, I felt silly saying it.
When I got to the house, I took about 3 seconds to breathe and remind myself that the spirit I bring into a home can be contagious; I must be calm. When I walked up to the door, I didn’t need to knock -- it was already open a crack. And then the sound hit my ears. There was a woman pushing upstairs. The unmistakable deep throaty sounds that suddenly grew silent for several seconds before resuming carried me upstairs two steps at a time.
The mama lay on her side in the large clawfoot tub with her face to the wall, dad on the phone with the midwife. “Oh, thank God, she’s here!” he said into the phone. I sank to the tile floor by the bath and spoke to mama, but mostly watched her. As her next surge came I showed her how to breathe through it so as not to push, and she tried, but her body had a wisdom of its own. Her husband put the midwife on speakerphone and then resumed a position beside his wife that I could tell he had been in before I arrived, though, surprisingly, it was with his hand supporting her under her tush. I asked if he happened to feel any pressure or bulging on his hand as mama contracted, but he said no.
The next contraction was unrelenting, and the midwife instructed dad to go get the birth kit out and ready. With papa gone, I asked permission from mother to check to see where baby was, figuring the baby might be moving down and about 3 or 4 inches from crowning. To my shock, baby was right there, waiting, but not for long.
“This baby is coming now” I said calmly at the phone. The midwife shifted her instructions. I had mom roll to her back and could see the baby’s head. She pushed several times, and I had her tuck her chin and curl her body around her baby to help bring it out. Her sweet husband prayed aloud as he wrapped his arms around her from behind her back, supporting her head on his shoulder. The baby’s head came then, and the midwife instructed me to check for any cord around the neck, which there was. I remembered videos I had seen on how to release it. I slipped it up and over the baby’s head like a fat rubber band, and it eased over the baby’s head and snapped out of the way.
The baby stopped then, as babies do, waiting for the next contraction to propel her into her mother’s waiting arms. The room was reverently silent, except for the quiet whispers of gratitude that papa was uttering into his wife’s ear, half prayers to God, half praise of her. I held the baby’s head in my bare hands and listened to him. I felt it's soft skin, my soaked shirt, the hard tile under my knees. In that moment, a realization came over me of what I was doing. I was holding a baby’s head in my hands, its body still in its womb-home. A very clear awareness filled me that this is one of those moments that would justify my being in a complete panic, but it was as though I had done this all my life. I had no fear, and a spirit overcame me in that moment that gave me such clarity and peace as I have felt only a few times in all my life.
And in that very moment, the baby licked my fingers. My hands were covering the baby’s squishy little face, and her tiny tongue probed out to see what was touching her lips.
“Your baby just licked my fingers.” I whispered in awe.
The parents made a sound in unison that was full of joy and surprise. Sort of an “ahh!” that made me feel so much a part of this intimate moment that did not belong to me.
The silence was broken by the voice of the midwife calling out from the phone in a nervous sing-song, “What’s going on over there?!” I updated her, and kept my eye on the baby.
With the next contraction, a new feeling settled over me that something wasn’t right. Maybe the skin color had shifted on the baby’s head, I don’t know. But the baby didn’t rotate and it should have. In that moment the passage from a textbook I had read months before floated through my brain that talked about stuck shoulders. I slipped my finger into the baby’s armpit behind it’s mother’s tailbone, and made the little shoulder shrug. It popped past the bone, and the baby gently and quickly appeared. I lifted her up out of the water and said, “mama, here’s your baby!” in a hush. She opened her eyes and gathered her baby to her. The sweet couple sobbed.
The midwife’s backup arrived a few minutes later and took the weight of “the rest” (because there is oh, so much more) off of my shoulders. I prepared the bed to receive the new family, brought juice and robes and made myself useful. I was in the kitchen scrambling eggs when the midwife came and hustled her bags upstairs. Somehow she had made it there in just over an hour without even a speeding ticket.
I scrambled and smiled. There was no one to tell... just the eggs. “I just caught a baby” I whispered to the eggs. Then realizing, of course, that they couldn’t hear me, but that someone else could. Embarrassed, I directed my thrill and gratitude heavenward.
I know I didn’t cry. I was too joyful, even for joyful tears.
I went to a catching class last night. I learned how to help a baby out who has a short cord, which was new to me. I probably won’t ever need it, but you never know. Sometimes you learn something that comes in handy when you never expected it would.
Like for catching flying babies.