My son Steve and his wife Jen were due with their first child November 30th, 2000. The timing of Thanksgiving, a perfect opportunity to visit them in Washington, couldn't have been better. I would be able to help put those last baby touches in place right before the due date! At first invitation I packed my cold weather clothes and purchased an airline ticket out of Burbank, CA. I didn't know that the return flight would be delayed. After all, aren't first babies usually late?
Thanksgiving was lovely. My daughter Denise, a college student who lives a couple miles from Steve and Jen, cooked and cleaned and hosted the meal in her little apartment. We are all vegetarian so creating a delicious meal with a holiday flair was challenging, fun and festive. As a group, we spent the remaining days of my visit walking, shopping for the nursery and for Christmas presents, playing games and talking about babies. My return flight was scheduled for Monday morning. One last item on the shopping list was a changing table, which was a gift from my sister. Jen and I spent all day Sunday checking out stores, discovering that changing tables are expensive and mostly found in catalogs. So we walked and walked through stores, unaware at how much Jen was preparing her body for what was to come. At our last stop we found it, a table exactly like we saw on the Internet and loved. In the pouring rain behind the store, the stockroom guys pushed the huge box into the back of the car. Two happy shoppers headed for home.
Jen isn't intimidated one bit by an odd assortment of furniture parts, slats, hooks, screws, washers, bolts, and poor instructions. She tore open the box and we dug in like two mother bears, preparing the den for baby cubs. We laughed as we tugged, pulled and tightened each corner and joint. When the table was finished we carried it into the nursery and reorganized the furniture. Then we began organizing diapers, gowns, booties, receiving blankets and all the new little baby items that would help welcome a warm little bundle sooner than we expected. We stood back admiring, and I jokingly said in a relieved voice, "Okay, we have the table, now you can have the baby!"
Jen made one of her frequent bathroom visits and Steve walked into the house from an errand to the grocery store. We all met up in the kitchen while I put dinner on plates and we sat to eat. The phone rang, Jen answered it and in the middle of the conversation she handed the phone to Steve saying she was having a contraction, maybe her third or forth. We began timing them. 7:03, 7:08, 7:14, 7:19, 7:23. When we were certain that they were four to five minutes apart, we called the midwives who arrived about an hour later, around 8:30pm.
Then we did something you only see in old movies. We boiled water. We needed warm water to fill up the birthing tub, which was in their bedroom awaiting labor and delivery. A normal size water heater won't fill the tub, which can't be prepared ahead of time and kept warm. Steve's friend Erik and Denise both arrived in time to help with this task. They had already signed up as tub managers, so as they took over, we made the birthing bed. First layer was new, clean sheets and blanket. Next came a shower curtain, opened up and laid flat. Lastly were old but clean, sterilized sheets. If the baby were to be born in bed instead of in the water, we would simply remove the top layers when all was done, and Jen would climb inside the soft, clean new bedding.
The midwives had arrived with boxes, cartons and bags and I watched them unpack and get settled. Each item had a purpose and I quickly saw how well trained and prepared these two women were. Marijke was the head midwife and Heather was finishing her training. They organized trays of sterile things they would need during labor, delivery and after the birth. They charted every contraction, took her blood pressure, her temperature and felt her abdomen. They soothed, rubbed, held, coached, examined, charted, watched and cared for her beyond what I ever experienced. Jen was able to sit or stand, lay or bend however she felt comfortable. She drank water as needed and walked when she wanted. She was part of every decision. I watched in awe and absorbed everything. I wanted to memorize the night.
Jen's contractions continued to get stronger and more frequent. She and Steve walked, timed, sat, breathed and did everything they learned in their class. Around 10:30 PM Jen, Steve and Heather set out for a walk in the neighborhood. They took two walks, after which, her contractions were strong enough that the team went off to the bedroom for some serious labor. Denise, Erik and I stayed in the living room and worked hard at our job of waiting and pacing. We got updates often as the clock ticked into the night. Jen occasionally walked across the hall to the bathroom, wrapped in a beach towel and more than once stood holding onto Steve as another contraction gripped her body. As mother-in-law, I wanted to make the pain go away. I wanted to hold her and say it would be okay. I thought about the birth of my three children and how more relaxed, in control and natural this was than laying still on my back for hours in a hospital, 20, 23 and 26 years ago.
Jen's sister Jamie and her cousin Amanda arrived and joined our pace team. In numbers we felt stronger, as if the finish line would draw nearer. Out came the Scrabble game and the snacks, but who could play? Who could eat? We paced and talked in muffled voices, losing track of space and time. Was this what it was like for those waiting for me to give birth to my babies? I wondered, and I smiled, feeling very fortunate for things I hadn't thought of in years.
Somewhere in the early hours after midnight Marijke came down the hall and motioned for me to come. Jen had asked for me! I was changing teams and was going to help bring this baby into the world! There are no words I can put here in this story to describe the feeling I had in that moment when I walked into the bedroom to help Steve and Jen have a baby. How could I be so lucky? What daughter-in-law asks her mother-in-law to participate in something so special and private? I felt humbled and so very, very grateful.
For the next few hours we held Jen's hands, wiped her face, and helped her in and out of the tub so she could use the toilet or change positions. During contractions we whispered, "Good girl, Jen. That's it. Breathe through it, let your whole body help your baby move through the birth canal. Gooood. Let the contraction go through you. Going over the hill. that's it, now a big breath. Your baby is closer to being born. You are doing beautiful." They charted, examined, watched, checked, ever vigilant. She vomited, held onto the side of the tub, breathed, rested, got ready for another contraction. She was strong, so, so strong. I looked into Jen's eyes and I felt what she felt. I remembered so clearly as if it was yesterday. There was my grown son, becoming a dad. Another contraction. Breathing now .
A little before 4:00 AM Jen needed to push. Her water broke, and even though she was in the tub of water, she felt a gush. Steve was sitting in the tub, behind with his arms around her, supporting her, but as she began to push, her body floated. We began bailing water into the sink and tub but not fast enough to allow her to have control over pushing. It was decided that she would climb out of the tub and have the baby in bed, so she headed in that direction having a couple contractions on her way. She was breathing very shallow, so Marijke and Heather administered oxygen as a precaution. Taj was born with Jen laying on her side. His little head, then his shoulders and arms appeared. I watched color spread into his little grayish body as he took his first breath, emerging into life. I saw my son cut the cord. The three of them lay on the bed with Taj on his mommy's tummy, both midwives working quickly around mother and baby.
Marijke and Heather mentioned ahead of time that they would not announce whether the baby was a boy or a girl. Mom and dad would do that. We had learned from watching videos that new parents often don't look right away, but are taken by the moment, holding and loving the infant. This is exactly what happened. I waited in the dimly lit room as they held their baby. I wanted to go into the hallway and announce something to everyone waiting there, listening to the baby's cries. I walked out to find tears, hugs and anticipation. Back in the room they announced "a boy" and I took the news back out to the waiting group.
The sun came up November 27th as the midwives cleaned, examined, tested and worked with Taj and Jen. We made phone calls and shared congratulations with relatives and friends, then made breakfast and ate our first meal as a new family. The midwives stayed, keeping watch over everything, giving directions, teaching and charting. Sleep came in spurts for everyone between holding the baby and sharing our thoughts through the day and night. I stayed another few days and watched a new little family begin their journey. I will never forget the miracle of experiencing my grandson being born. Thank you, Steven, Jen and Taj. "Mama Nancy"
Story Submitted by Nancy Eggleston
StorkNet Community Producer
Here is a recipe for Marijke's sitz bath, printed with her permission. This helped Jen heal tremendously.
Marijke's After-Birth Sitz Bath
-For gently soothing and healing your perineum
Recipe is for two baths (take two baths per day)
1 oz Uva Ursi Leaves
1 oz Myrhh Gum Powder
1/3 oz Shredded Slippery Elm Bark
1/3 oz Comfrey Leaves
12 chopped cloves of fresh garlic (note: the cloves are the little
numerous bulblets, not the bulb)
1 Cup of Sea Salt
Bring one gallon of water to a boil. Place the herbs and chopped garlic in a clean 1 gallon glass jar or metal pot. Pour the boiling hot water over the herbs (do not boil the herbs), cover and let stand until cool.
Strain the "tea" soon after it is cool. This is good for two sitz baths. (Pour 1/2 of the strained tea plus 1/2 cup of the salt into a very clean tub and add warm/hot water (to comfort) until about six-eight inches deep. Soak in the bath for about 30 minutes. Do not rinse off the "tea," just pat yourself dry after the bath. Marijke recommends at least three days of sitz baths after birth. Enjoy, rest and remember to kegel! (Always check with your doctor or midwife before using any new product after birth.)
Note: I made several batches of this the day my grandson was born. I stored it in large canning jars in the refrigerator to use for three days.