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A Lovely Way to Enter the World

Excerpted from “A Lovely Way to Enter the World,” Midwifery Today, Issue 54

My favorite waterbirth took place 13 years ago, a time when not many people considered this choice, nor had the birthing family and I planned it for this birth, at least not consciously.

It started one fall morning in 1987, the day dawning clear and calm. For weeks I had been waiting, along with Steve, my rowing partner and friend, for just such a day. I called to see if his schedule was clear and when he confirmed that it was, I quickly cleared mine as well. This would be it!

We agreed to meet at a protected cove that opens into Chuckanut Bay, where its waters mingle with the strong currents of Puget Sound, which swirl past the San Juan Islands in northern Washington State. Waiting and watching, I was relieved to see Steve’s boat finally rounding Clark’s Point, as the morning was slipping away. With thoughts of “no time like the present” and “time’s a wastin’,” I waded in and began my swim. Steve stowed the motor and rowed quietly beside me as we left the sheltering rocks of the cove and passed into the progressively colder waters beyond Dot Island and Governor’s Point out toward Eliza Island. The swim had been planned for Eliza, but now as it loomed before me after just a few hours, it seemed too easy a goal. Deciding then and there to extend the swim to Vendovi (9+ miles), I informed Steve and kept on going. Curious seals followed me, gulls circled and stroke by stroke I swam on. Just like a laboring mother, I began with anxious exuberance, settled into a relentless rhythm for the long run and finished with a struggle, enduring serious pain all for the joy of victory in the end. Seven and a half hours later, I hauled myself out onto Vendovi’s rocky shore. As I was too numb to do it myself, Steve helped me dry off and dress. Shivering, exhausted and triumphant, I watched the sun set with my friend as we motored toward the harbor at Bellingham Bay.

Back home all I wanted was food and heat. That accomplished, I lay back in bed, instantly relaxing into the covers. I had earned this sleep. Then the phone rang. (You knew that was coming, didn’t you!) Brioanna was in labor.

This wasn’t someone who just lived down the street. Her home was in Point Roberts, a quirky little Washington outpost cut off from the rest of the United States by water on its three southernmost sides, with Canada to the north. To reach her, I had to drive 30 minutes to the Canadian border, go through customs into British Columbia, drive northwest toward Vancouver, and then south again to Tsawwassen and through another international border checkpoint down into Point Roberts. From there, she lived in the farthest southeast section of the community.

“Are you sure this is it?” This standard stall for time, wishful-thinking question bubbles forth when I’d really rather stay right where I am.

“Yes. I know I’m early, and I think we still have some time, but yes, this is it.”

Knowing the marathon involved in getting there, as well as the steely heart of some of the border guards (who could just as well choose not to let a midwife pass in the wee hours), I decided to go right away and try to nap at Brioanna’s. All I know is I must have been a lot younger then, because I made it just fine. Once there, my pain began in earnest. Both wrists ached, a throbbing fire from repetitive stroking. My ankles and knees were hugely swollen, barely movable. The reflected sun had burned and chapped my lips, and every body crease was abraded from friction and salt water. Pathetic.

Brioanna and her husband were excited about the swim and wonderfully kind and gentle with me. I really think her husband spent more time massaging me than he did her! In the end, Brioanna chose to sit in her bathtub with the plug partially ajar, leaving the water running from the tap directly onto her lower back. This created a current of water, which swirled around her and seemed so very appropriate, considering our watery sentimentalities of the moment. It also worked wonders for her pain. (As for my pain, the unfortunate sensation of kneeling on the hard floor next to the tub is a torture still etched in my brain.) As the baby moved down, Brioanna sang hymns nonstop, louder and louder, with increasing urgency. Our eyes were locked. Abruptly, there came a catch in her voice, and she was pushing. She brought her legs apart and the baby slipped out. It was grand!

— Judy Edmunds

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Curious about waterbirth and how it works? Barbara Harper is the Queen of Waterbirth – so much great information!


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