Last Saturday, October 29, we had the privilege of welcoming Christopher into the world. Yessenia, his mother, has been a part of our lives for the past ten years since she came to the U.S. from Guatemala. Of all the ups and downs of life that we have shared, the journey of this pregnancy has been the most joyful and the most peaceful. It was only in the last few weeks of the pregnancy that Yessenia returned to stay with us until delivery. We were able to share those days of waiting and wondering with her. We saw her making the last minute preparations- and through Skype we saw her husband Boris doing the same at their home in Anapra, Mexico.
Saturday morning was Yessenia’s due date. We had planned a Halloween party at the Santo Niño project in Anapra and before we left she was having contractions every 10 minutes. By late afternoon when we returned they were every 5 so we packed up her things and headed to the hospital. She was already four centimeters dilated on the first exam so we knew that this was the real thing. The birthing room had plenty of space for us and the laptops we had packed to establish Skype connections with Boris.
The sounds of the fetal heart monitor and Yessenia’s breathing through the contractions brought back memories of so many days and nights spent with other mamas in labor and delivery wards over the years. I can’t say that I miss the feeling of hyper-vigilance, anticipating what might or might not happen with each phase of labor. Maybe that’s why so many doctors prefer to control the birth process with drugs. When you choose a path of accompaniment, which midwives understand so much better than many doctors, you commit to being close at hand to read the signs that don’t show up on a monitor. The change in breath, the look in the eyes, the point of mysterious transition to a place deep inside where I can only imagine women through the ages have found the strength to endure pain and to push new life into this world.
Yessenia’s labor was classic. It was like watching a perfectly choreographed dance and she knew the steps though she had never practiced them before. Very little coaching was needed. Just reassurance. “Can I do this?” Yes, you can. Si, se puede. “Can I endure this?” Yes, you can. She found her center and it was amazing to see her go there.
The room was prepared and the doctor arrived, like a technician. He was irritated that the patient had not accepted the epidural anesthesia. “Why not?” he complained. It was not a proud moment for my profession. Yessenia was frightened. “She doesn’t need it. She’s a strong Guatemalteca,” I said looking deep into Yessenia’s eyes. “That’s old-fashioned,” he growled. Well, I thought, birthing is about the most old-fashioned thing on earth.
And so we closed our community circle tight around Yessenia as she began to push. She made steady progress despite the grumblings from the physician. We filled her ears with encouragement and it wasn’t long before the baby’s head appeared. He was born. Then the doctor quickly handed him off to the nurses to be cleaned and suctioned. Except for one rather begrudging ‘congratulations” there was little reaction from the obstetrician. He went about the business of the placenta and repair. But the rest of us were caught up in the miracle: Christopher is born! The pain of childbirth overshadowed by such joy and relief and gratitude.
Soon it was just us again, with the mama and child- and the papa weeping on Skype- rejoicing together at the miracle we had witnessed. Well done, Yessenia and Boris! Welcome, little Christ-bearer! Birth is always a miracle, but so much more miraculous when those you love are at the center of it all.