Midwifery Today, Issue 82, Summer 2007 Twenty-one years ago, a seed was planted…
Twenty-one years ago my mom's water broke while we were at the annual Memorial Day Weekend Johnson Family Pig Roast. Our family of 5 piled into the station wagon and headed home. We were full of anticipation and excitement as we pulled out our stopwatches (we were all competitive swimmers at the time) and started timing mom's contractions. About 18 hours later (don’t worry, we didn’t submit my mom to timing contractions the whole time!) on May 26, 1985, my strong and steady mother gave birth to my sister, Michelle Leigh, in the new birthing suite at our local hospital. And I was there. And thus, in retrospect, a seed was planted and I began my path to becoming a midwife. And so, here I am.
The night before Michelle’s 21st birthday, I decided to try to find the essay I wrote my senior year in high school reflecting on the impact and experience of being present for Michelle's birth—this was the same essay that I polished and edited to use as my writing sample for my college applications. While I was unable to find the college application version, I did find a binder of my autobiographical essays from AP English, including a draft of the essay about Michelle's birth (along with lots of other interesting stories from my life up until that point!).
Given the work I do now as a homebirth midwife, and the beliefs I hold close to my heart about the enduring and powerful impact of birth on women, men, babies, children and families, I wanted to share this story. In doing so I hope to honor and celebrate my sister's 21 years on the planet, my parents' openness in letting their young children share in that experience, as well as the beginning of my journey to be 'with woman', and to revel in the miracle of birth and its transformative power as a frequent but always magical part of my day-to-day life.
Below is that essay from September 1990, written when I had just turned seventeen, while the midwife in me was quietly gestating, waiting to bloom.
Sometimes a person undergoes an experience that has such a dramatic effect on her life that it indirectly influences every action that person takes from that time forward. Often a person doesn’t have this experience until late in life, and in many cases not at all. However, when I was only eleven years old I experienced such an event when I witnessed the miracle of my baby sister Michelle’s birth.
The last few weeks before the baby was due, I began to have second thoughts about whether I really wanted to be there for the birth. My friends had frightened me so much with their stories about how gory and disgusting it would be, that I almost decided to wait outside until everything was all cleaned up and the baby was in my mother’s arms. Luckily, I didn’t listen to my friends.
Contrary to my peers’ beliefs, Michelle’s birth wasn’t gross. It wasn’t dirty, bizarre or anything of that sort. Rather, it was amazing. It was awesome in the true sense of the word, the most naturally magnificent event that ever could occur. Michelle wasn’t bright red, wrinkled and bloody as I was told all newborns are. Instead she was pink, smooth and almost immaculately clean. After the doctor checked her out, counted her fingers and toes, he put the baby in my mother’s arms and we all gathered around her. Then my brother and my grandmother came in from outside the birthing room, and we all were around the bed marveling at the new addition to our family. The love and unity in that room at that time was so intense and so genuine, I have yet to experience it to such an extensive degree and I’m not sure if I ever will again.
Within the first hour of her life I was able to hold Michelle in my arms. I was very nervous! I was sitting in a big yellow vinyl chair and I remember my father carrying her over to me. He told me to support her neck and to be gentle and then he said something to the effect of: “Michelle, meet your big sister Christy. Christy, meet your new baby sister Michelle.” Then he placed her in my arms and left us together to get to become acquainted. As soon as I felt that little body in my arms my nervousness was replaced by a complete sense of peace. I looked down at Michelle’s face and forgot that anything bad had ever happened to me and got completely entangled in the inherent goodness of that moment. I smiled brightly and as I looked around the room, beaming, a chill went down my spine. My father had already fallen asleep on the couch, exhausted from the 18-hour labor. Next to him, my aunt, who had also stayed up all night with my mother, likewise slumbered. My famished mother was in the midst of trying to break the world record for eating a large cheese steak. Laurie and Frankie, my other siblings, were seated on either side of my grandmother. For once this seating arrangement was not an attempt to hinder them from fighting, but just the most convenient way to engage in a group hug. Everyone in the room was in a state of complete and total harmony. After one final glance at my mother (she had finished the cheese steak by now), my eyes moved back to Michelle’s face, and I found she had fallen asleep. I began to cry.
To this day I’m not really sure why I cried. I don’t think that it was solely because of sheer happiness. I guess I was overwhelmed in realizing that in just one hour Michelle had brought so much love into my life and into the life of my entire family, without even trying. As great as that love was in that moment it seems almost insignificant when contrasted to the tremendous amount of love Michelle has given me since then. Her existence has made such a great difference in my life that I honestly don’t know what kind of person I would be today had she never been born. She brings an innocent perspective to everything that I am involved in, which often causes me to re-evaluate my decisions and straighten out my priorities. I love her so much that it sometimes hurts. The day of her birth has been the happiest day of my life so far, and I know that whatever the future holds for me, nothing will ever take the place of that day in my heart.