When a Child is born…
We have a secret in our culture,
It's not that birth is painful,
It's that women are strong.
Laura Stavoe Harm
It had started to snow this morning. By now, a thick, heavy blanket of snow covered La Push and the forecast warned of more snowfall. The wind blew with force, chasing the prickly snowflakes almost horizontally over the country.
The man determinedly strode through the deep snow, his shoulders hunched as he tried to shield himself from the piercing flakes. A large, grey dog followed him, leaping and rolling through the snow, not caring about the ugly weather.
The man's thoughts were with his wife as he moved forward, proudly and filled with anticipation. Tonight his son would finally be born.
Six hours ago his wife had gone into labor—ten days over-due. She was the patient one in their marriage, calming him down when he had a bad temper or soothing him when he was worried or impatient. During the last days when the waiting didn't seem to stop, she used to smile and say mildly, "He will come when he's ready."
This baby was long-awaited, not only by Billy and Sarah, but by the entire Black family and even the Tribal Elders. After the twins were born Sarah didn't get pregnant again, but desperately wished for another baby. When the doctor at the hospital couldn't find the reason, they approached the Tribal healer. The healer had performed a ceremony, but he also told them to be patient. "He will come when he is ready."
She was with child not before the year was over and his grandfather, Old Ephraim, was enthusiastic about the new baby. Even though he had reached his late 90s and physically was in a bad shape, his mind was sharp and he held on to life with iron will. It was as if Ephraim had a special connection to his great-grandchild already. "The boy will be born when he is ready," he liked to say, his weathered hand seeking contact to the baby through Sarah's swollen belly.
The man smiled to himself. How often had he heard this line by now? And why did everyone address the baby as a boy? But, if he was honest to himself, he felt it too. The baby must be a boy.
Her contractions had become stronger throughout the afternoon until she made him bring their twin girls to Sue and Harry Clearwater, parents of little Leah Clearwater who was the same age as the twins.
Billy looked up into the sky. It was heavy with gray clouds that spit more snowflakes onto the earth. Despite the fierce wind, the world around him was quiet and peaceful. His people had decorated their houses and windows with colorful lights, some of them even had wrapped fairy lights around the firs in their garden. Celebrating Christmas wasn't a Quileute tradition, but his people had picked it up, simply enjoying the spirit of Christmas.
When he finally reached the midwife's house the snow and wind had picked up in strength. He rapped at Onawa's door and when she opened he found her fully dressed with her bag in her hands. "I've been waiting for you, son," the old woman said and smiled. "How is Sarah?"
"She's doing great, Mother," Billy addressed her respectfully. Tonight, he would put his hope and faith into his wife and this woman, trusting that Sarah was in best hands. Nervously, Billy rubbed the back of his neck. "Her contractions became a lot stronger within the last hour. I just brought the twins to the Clearwater's."
Sarah had refused to go to the hospital, saying giving birth was not a sickness, but the most natural thing on earth. She trusted Onawa completely. Their twins had been born in the hospital for safety reasons, since they were their first kids and twins and all, but Sarah had given birth so easily that she was totally confident to have a home-birth with this child. In fact, she downright refused to even discuss the matter with him. Giving birth was a women's thing, she had said lovingly and ended each attempted discussion with a kiss. Billy had given in, but had a queasy feeling about it, because this pregnancy was different from her first.
Sarah had been plagued with severe morning sickness in the first five months. She got tired easily, but her sleep was restless as the baby couldn't stand it when she lay still. She had craved huge amounts of food, sometimes he wondered where it would go. Then, her stomach had grown huge within a matter of a few weeks. In fact, it was even bigger than it had been when she was pregnant with Rebecca and Rachel and it was pretty clear that she was carrying a very big baby.
Together they walked back to his house, his arm supporting the old woman's back, the dog running faster now that it was close to home. Onawa stepped out vigorously, bearing her old age with grace. After the 20-minute walk back home, Billy was glad that he returned with her safe and sound. He could never really suppress his need to protect. It was as if it was ingrained in him. It didn't come as a surprise to him. His people were bound to be protectors. Their Tribal legends said, the Quileute were powerful spirit warriors and could transform into wolves.
He loved the legends and he was telling them with passion at their traditional bonfires. It pleased Ephraim Black that Billy carried on with the story telling that had once been his task. It was important that the legends never were to be forgotten.
Through the window, Billy saw his wife pacing up and down in their living room. She rubbed her belly and arched her back as he spied into his home, but she walked with strength and that made him proud. She was the best wife he could ever have wished for.
When they had met it had been the tell-tale love at first sight. They had grown up together on the reservation, but Billy had gone to College and been away for almost five years while studying Economics and Native American history. His homecoming and taking over as the new Chief had been celebrated with a huge bonfire, singing and dancing. There they had met again and when his eyes fell upon her tall, lean body and her beautiful face he had been a goner.
Billy opened the door and let Onawa in. "Sarah, I'm back." He kicked the heavy boots from his feet and put his coat onto the peg, quickly sweeping play toys and tiny boots out of the way and rubbing the dog's fur dry.
The dog swiftly entered the living room and greeted Sarah, happily wagging his tail. He nudged her hand with his nose and she bent down, rubbing him behind his ears. The dog sniffed at her, burying his nose between her legs and whined softly. Sarah laughed and shoved him away. "Leave me alone, Hunter. You can greet the baby soon." The dog barked and ran into the corner where the Christmas tree stood. There he lay down and curled into a ball of fur, letting his head rest on his forelegs.
Billy led Onawa into the living room and the woman greeted each other warmly. Sarah seemed relieved that the old woman was there. She quietly talked to her, informing about her contractions and how she was feeling.
Billy went into the kitchen to heat up some water. There wasn't much he could do but wait. It seemed that not only the pregnancy, but also the birth would be different. The twins' delivery had been rather fast for a first birth. It had lasted only six hours. He had heard that the second birth usually was shorter, but Sara was in labor for almost seven hours now and it didn't look as if she was anywhere close to delivering the baby.
He offered Sarah and Onawa herbal tea and cookies he had baked the night before with Rebecca and Rachel. Sarah declined, but Onawa happily accepted. Billy sat down on his kitchen chair, trying to read the newspaper, but he couldn't concentrate. Over and over again his eyes would follow his wife as she paced up and down the living room. One time she caught him looking at her and smiled at him. Her face lit up, shone with love for him and the room seemed to become brighter.
Billy stood up and walked over to her, taking her into his arms. "Love you," he whispered. "You're doing so great!" She leaned into his embrace for a while, drawing his strength which he willingly gave. Then, she said smiling, "I'm getting along pretty well, honey. Why don't you go and do… something?"
Billy stroked her cheek tenderly. "You're such a brave woman." He tried to get back to reading, but it was useless. He couldn't recall one single word. Then, he picked up the phone and made a quick call to Charlie Swan, informing him that Sarah indeed was finally in labor and no, it wasn't false labor. Charlie laughed heartily and wished them well. In the background, Billy heard their little girl Bella squeaking in delight. Billy hung up and went back to reading.
Two hours later, he was the one pacing through the house. Sarah had settled and kneeled in front of the couch, deeply breathing in and out as she tried to concentrate during her contractions. It had begun being really painful for her, from time to time she groaned deeply, but Sarah wanted to be left alone. She didn't want him to rub her back. She didn't want Onawa talking to her.
"This will take some time, Billy," Onawa said to him when she came into the kitchen, getting some more tea. "You should busy yourself. I'm afraid you're making Sarah nervous," the old woman whispered.
Billy rubbed his face and asked her anxiously, "Is she okay?"
Onawa nodded with a smile, pressed his hand comfortingly and answered, "She's okay. The baby is okay. Everything is fine."
He dressed again in his boots, coat and gloves, announcing, "I'm going outside." The dog followed him. Billy made sure he got himself busy properly. He not only cleared the snow, but he also chopped wood, stocking it neatly beside the house. Peering through the window, he saw nothing had changed. Sarah was still kneeling in deep concentration, rocking her body to and fro. Onawa sat in the old recliner, knitting on a pair of tiny socks.
Billy sighed and went into the garage. He switched on the small light bulb and started to clear his woodwork away, putting the figurines on the shelf. He sorted through his tools and gave the floor a sweep. When he was done, another hour had gone by.
"Come, boy!" he called the dog and they trotted back to the house. When he entered the atmosphere was slightly off. Onawa had a frown on her face, rubbing his wife's back while Sarah worked through another contraction, cussing and swearing. Her hands were clenched to fists.
"What's up?" Billy called out and rushed over to his wife. She had changed into one of his huge tee shirts that still covered her mid-thigh despite her huge belly. Sweat covered her forehead.
Onawa said, "I just performed her internal examination. She's almost fully dilated, but the boy has changed his position. He's in a posterior presentation right now."
He tried to stay calm as he tenderly rubbed his wife's shoulders, but his pulse was racing as he asked worriedly, "What does that mean?"
"The baby is facing Sarah's front and not her back as it's supposed to be," the midwife explained.
"I'm getting the car," Billy declared, determined to transfer them to the hospital as he saw Sarah's and the baby's lives in danger.
"I'm fine," Sarah said through gritted teeth. "I can still do this. You're not bringing me to the hospital!" A new contraction made her whimper in pain and she gripped Billy's hand tightly.
"For now there's no need for you to go to the hospital. You can get your baby here," Onawa replied reassuringly, and then she looked at Billy, clarifying the situation for him some more. "I just checked the baby. It has a strong, regular heartbeat. The position causes Sarah a lot of pain as the bony part of your baby's head is pressed against the bony part of Sara's pelvis. She will probably also need longer to push the baby out, but there's no imminent danger for both of them."
Billy didn't leave Sarah's side anymore. Happily she now accepted his being in the room as he was her tower of strength, when the pain seemed to overwhelm her. Onawa encouraged Sarah to move around in the house and change positions during her contractions as Sarah thought fit. The walking eased some of Sarah's pain. When Billy rubbed her lower back, putting counter pressure where it hurt the most, it helped her too.
The dog followed them through the house as if he was making sure Sarah was alright and fine. He whined when she groaned in pain, clearly suffering along with her. Billy repeatedly told Hunter to be quiet, afraid that the dog would disturb Sarah's concentration, but Sarah assured him that she liked the dog to be there.
As time went by Sarah's pain became excruciating and her moaning wouldn't stop anymore. Clenching her teeth tightly together, she fought through her contractions, convinced she wouldn't make it through the next.
"Let it all out," the old woman suggested at one point when Sarah clung to her husband with her arms around his neck, her face deeply buried in his chest. Onawa rubbed in soothing circles over her back. "It will help."
The screaming started shortly after that suggestion, the deep, primal sounds sending shivers over Billy's back. He became aware when she surrendered to the birth process and began to sort of welcome the pain instead to fight it. He was in awe of her power and endurance when he could only stand by and let her do the work. In a way he felt useless and he would give anything to take that pain away from her.
"Stubborn baby," Sarah roared some time later when another contraction subsided. "Come out. I can't do any more."
Billy couldn't tell how much time had passed since he had come back into the house. He cradled her in his arms while she relaxed exhaustedly and kissed her briefly on her lips, then kneeled down, placing his hands left and right on her tense belly. "Baby, come out now…" he whispered and gave her belly a kiss.
Sarah was moved by the tender gesture, but then another contraction forced her to get on her knees. "I've got to push," she grunted and grasped his hands so hard that Billy flinched.
"Go for it," Onawa said calmly and persuaded Sara onto all fours, directing Billy to sit down close to Sarah's head. Letting Sarah do her thing until now, the old woman now noticeably took the lead.
Sarah let out an ear-piercing scream, "Hurts," while the old woman gingerly pulled her panties off, assuring her that it wouldn't last much longer now.
Billy gently brushed sweaty strands of her hair out of her face, trying to talk to her in a similar calming way as Onawa. Sarah answered his attempt with sputtered profanities while she pushed through the next contraction.
With an audible bang her water broke. Sarah's screams stopped immediately and changed to low, guttural grunts.
Finally Onawa announced, while she pulled on rubber gloves and laid out items which functions Billy rather not wanted to know, "I can see the head. There's a lot of hair, Sarah."
Sarah wrapped her arms around his neck, bringing her body in a more upright position. "I want it out," she hissed aggressively, digging her fingers deep into Billy's shoulders.
Onawa smiled mildly and demanded unyielding, "Go slowly, Sarah… You don't want to tear."
Sarah wailed, burying her face in Billy's neck. A second later, she cried out really loud and deep and he hoped that his wife didn't have to suffer any longer. Seeing her like this, shook him to his foundations and he promised to himself to never get her pregnant again. He was sweating, his heart hammering in his chest, overwhelmed by her strength, by the power she emanated.
"Don't push, Sarah," Onawa ordered.
"Can't," Sarah screamed, clinging to Billy for dear life. Then, there was silence, only Sarah's labored breathing to be heard. "It's there, it's there…" his wife whispered and let go of him.
Billy stabilized her as she looked down between her legs, the rest of the baby slowly slithering out of her body.
The tiny, alien looking newborn slipped down on the blanket, looking at them with big, dark eyes that held all the wisdom of the world.
Exhaustedly, Sarah rested on her heels and removed the cord that covered the baby's sex. It was indeed a boy like everyone had predicted. "Hello, Jacob," she said slowly and melodically and brought the baby up to her chest. "There you are…"
Overwhelmed by his emotions, Billy didn't realize that Onawa helped Sarah to turn around and sit. Happy tears ran down his cheeks. He was relieved that the birth had turned out well.
Deep on his belly, the dog crawled closer. He stayed in his submissive position and whined, until Billy patted his head. "You want to greet the baby, Hunter?" he asked, blinking his tears away. The dog perked up his ears and wagged its tail.
Sarah wrapped the baby into a towel Onawa handed to her and let Hunter sniff the baby. The dog whined again, licking over the baby's face. "Gross." Sarah laughed and Billy nudged the dog away.
Billy moved behind Sara, wrapping his arms around her and his son. The baby soon searched for his mother's breast and latched on, all the time holding his eyes wide open. A short time later Sara delivered the placenta and Billy got to cut the cord.
Onawa left them alone for a long time so they could get to know little Jacob, but when Sara became tired, Onawa took the baby, placing it into Billy's arms. She told him to sit down by the fire, holding the baby while she was taking care of Sara. She helped his wife to stand up and walk over to the sofa.
Billy sat down in the shabby recliner, facing the fire, and observed his son lovingly. The baby looked strong, large and healthy. His limbs were long and well-defined, his hands and feet unusually big which made him think of a puppy dog's paws. He smiled, filled with fatherly love and pride, and stroked his son's curly, silken baby hair. So tiny, and still so ethereal and not really arrived yet on earth, the boy emanated a strength that had him simply awestruck.
Billy touched his son's forehead, tenderly, with his fingertips only. The baby kept looking at him with his wise, onyx eyes as if he was studying his father in return.
Suddenly, Billy's vision blurred and before his eyes he saw his baby turn into a tall, young man. Strong and muscular with a determined look upon his face, deep-set eyes shining, lips curled into a smile. "Oh," Billy breathed when the man transformed into a huge, russet colored wolf. The wolf laid its head back and howled.
Billy blinked and shook his head as he didn't know what do think about his vision. He knew his ancestors were great believers in dreams and visions, but he was a grounded, modern person. He didn't care for dreams and although he enjoyed telling his Quileute legends, he didn't believe in it. Why was it that he had to exactly think about men turning into wolves when he looked at his son?
A wolf's howl cut through the silent night and Billy shivered, pressing his son close to his chest when he realized he heard a real wolf's howl, that it wasn't a figment of his imagination. He wrapped a blanket around his shoulders, pulling it around him and his son protectively, and crossed the room in three strides to peer out of the window.
Not even 20 feet off the street a wolf stood. The night had cleared up; the moonlight reflected on the snow, giving enough light for him to easily detect the large animal. Worriedly, he looked at his wife, exchanging glances with Onawa, before he again observed the night, hoping that no one was taking an early Christmas morning walk. It wasn't likely, but you could never be sure.
The wolf slowly sauntered closer and Billy corrected himself. The wolf wasn't large, it was huge. And it looked old. Very old—given by the dull brown, shaggy fur, the grey muzzle and the way it bore its way towards his house.
For a moment, Billy considered calling Harry, asking him to look out for the wolf.
"Billy," Onawa called him, before he was able to think it through. "Can you get Sarah a glass of water and some of your cookies? She's hungry like a wolf." The old woman cackled.
Sarah rested comfortably on the sofa. The living room was cleaned up, no evidence that a birth had taken place to be seen anymore. How much time had passed when he was getting to know his baby?
His wife cracked a tired smile, but radiated with love and reached out for her son. Billy handed the baby over to her, smiling as he did so, the wolf outside momentarily forgotten. Sarah opened her shirt and Jacob latched on to her breast without hesitation. He watched the harmonious picture while the love for his newborn son grew, and grew, and grew. He thought his heart was about to explode with happiness and love.
He remembered that he wanted to bring her some cookies and stood up to go to the kitchen when he heard the wolf howl again. What was it with wolves? First the vision of his son turning into a wolf, then a wolf was showing up in the middle of La Push, and now Onawa saying Sarah was hungry like a wolf?
When he put a pitcher with water, glasses and a plate with cookies onto the tiny table beside the sofa, the front door opened and his grandfather slipped in quietly. The old man looked exhausted, but other than that he was smiling broadly. "I came to see my great-grandson," he announced and walked over to the sofa.
Billy recognized that the old man was barely dressed, wearing his old pants and a long-sleeved shirt only. "Gosh, Gramps, you must be freezing to death. How did you come here?" he called out, but Ephraim ignored him completely and crouched down before his wife and son.
"You did great, Sarah," praised Ephraim affectionately.
She smiled proudly and showed him the now sleeping baby.
The old man looked at the baby for a long time, and then looked at Onawa. When the old woman nodded, he stood up and put his hand onto Billy's shoulder, whispering into his ear, "My son, I think it's time we talk."
Outside, the wolf started to howl, a second and a third falling in, the sounds making Billy shiver. The dog anxiously crawled behind the sofa, whining softly.
"You should rest for a while, Sarah," Onawa suggested.
Sarah hesitated, looking at Old Ephraim and looking at her baby. "Maybe you want to hold him for a while," she finally offered, albeit with some reluctance. She'd rather have her baby in her arms, but the old man had been waiting for this child to be born for so long and now even came her to see it. How did he know the baby was born? How did he come here so fast anyway? She hadn't heard or seen Billy calling him…
"I'd be honored, dear Sarah," Old Ephraim replied, slightly bowing before her. Despite his old age, he took the baby Sarah held out towards him with steady hands and walked with firm steps to the recliner, sitting down.
Sarah willed her exhausted body to sleep. It took her a while until she could let go and drift away, but Ephraim waited. He had time. There was no rush.
"You remember the legends, Billy," he finally began when he was sure that Sarah slept soundly. Billy nodded, feeling a wave of calmness pass through him.
His grandfather ended up talking to him for hours, but he opened with the following words,
"Actually, the legends are true und when the wolves howl, praising the newborn child, they say the new Alpha is born..."
A/N: Occiput posterior fetal position (also known as star-gazer, face-up or sunny-side up position) is when the back of baby's head is towards the mother's back. This occurs in 15-30% of labors.
Star-gazers are said to be special children, having strong minds of their own from the first moments on.
I'm an ardent supporter of giving birth at home as I delivered two of my kids at home which made a HUGE difference to the hospital birth I had with my first child. If you have any questions concerning home birth feel free to ask. I'll try to answer as best as I can.
Birth and Breastfeeding: Rediscovering the Needs of Women During Pregnancy and Childbirth by Michel Odent
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin