My First Client
There is a first time for everything; that is how the saying goes, right?
At this time, this recounting of the pivotal moment, the catalyst, of my midwifery journey must be told with heavy editing and some obfuscation and omission of some of the details to protect certain people and to avoid publicly recounting certain memoirs until much later in my life -- you know, for when I truly have no fucks left to give to anyone.
If you have read previous memoirs, then you have already met Cammie. Take a moment to go meet her or reacquaint yourself with her.
Friday, December 11th, 1998
3 days postpartum
I had just finished talking with the woman from the shelter who was arranging things for Cammie and the twins at the group home. She was impressed to hear of our tale and kept asking more questions and just could not wrap her head around a group of teenagers delivering another teenager's twins in a basement apartment. I turned around to see Cammie sitting there in all her Madonna-esque glory with a little baby attached to each breast nursing away. It was impossible to not be glowing, to not still feel all spaced out on euphoria. I loved them so fucking much.
I was going to miss our adventure days, late nights spent meditating on that baby bump, rubbing her swollen feet, and her insatiable fruit cravings, but I was glad to know that she was going to have a safe place to live with her babies and that now that she was a parent, she was considered an adult and would not have to risk dealing with her own parents. I could not think of a better outcome given the circumstances.
Tuesday, December 8th, 1998
Approximately 41 weeks gestation
It was the first freeze of the Winter season and it came late. In fact, it was the latest first freeze of history for Oklahoma City. This was a good thing considering she still spent most of her pregnancy sleeping in the squat house, despite all of us networking in various ways to provide her warm housing or at least empty cars for the night or week, or sneaking her into bedrooms after parents went to bed. Cammie had been homeless and on the streets for a little over four years by then and it had changed her in many ways.
I got the page in a timely manner, as agreed upon, at 1:37pm that afternoon. I had insisted on buying Cammie a calling card to make sure she could reach me without issue. I was in class and excused myself. I borrowed a phone and called the pay phone Cammie had paged me from.
"Hey! What's up?"
"I think this is happening. I think it is time to work some of that magic of yours."
"Are you having contractions?"
"Yes, and they are pretty regular. It feels like they have been happening every 5 minutes for the last couple hours. They hurt, but I am managing."
"Okay. I will get out of here in a couple minutes, tell the others, and come pick you up. It sounds like Shayla's parents are out of town until Saturday. So, I will take you and all our stuff there. Are you at the coffeeshop?"
"Yeah. It's warm here and the cute one refuses to let me pay for food, so..."
"Oh, okay, I see how it is! I'll see you soon."
Saturday, April 25th, 1998
Approximately 9 weeks gestation
I drove down to where I knew I would find Cammie. I honked a couple times in front of the vacant house and a few minutes later she came around the corner from the back of the house. Cammie and I had found the abandoned house one day a couple months earlier when she told me she needed some place safer to stay after some people had been bothering her at the lake, but was not ready to try for a shelter again after the last time since she was still a minor. (Last time she tried to seek help at a local shelter, they threatened to track her parents down and turn her over to them, which would have been a terrible idea since they were abusive and had kicked her out for being queer.) So, on one of our adventure days together, we were out doing some urban exploring and found this abandoned house that was fairly secluded and had obviously been a squat at one time, but had been abandoned as such quite some time before. I helped her get her stuff from down by the lake and moved her in.
Cammie was complaining about being tired and feeling a little off. We drove to Sonic and I bought us lunch. She asked if I could run her buy a pharmacy, but would not tell me why or let me give her money. I knew that whatever she was going in to get was going to be lifted and the last thing she needed was to get caught shoplifting. When she came out and got back in the car we sat in silence for a minute until I asked if she had gotten whatever it was she needed. She nodded and we drove off.
We ended up at Denny's later in the evening, like all disenfranchised teenagers who have nothing better to do on a Saturday evening in the Heartland. At some point Cammie had gone to the bathroom and sort of looked like she had seen a ghost when she came back to the table. I asked if she was okay and instead of answering me, she just slid the pregnancy test across the table at me. "Oh."
Saturday, June 20th, 1998
Approximately 17 weeks gestation
Now that it was impossible for Cammie to hide her ever growing baby bump, people would stare at her with such judgement. Despite her being a year older than me, she looked like she was about three years younger than me. I wanted to throat-punch every snooty middle-aged (white) woman who made a face or shook her head at Cammie. All they perceived was an irresponsible young and pregnant Black girl. They had no idea.
Cammie still had not volunteered any information about how this pregnancy had come to be and I was smart enough and empathetic enough not to ask. Even if you are a lesbian, if you are homeless, pregnancy is still a reality and usually not one caused by consent. All I knew was that based on everything I was reading online and in books at the library, her pregnancy seemed to be normal with the exception that she might have been showing a bit more than I was expecting.
We spent a lot of time meditating together and just sitting there in silence, gaining insight about the little human growing inside of her. Cammie was super into astrology and was constantly telling me how she knew things were going to be okay, because of this house or that house and whatnot and my witchery. My being a witch was definitely important to Cammie. It was all pretty woo-woo looking back and though I never did tell Jeannine P-B about it, I know she would have approved.
Saturday, November 7th, 1998
Approximately 37 weeks gestation
I had finally finished recruiting three others to help assist me at Cammie's birth. I had given them all crash courses in how we were going to deal with various problems if they came up. We had also pretty much worked out all of our stories for having to excuse ourselves on the day, how to spend as much time together as possible, why we were hanging out with this very pregnant girl if our parents should see one of us with her, and how to get professional medical help if it came down to that. We had managed to gather around and stash just about everything we thought we would need that we could get our hands on.
I knew from my reading that blood pressure was important and that blood sugar could be an issue and with all the damn fruit and ice cream that Cammie ate and requested, I assumed she would surely develop diabetes and we would have to take her to the ER to get her help. But nope. I took her to the pharmacy in the grocery store every weekend where she got her blood pressure taken. One of my assistants had a father with diabetes and she was able to get one of his old glucometers and we randomly stuck Cammie's fingers to get her blood glucose levels. At this point I was finally able to listen for the baby's heartbeat with a stethoscope, which was awesome and confusing, but you know, twins can do that!
And of course none of us even stopped to consider twins being a possibility, because why would they be? It has been a joke between us a couple of times, but that's as far as it went. Of course, looking back now, I would have suspected twins as early as about 10 weeks gestation in Cammie's case. I had my hands and head on her belly so much that I am really surprised that it never occurred to me that twins could be possible. But it is probably a very good thing that I did not get that intuitive tip, otherwise my assistants might have bailed on us. There is agreeing to follow someone into chaos and then there is chaos and then there is chaos.
Because of Cammie's insatiable fruit cravings, I had taken to hitting the Farmer's Market multiple times a week once I figured out that fruit was cheaper there and one of the produce stalls was run by a local Hispanic family whose matriarch was a midwife. Nelli Garcia was a traditional indigenous midwife from Mexico and always seemed to know exactly what to say, even before I would ask a question. And I did ask a lot of questions about pregnancy, birth, newborns, and breastfeeding, but mostly I listened. She would always tell her granddaughter to put extra fruit and veggies in the bag and refused to let me pay extra.
While I never mentioned Cammie and had only brought her with me to the market once around 25 or so weeks gestation, Nelli knew when I came to the market the day after the birth that Cammie had given birth and that she had given birth to twins.
"How is your friend...and babies doing?"
"How did you... They are all fine. It was amazing and scary and the best thing ever! And I want to do it again and again, every single day for the rest of my life!"
"[You need to take care of some life and health things first. But come back to me once you have.] When you are ready for an apprenticeship, you know where I will be."
Tuesday, December 8th, 1998
Approximately 41 weeks gestation
It was apparent that while I was picking up Cammie from the coffeeshop across town Shayla had been busy prepping the birthing space, because when we let ourselves in, she was flitting from place to place with sheets and towels and other supplies and everything looked so neat and professional-like. It almost seemed like this sort of thing was second nature for her, a skill that would come in handy for the next time we needed to help someone give birth in her parent's basement apartment on the down low.
See, Shayla's older sister worked at a clinic that provided abortions, among other health services like AIDS testing and treatments for STIs. They were a little on the shady side of things, because they provided abortions off the books for teenagers same day without the 24 hour wait period or required counseling. They were heroes and reproduction justice warriors as far as we were all concerned. Shayla was a year or two older than the rest of us and had the reputation for arranging safe passage for those needing to get an abortion under the radar. She was also able to get a lot of the supplies we needed for Cammie's birth from the clinic via her sister. Though her sister had no idea we were planning on possibly having a rogue homebirth in their parent's basement.
It was purely serendipity or incredible luck, call it what you will, that we even ended up at Shayla's with several days of the house to ourselves. Her place was our first pick with a few other potential options and the squat that Cammie had been living in was the last resort. I am so thankful that we did not end up at the squat. No one needs to experience those moments straddling the veil between the world of the ineffable and being Earthside while in a run down house stained with human sadness, anguish, self-pity, and loss of hope.
Shortly after we arrived the other two assistants showed up ready for work. Cammie indicated that she wanted to be alone for a bit and sent everyone upstairs to get things ready for the baby and to make food. At the last minute she told me to stay. I curled up next to Cammie on the futon birthing pallet throne that Shayla had carefully set up for her and wrapped my arm around her huge belly. I could feel movement and each contraction that seemed to be coming on every couple minutes and had reached a point where Cammie had to do some vocal toning to ride the waves. It was one of the most hypnotic birthing songs I have ever heard. We laid there together with her head on my chest and my arm on her belly for what seemed like hours.
It was not until I woke up to see Cammie squatting in front of me, perfectly with heels flat on the futon, completely naked, eyes fixed on me, that I realised we or I must have been asleep for a couple hours. I could tell by the wet chux pads under her that her water had broken and it seemed to be clear. I could see out of the corner of my eye that Shayla and the other two had sneaked back downstairs and were sitting across the room in the shadows. The room smelled like sex, dirt, and hay; a smell I would later learn was the smell of birth and not everyone is able to smell it.
"I did not want to wake you up, but I have so much pressure and I...."
There was a pause in her sentence while I watched her entire body push down.
"...and I think this baby is coming soon. Do you want to feel for its head?"
Before I could answer, she had taken my hand and guided my fingers inside where I could clearly feel something hard-squishy, definitely furry, and right there just inside and then could feel it moving down more, because her body was involuntarily pushing again. Time seemed to freeze for a moment while our eyes stayed locked until her body pushed again and I had a head in my hand.
I was totally and completely in love with the amazing human before me and with the baby whose head I could feel and see rotating in my hand. All of the intense feelings all at once.
I was smiling and crying and high and nauseated all at once. I felt invincible and scared as fuck simultaneously and I was not the one pushing out a baby.
Another push from Cammie's body and out came the rest of the body of the most amazing and perfect baby I had ever seen. I cradled the baby in my two hands while Cammie sat back and then reached for her baby. It all felt so surreal, like I was outside of my body, about 8 to 10 feet away and watching everything unfold.
It was the first time I saw an aura. I thought it was just the tears in my eyes, but Cammie and her baby were surrounded by a soft violet-white light. I am not sure how much time passed before it felt like the air was sucked out of me and I was slammed back into my body to realise the baby was crying and my assistants were hovering around asking what they should be doing while wrapping a towel and blanket around Cammie and the baby. I do not remember what I said to them, but they got to work while I just stared at Cammie and baby.
I remembered that I had read that breastfeeding needed to be established as soon as possible to help get the placenta out and reduce the chance of heavy bleeding. I moved over to help Cammie get the baby on her nipple, which went amazingly well and we both watched this little baby nurse for awhile. I kept looking down to see if there was any blood pooling up or pouring out of Cammie, but there did not seem to be much more than what came out with the baby, Cammie looked well, and she said she felt okay.
It had been about 20 or 30 minutes of Cammie nursing Baby when I saw her body flexing up to do one of those huge all over pushes that I had seen it do earlier and I saw a little bit of blood come out after the push. I said something about it being time for her to squat again for the placenta. As she was balancing Baby and her body into a squat, she said,
"I don't think placentas feel like this and I don't think they kick their way out!"
In an instant, that out of body feeling came back and I knew exactly what was happening. I spoke into the room, the void, for someone to hand me a towel as I looked down and did indeed see little wiggly feet emerging from Cammie. I felt totally calm and at peace with everything and everyone in that very moment. It was like the past, present, and future and everything was around me, inside me, and moving through me all at once. I had no fear, only love. I could definitely hear my ancestors whispering in my ear for the first time.
I said something to the effect that it was another baby coming and not the placenta. By that time Cammie's body was pushing again and the baby was born just past its navel and was starting to rotate a little. Up to this point, Cammie had not really done any active pushing, because her body was doing all the work on its own, but with the next contraction she roared out the rest of Baby B's body and head onto the futon below.
Baby B laid there blinking up at us and us blinking down at them. Then Baby A unlatched and cried out followed immediately by Baby B crying. Then we all were crying and laughing and dropping f-bombs for a few minutes.
And now there were two babies. Two perfect babies with velvet skin the colour of caramel just like their mama. Cammie held them both, each one latched on and nursing. A little while later she pushed out what I later learned was a fused placenta. Then we cut and tied cords, cleaned things up some, and all baked a cake together. At some point Shayla brought down her mother's digital scale and I took turns weighing myself and myself plus each baby: 7lb 6oz and 6lb 7oz.
Friday, December 18th, 1998
10 days postpartum
After checking in on Cammie and the twins at the group home, I went to see Nelli at the market. When I arrived, I did not see Nelli in her usual ancient rocking chair. As I walked up, her granddaughter waved me over and handed me a slip of paper with an address on it. She said, "Mimi said if you showed up today to send you to that address." I thanked her and turned around to walk back to my car.
Thinking I was maybe visiting Nelli's home, I knocked on the door to be surprised when I was greeted by the smell of birth and a young child of maybe five years old who looked me up and down with much suspicion and asked, "¿Partera?" Between the years of Latin and my Spanish-speaking friends, I knew enough to recognise that I was being asked if I was a midwife, to which I quickly shook my head, "no" right as Nelli was walking up behind the child. Nelli motioned for me to come inside while speaking to the child in Spanish.
"I have not seen you for a bit; are you sure you're ready to work?"
"I am still a little shaky, but I am here and ready to work with you."
And then I heard it, that familiar involuntary vocal toning of a labouring person, deep in another realm, their baby making its journey Earthside. Something changed inside of me upon hearing the song, my senses becoming acute: vision crystal clear and sounds amplified.
Nelli shoved a pair of gloves at me and I followed her back to the bedroom while putting them on.
My midwifery apprenticeship had officially begun.
“But looking back on the next day, I can tell you that happy endings are possible, even in situations as fraught with complications as this one was.” ~ James Howe, Bunnicula
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