When I first visited Rikki and Stefan's rural Pennsylvania home, I remarked: "It's like coming home." I grew up (from years six to twelve) just north of here along the Delaware River where NY, NJ and PA meet in the Pocono Mts., upriver from the Delaware Water Gap. The countryside near Rikki and Stefan's home is the same hardwood forests, rolling hills and winding country roads I explored in those golden years when I was king of the haystacks and life was apple green (see Dylan Thomas' Fern Hill).
Rikki and Stefan live in a large wooden country home on about three acres where we watch deer and foxes in the back yard in the mornings. Development is coming a few miles down the road, but so far they are surrounded by cornfields and forest tracts. Inside their home are country hardwood floors, high ceilings, spacious rooms and wood burning fireplaces. Their knotty pine furniture fits perfectly into this country setting. Upstairs, adjacent to the master bedroom with its log bed and end tables, is the new baby's nursery all outfitted for the new arrival.
Chester Springs is northwest of Philadelphia, near Valley Forge where George Washington winter quartered his troops in 1777-8. Chester Springs, formerly Yellow Springs, is where he set up the hospital for the troops. The drive to Valley Forge from Rikki and Stefan's is just beautiful - rolling hills, curving roads through horse farms with natural stone homes and barns and stone fences tucked here and there among the woods and streams. The winter sunlight on natural stone buildings is especially beautiful - an exquisite Pennsylvania landscape. This is Penn's Forest and one of the original thirteen colonies. Everywhere you turn, there is American Revolutionary history around here.
Getting Ready - The Merrie Midwives of Chester
Rikki and Stefan chose to birth at home attended by trained local midwives. They have attended classes on natural childbirth, planned out the emergency backup processes should they be needed, carefully monitored that theirs is a low risk pregnancy, and they have read extensively on natural childbirth. Rikki sent Margaret and me and Jenny and Meg and Nani books ahead of time to get us oriented to the process. I got to meet the team of three midwives: Kate, Jane and Merle - all young women, mothers themselves, practiced and licensed in midwifery and even, in Merle's case, a licensed nurse midwife at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia in the surgical ward. They welcomed my many questions and getting to know them and the procedures they described helped me to come to a settled conviction that Rikki and Stefan and Baby Boehmer had chosen well and were in good hands for the imminent childbirth.
You'll remember that the due date had been December 30 and the actual delivery was two weeks 'late' (there is still a mystery about the accuracy of the 'due date' because the baby, according to the midwives, did not appear to be post-date at all). So there was plenty of time for me, and the rest of the birth team - Meg, Jen, Melissa Dean the Doula, parents and midwives - to adjust to the situation, to get to know each other and to learn about the home birth process (I definitely benefited from this extra time). My respect for the midwives was so strong that I was invited by Rikki and Stefan to participate in the birth and to 'catch the baby' - which I did, and did with such exemplary skill that the midwives suggested I go to Midwifery School in Seattle (once I learned to pronounce the word with a short 'i'). I'm seriously considering it - it will mean breaking the ageism and sexism barriers presented by a sextigenarian male breaking into the profession.
Kate and Jane and Merle, along with Melissa, formed a remarkable team - they seemed to know what the others were thinking without having to say much. They enjoyed assisting mothers to give birth naturally - there was a lot of pleasant banter, laughter, and constant encouragement tempered by a rigorous professionalism. They recognized that Rikki and Stefan had studied up on at home natural childbirth, had become their own general contractors of this important event in their lives and had made choices that the midwives were made aware of and which the midwives supported and worked with the parents in a non-directive way allowing them to chose between informed options presented to them. It was wonderful to watch. I can understand Jane responding to me when I told them "You're having too much fun" saying "I used to be a labor organizer and now I've become a birth junkie."
It bothers me that the midwives have to live under a 'look askance' shadow cast by the official obstetric professional community. In low risk pregnancies (detectable now better than ever before) such as Rikki and Stefan's, there is so much positive experience to be had by mother and child in coming into the world in due time with minimum medical and pharmaceutical intervention. I was keeping a mental score (1 to 10) during Rikki's pregnancy and delivery and I have to say the final score was: Baby - 10, Mother - 10. I am grateful that I was invited to learn so much and be a part of this wonderful experience. I remember that I was present at Rikki's birth in the hospital delivery room, after fighting the medical establishment at Jon's and Jenny's births, because professional opinion was changing at that time - early 70's - to allow fathers to participate with their wives in this most significant family experience. Perhaps we can hope (and actively lobby, by God) that as the Father of our Country attended to the needs of his troops down the road in Chester Springs, so we might have a modern day revolution in the acceptance of the midwifery option by the established medical community here in Pennsylvania. Backdrop: there is a news item today that a midwife in nearby Lancaster County is being tried before a Medical Review Board this coming January 26 and is liable to be penalized and fined serious monetary fines for her practice of midwifery among the Amish and Mennonite communities. It is said that she has attended 5000 births; I don't know the whole story, but clearly in Pennsylvania there is an environment of risk and disapproval at the present time. Twenty-three states have legislated support for licensed midwifery, as well as most of the countries of the world.
At long last on January 12 regular contractions began to set in for Rikki. I was summoned by Meg on my cell phone from an errand to the store: "You'd better get back here, she's seven centimeters." Margaret had just landed at the Philadelphia airport and was being picked up by Jon and Kimberly driving in from New York City. Rikki was in the prime of health - from daily walks and even a trampoline jumping session two days earlier. (The midwives were amazed at Rikki's health and positive attitude). Melissa Dean had come in from California two weeks earlier as Rikki's doula birth coach and kept Rikki exercising and encouraged during the two week wait. Melissa's support for Rikki during this pregnancy, and during the pregnancy and hospital delivery of Naomi Ruth, has been incredible - thank you, Melissa, many times over. Hard labor progressed rapidly. Rikki was on all fours in a warm water tub set up in the baby's room. It became clear that the baby wouldn't be waiting to come until G'Ma Margaret and Jon and Kimberly could get here from the airport. About five minutes of final pushing and out popped our baby girl into GrandPa's waiting hands. Hand-off to the midwives - hand-off to the Mama who looked at her baby and said without hesitation: "She will be Olivia Joy." Margaret and Jon and Kimberly arrived about half an hour after the birth, so they got to see the very newborn very early.
Olivia Joy has a substantial voice, but doesn't use it that much as to be an irritation. I find myself giggling every time I hear her cry. She sucks strongly - Stefan has nicknamed her 'Little Sucker.' She is perfectly beautiful. She has had such a good start.
So now feeding, playing, sleeping; feeding, playing, sleeping sets in. I fly away to Seattle this afternoon, confident that two very happy parents have in their competent hands their dream come true.
January 17, 2007