As I rose from my bed in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning in late October, I felt well rested, even with only five hours of sleep behind me. Karin texted me, relaying that her contractions had started a half an hour before and they were getting stronger. She believed her water had broken. Karin was emotionally preparing herself for a birth process of approximate 12 to 24 hours. This expectation was based on her first labor experience, which was a whopping 48 hrs, four years ago.
We spoke to each other about an hour later. She said she was feeling fine, and, so far, she could handle the contractions. We agreed that unless we spoke again, I should arrive at her apartment in about three hours. Thirty minutes later my phone rang again, her husband Richard told me that Karin wanted me there as soon as possible.
Taking a coffee with me, I left my apartment in the middle of the night, for the other side of Berlin. As I drove down “Kurfürstendamm”, my phone rang again; Richard told me that they had called the transportation to their chosen hospital. Karin still wished for me to first come to her apartment. We agreed that if they were no longer there, I would head to the chosen place of birth; a hospital circa 20 minutes from their apartment.
As I entered the apartment, I could see that Richard was very excited and on high alert. As I laid my purse down and took off my coat, he explained that Karin was in the bathroom and she has the feeling as though she wanted to push. I thought to myself “the last time I heard this, the baby was there two and a half hours later”. I believed we had plenty of time get to the hospital.
There was another reality awaiting me on the other side of the door. Karin was on the bathroom floor, not speaking, not moving, with a bit of sweat on her upper lip. I knelt down, quietly telling Karin that I was there, at her side. I asked her if she still can get into the taxi. Her answer; “I need to push”. I calmly told Karin that from my experience, it could still be a long time before her baby arrives, that she may still need two or three hours before she meets her baby.
I asked if she could breathe through the urge to push until we arrived at the hospital. She shook her head, and said: “the baby is here, I can feel her head”. Collecting myself, I gently pulled her underwear back, silently hoping that Karin was somehow, mistaken.
I had hoped at this moment that the baby was not yet arriving and that Karin still had enough time to reach the hospital. Her preferred birth location was at a hospital in the presence of medically trained professionals.
Concentrating very hard on staying calm, I witnessed the baby’s head crowning.
In the meantime, the hospital transportation entered the apartment, and upon hearing that the baby’s head was born, they informed us they could not assist in any way. He told Richard to call the ambulance, and promptly left.
It took all of my strength to keep my hands from shaking, to keep my voice still. I remember seeing the baby move it’s lips and fingers. I cannot explain the relief I felt seeing the baby move. I stroked Karin’s back and told her that her baby appeared well and that she was well, that she was safe, that I was here for her, and that I would make sure her baby would not fall.
At this point, Karin asked me to assist the baby to be born, which is completely out of my scope of knowledge and practice. I responded calmly that I am a non-medical birth assistant, that I do not have medical training and I could therefore not touch her baby nor in anyway actively influence the birth process. All I could do was prevent her baby from hitting the floor and stay at her side until the ambulance arrived.
Following her urge to move, Karin changed her position from being on “all fours” to laying down on her side. With this one movement, the baby’s body was born, this beautiful baby girl was suddenly in my hands. Lifting up Karin’s sweater, I gently placed the baby on Karin’s bare chest. I turned the bathroom heater up to high and covered the baby with towels which were within my reach. We stared at each other for a moment, in shock.
Richard brought the couple’s four-year-old boy into the bathroom. He had been sleeping in the next room. Richard and Karin explained that his little sister decided to be born at home, in the bathroom, instead of the hospital. As the baby cried for a few seconds, again I felt a wave of relief washed over me; the baby was well!
Moments later, the ambulance arrived. I eased myself out of the small bathroom, enabling the emergency doctor to enter in order to check Karin. I stood for a moment outside the bathroom door with the five other emergency responders, listening intently for signs that all was fine with mother and baby.
Overwhelmed with emotion, I walked into the nearest room and cried silently. I was overcome with feelings of gratitude, pride of how I conducted myself as a non-medical birth professional and in shock of what I just witnessed.
I was very grateful to have been able to support Karin and Richard in their time of need, blessed to have been witness to the often underestimated strength of Women and the magnificence and perfection of an undisturbed birth. I savor the experience for all it was; a wild, intense, raw encounter with life.