An Herbal Homebirth Story
Birth like death comes on its own time. Unpredictable. Each passing into and out of this world is unique.
As an herbalist, I long assumed I might hold fists of yarrow during labor for strength, inhale lavender for peace and calm, and drink buckets of iced raspberry leaf tea. I planned a homebirth and secretly thought birthing alone would be fun.
One morning in early April, I woke to my water breaking. I waited for the big event. But nothing happened. Same with the next day. In the back of my mind I worried that something was wrong, but I pushed it away.
36 hours after my water broke, I was in the very unusual and precarious position of not being in labor. My midwife told me to take black cohosh root and cotton root bark tinctures every half hour. Grian Herbs Apothecary in Montpelier stayed open late as my in-laws drove in a sudden squall to procure the goods.
I am someone who has profound trust in herbs and ample experience with their sometimes startling effectiveness. But what transpired was shocking even to me.
These herbs quickly rolled me under such urgent painful contractions that our midwife, her team, and my mom were all on their way in no time at all. The unexpected snow and ice was a last hoorah from winter but by 4am all had arrived.
In the dim light of my candlelit bathroom I started calling the herbs evil herbs. The unrelenting back labor was a gift from the green world. Without the start of labor, I would have ended up in the hospital. But when you feel like you are out to sea, clutching a sliver of wood, in the heart of a storm that gives you nary a moment to breathe, it is hard to be grateful.
As dawn broke, everyone thought baby would be here soon. I moved to the living room. The snow drifted in romantic swirls outside the windows and a party like air filled the room. My contractions slowed down. In the lull between contractions, I spun tails, entranced, peaceful and joyous. During contractions, I was bug-eyed with horror.
The morning wore on and soon became afternoon. My midwife could not convince me to take those evil herbs again. I was ignorant of the whispers and glances, the concern creeping into everyone's consciousness save mine.
I hobbled out to the mudroom to be kissed by the cold winter air while chickens burst in to circle my naked feet. I came back inside and held onto my tiny mama as I resisted the urge to push through yet another contraction. Emotionally I was ready to quit. But I was held by my mama, my husband who would not even take a sip of water so he could stay by my side, and this circle of four birth attendants. My mama convinced me to take the herbs again. I opened my mouth to take more and more tinctures and opened myself to their terrible power. To stimulate my body to roil and contract. My labor picked up speed and intensity, but baby did not arrive.
My midwife came over to tell me it was time to transfer to the hospital when she saw the baby's hair. It took hours still, but in the end, this baby flew out and wailed, clutching freakishly large hands into fists.
My labor was the kind that usually leads to a c-section and would have for me had it not been for those herbs and the wisdom and attention of midwives.
Two days later, it was suddenly summer. Every window opened. The wind hummed across the lips of half empty bottles. The rotting french doors were thrown open, and I sat in a well padded rocking chair, sitting in the sun with my baby, stroking the strange sweet hair coating his shoulders and back. Noticing how his pinky toe was so long it curled like a little monkey's.
I felt like I was in paradise.
A few minutes later, I found out that on the day my son was born, a dear friend and herbalist came home to die.
I got to introduce her to my newborn, to bask in her joy and love at meeting this new life. And too soon, I brought him to a heart breaking good-bye. She was an herbalist after-all, so chamomile and calendula flowers coated the path to her casket. Leaves encircled her brow. Gifts from nature, gathered by small children, were laid upon her dress.
Herbalism isn't only medicine. It's a love and a connection to plants that infuses into your daily life. Sneaking into your meals. Peppering the air you breathe with scent. And holding you during these great gateways of life and death.
Originally published in the July 2017 edition of the North Star Monthly.