This is for Zelda…

by Birth Without Fear on January 22, 2011

I recently read Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent, CNM. It is an inspiring book that took me on a 40 year journey of obstetrics, nursing and midwifery. It is an emotional ride with slow buildups, screaming with excitement drops, unexpected turns and even solemn moments. The first chapter grabbed me by my heart and reached into my soul before I even knew what was happening. I was hooked.

It all began with Zelda…

In the 60’s birth was a medical event to the extreme. Drugs that made women hallucinate and do things they couldn’t remember or pass out and not know where they were. Fathers not present at all to defend or support their wives, or witness the birth of their child. Arms and legs strapped down, babies being pulled out and whisked away because they were ‘cold’ or ‘mom would drop them’, all were the norm of hospital birth.

This is what Peggy was learning as a nursing student…until Zelda. This skinny African American woman with her big tight belly was different. She had no drugs and literally walked along her bed shouting and praying to Jesus and God. Peggy didn’t know what to do with her and ended up looking like the silly one when lifting the guard rail on the bed up and down afraid Zelda would fall off. See, Zelda was doing what she innately felt was right. She walked, moaned, yelled, prayed and trusted birth. She birthed her previous two babies at her Granny’s house. All Peggy knew was this woman was crazy and that as a nursing student she was going to get into trouble if she did not get this wall-banging woman to lay down and cooperate.

They finally came to an agreement.  Zelda labored how she wanted and when the head nurse was coming, Peggy gave her notice so she could lay in bed and be a ‘good patient’. It was working for them and Peggy was blessed to witness a woman in the bliss of labor. A woman who surrendered to the pain and process of her body as it worked with her baby to enter this world.

Unfortunately, as she was close to meeting her sweet baby, she was heard. Within minutes she was attacked by vultures going for the kill. She was put on a gurney and they strapped her hands and feet down as they tried to gas her. She fought with all her might and Peggy stood there helpless. The doctor said horrible things, calling her names and saying women like her shouldn’t be able to ‘breed’. He finally pulled her baby out of her and they took him away. The birth was over and they still decided to gas her and knock her out. The abuse that Zelda endured after hours of precious laboring was horrendous. Peggy tried to speak up for her, but she had no authority. It was done. Zelda didn’t even know she birthed a baby boy.

I cried. Then, I pulled myself together quickly to move on to chapter two. I didn’t get a paragraph into it before I had to put the book down. I sobbed. I had to let it all out. I let the tears flow and flow until there were no more. Here I am nine months pregnant, in the bath, sobbing as if it were me that had just been through birth rape. After I let my emotions and mind process what I just read, I thought about my upcoming birth.

No woman should ever feel the betrayal and pain Zelda did. Every time a woman does, it feels like a part of me knows it. I feel it in my bones. My heart is burdened by her pain. As I wiped the tears from my face, I felt this sense of responsibility to birth this baby with a new found determination. Not just for me. I am going to labor my way, but to the rhythm of all women who have birthed before me, are birthing with me and who will birth after me.

African American baby overlooking mother's shoulder, birth

I am birthing for me, my baby and his/her generation, for all women, for Zelda. It is my small way to offer healing, encouragement and power.

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