by Karen Diessel, BirthWorks Childbirth Educator, mother, grandmother
It is with great joy and gratitude that I share the birth story of my eighth grandchild, Elias, born July 4, 2023. The story of how he came into this world stretches back forty years. Elias is a second generation BirthWorks baby, born almost forty years to the day since I birthed his mom (Katie), at home, after a previous cesarean section.
I had become pregnant with Katie while living with my husband in his home country of Germany. Prior to moving to Germany, I had sought out childbirth preparation for the births of our first two children, who were born vaginally in the hospital. Natural childbirth, with partners attending, was still not widely accepted during the 70s in most hospitals, and was considered a “privilege” that could be granted with proper training and good behavior.
For our third child, I was hoping for a more natural experience and was preparing for a home birth. However, due to premature rupture of membranes at 34 weeks, and a failed induction, the birth became a cesarean section. I was left with lingering feelings of disappointment over the cesarean, but also for the first two births, each of which had seemed more like a medical event in many ways.
When I learned I was pregnant again with our fourth child, I was still longing for a more fulfilling birth experience, but the standard medical practice in those days was, “once a cesarean, always a cesarean.” Then, I read about a group of mothers in the U.S. who were engaged in creating more awareness around cesarean section, how it could often be avoided, and how a vaginal birth after cesarean section was not only possible in many cases, but also safe. This initiative was initially known as the Cesarean Prevention Movement, and later, the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN), and from there – what is now BirthWorks International would come into being. When I learned that a major conference was being planned for June 1983 in Syracuse NY, I knew that I had to go in order to get information I so desperately wanted to help me have what is now commonly known as a VBAC.
I was seven months pregnant, and I flew over from Germany, alone, while my husband kept our other three children. I remember the first person I met in the breakfast line at the Conference was Cathy Daub, who would soon go on to found BirthWorks, and the rest is history, as they say. One of the things that stood out for me the most about this gathering, was the sense of warmth and kinship among the participants, as well as a feeling of safety and acceptance no matter where we were in our journey. The diligence and thoroughness with which the speakers had researched and presented the most up-to-date and safest childbirth practices was impressive. Most of all, the manner in which this information was shared, inspired confidence and opened my heart. I felt so uplifted when I left the conference, I believe I almost could have flown back to Germany without the plane. Two months later, still filled with confidence, I was able to have a VBAC at home, with a German midwife in attendance.
Upon returning to the United States, I signed up for the BirthWorks Childbirth Educator pilot training program when it was first offered, and after several interruptions, eventually became certified. I did teach several classes, but due to family circumstances, frequent moves, and limiting health conditions, was unable to continue as I had hoped. There is some sadness around this for me, but I have always treasured the training I received from BirthWorks, and have been able to pass this on at the births of most of my eight grandchildren, Elias being the last.
I think what most distinguishes Birth Works from other childbirth preparation classes is that it is experiential in its approach. Its guiding principle, that the knowledge to give birth is already inside us, is something to be grasped intuitively, not taught through charts or lectures. Its underlying values and principles are a preparation for life as well as for birth. They serve as guideposts to help bring our body, mind and soul into greater harmony. In this way, Mother Nature is most free to do what she has always done, and allow our baby to be born. I know of no other childbirth preparation class that so comprehensively addresses the needs of birthing parents with such depth and intimacy. The same warmth and acceptance that I experienced at that first gathering of childbirth pioneers, still infuses every aspect of the BirthWorks journey. I would always recommend BirthWorks for any parent wishing to bring more consciousness to their birth and to life. For this reason, I was so happy that, thanks to Cathy’s generosity, my daughter and son-in-law were able to take BirthWorks BirthPrep class (by Zoom, due to Covid precautions).
I am happy to report that my daughter did go on to have her baby at home with the help of two midwives and their apprentice, her husband, and me, Grandma. To be honest, throughout her pregnancy, neither Katie nor I were entirely sure I would be present for the birth. My daughter is a very private person, and was reluctant to have anyone but the midwives and her husband in the room while she gave birth. At the time, I felt deeply disappointed, but as a professional, I understood and communicated to Katie that she should never have someone at her birth who made her feel uncomfortable—even her mother. The childbirth educator part of me absolutely wanted to support the choices that were right for her, but as a mom, it hurt. However, with effort, I was able to set my personal feelings aside, and let go of what my vision had been, and in that letting go, found the courage to offer her my unconditional support, whichever form it took. Somehow this led to a shift in the energy of our relationship, and allowed Katie to reach out to me as her labor progressed. It turned out to be a healing experience for both of us.
The birth was strenuous, and longer than it most likely would have been (17 hours), due to the fact that the little guy had his arm tucked up alongside his face. He was also nearly nine pounds. Nevertheless, mom and baby did fine, and I believe it was quite an accomplishment to have that baby at home at the age of 39. I have no doubt that the knowledge and confidence my daughter gained from her exposure to BirthWorks principles over the years, played a large part in the happy outcome!
One thing struck me quite forcefully as I was chatting with the midwives after Elias’s birth – what a long way we have come since I took that first LaMaze class and became involved in the natural childbirth movement four decades ago! How many more options we mothers now have for child birth! I thought about all the years of hard work it took on the part of so many courageous leaders to get to where we were standing at that moment — a successful home birth, attended by three midwives, spanning two generations. As I reflected on the significance of that moment, I was filled with a mixture of awe and gratitude.
As a grandmother and an elder, it’s hard to believe all that has transpired since those early days. Looking back, I am grateful for the inspiration and encouragement I received on this path through my relationship with BirthWorks, and proud to have played a small part in the larger effort to bring about changes in childbirth. It has been a long, laborious journey, and though I feel like we have come full circle in one way, I also know the circle never ends, even as it continues to expand outward in love.
An additional note from new mother Katie…
For me, getting ready to give birth to my first baby in 2023, there was no question as to whether I would be able to make the kinds of choices for my birth that I knew I wanted. Listening to my mom’s stories and reading more about the history of birth in our culture only 40 years earlier, I know I owe my experience to the countless women who came before me and who fought to re-naturalize birth and educate and empower other women - whether at the organizational level or the personal level, the bravery of their own births and supporting the next generations - thank you, Mom, and thank you, BirthWorks!