Unedited version. Please don’t copy in any form.
© Andrea Noll (Nandu)
All rights reserved.

Homecoming
May 12 - July 10, 2005

When I talk to my friends about my reluctant attitude to flying, they often reply with the old joke: „don’t worry, no plane has ever stayed up there”. During my apprentice year, whenever I thought about settling back home, besides the painful-sweet longing I felt, I also imagined that it probably wouldn’t happen from one moment to the next and I might be confronted with a few difficulties at the beginning. However, the one thing I did not expect at all was that my inner, spiritual airplane was actually going to „stay up there”, in a floating, temporary state, unable to fully arrive for almost two months after my physical landing, defying my friends’ joke.

Thinking back, it was already an omen to this when Marina started out with us and our numerous suitcases towards Key West Airport on the 12th of May, the planned day of our departure. We left three hours before the plane was to take off, but in the last moments (we timed it afterwards: we were merely seven minutes from the airport) a fatal accident happened on the only highway that binds the Florida Keys into a string. Traffic stopped immediately in both directions and, in the absence of byways, it stayed like that for three and a half hours. Thus we watched helplessly as the plane that was supposed to take us homeward flew off above our heads. I have to admit that it was heart-wrenching, but as I had been trained by the struggles of the journey between El Paso and Florida, it was not too hard to adjust to this new turn of fate. If anything, I was annoyed that I was going to end up flying on Friday the 13th, the only day I definitely did not want to spend in the air out of superstition. We rebooked the tickets and Marina offered us the hospitality of her house for the last night.

The flight that took 16 hours altogether and crossed 8 hours’ worth of time zones between Key West, Atlanta, Paris and Budapest seemed somehow more manageable this time than on our way to the States. We could even sleep a little bit, in spite of the intense aerial roller-coaster over the Atlantic that the slightly simpering, pouting French stewardess consistently called „un petit turbulance”.

When we reached Hungary’s air-space, I suddenly felt in another state of consciousness: my senses heightened and time slowed down as if it passed in slow motion. I absorbed the sweet home landscape with the strange feeling of security, mixed with my flight anxiety: were we to crash now, I could die on Hungarian soil. I drank in the green of the trees, marveling inside at the truth that this exact shade of green is nowhere to be found on the face of Earth, from Ciudad Juarez to Portland, from Las Vegas to Miami.

Above the Szentendre Island, our home, my tears were already streaming down my face, unstoppably. Some of the passengers next to me started throwing strange looks at me, wondering what was wrong with me. As an explanation, I could hardly get out: „It’s alright. I just haven’t been home for a long time”. „How long?” – asked one of them, an elderly man. „A year and a half” – I replied awkwardly, whereupon at least four or five other men nearby, all of them exiled after the 1956 revolution, shook their heads: „My, my, dear, when we couldn’t come home for twenty years...!” In spite of the fact that I could absolutely understand them, that moment it annoyed me that they didn’t understand me. For me, even the fifteen months were too much, painfully so, and I didn’t want to let anyone take that feeling away from me.

At the airport, I was thankful for all the luggage and checks for a change: with that I had some time to get myself together, so I don’t step out of the transit lounge with a completely bared soul to the place where, I knew, my loved ones, my friends, my old-new life was waiting.

Finally, I stood in front of them in a daze, with the blinking of those who step into sudden light after a long time spent in the dark. Zoltan, whose wise, protecting presence and constantly changing, but never fading love had been the stable rock of my life for ten years by now, stood there facing me, calm, erect, the steadiness of natural forces in his gentle smile. His physical closeness seemed unbelievable but my body recognized his hug instantly, like matching pieces of a puzzle finding their place. It seemed only a split second what we could spend with our reunion because the children ran to him immediately with loud shouts of „Daddy, Daddy!”. Also, I knew Zoltan was not a social man and our real meeting, different from the one artificially shaped to be presentable in public, was not to happen until later, along with a redefinition of our relationship. It was alright: the years taught me that one could love by patience and letting go as well. Thus I put the kids in his charge and turned to greet the others.

My breath stopped. What had been out of my sight suddenly struck me: a lot more people were waiting for me than I had imagined! A group of about fifteen surrounded me with balloons and all kinds of flags: national tricolors, star-encircled European Union flags, ones with nandu birds on them and yet others with funny texts like „there are some who are prophets in their own country”. They were led by Gyuri, who had been my only friend during those long months, with whom I had talked day by day, who had held the string of my life-belt when I was drowning and without whom El Paso would not have happened, just as without Zoltan. We agreed a long time ago that we would need at least five minutes’ worth of friendly back-slapping to make up for the whole time, but this was out of the question now as the welcoming committee started to sing slightly rephrased, funny-fiery Hungarian folk songs; by then there were video and photo cameras pointed at me as well. At the end of the third song, I almost grew fussy: „Okay, okay, but let me give you at least a kiss!” No. Gyuri had prepared a whole speech on top of everything, but it was filled with so much kindness that it not only made my fussiness disappear, but I will quote it word by word here:

„Dearest Nandu!

We are here to greet you with heartfelt love on the occasion of your arrival to Hungary, your return to us.

We gladly supported you during your journey to El Paso, to the midwifery school and birth center Maternidad La Luz, where you learned the art of holistic midwifery. We celebrate your return with even more joy now.

We thank you for returning with your bag filled with the knowledge and experience that you gathered on our behalf as well, with the intent of sharing.

Thank you for carrying on tirelessly, for being able to go all the way through and for not giving up even in the hardest moments.

And finally, thank you for representing our country and the beginnings of our midwifery with honor, overseas where many haven’t even heard of our people.

Please share with us your knowledge and your experience. Teach us doulas and aspiring midwives, stand by us so that from now on we can learn from each other and from the pregnant and birthing women. Become again part of our Circle, so that with you we can also become parts of a complete circle, helping raise consciousness and the arrival of babies, the beings of love.

Dear Nandu, you were sorely missed. Welcome back among us.”

Hearing this, how could I have not felt that it had been worth carrying through? My heart melted looking at the small group: so this is what it feels like to belong, to come home to people who wait for me with so much love!

With this, the part of our homecoming that I could at least partly foresee was about to end. At the same time, many things appeared in my life that were completely unexpected. The fact that after fifteen months of English I couldn’t even say „have a nice day” in Hungarian at the grocery shop without thinking. I almost had to translate my own dreams. How difficult it would be that we came home to find no home as the place where we used to live before our journey and where we were going to live now was still empty, waiting for the movers to bring our belongings. That we wouldn’t have a car and as long as we couldn’t get the purchase done, we wouldn’t be able to move anywhere at all. That the phone company would take four weeks instead of the promised two to bring the phone line into our house and another two weeks to hook us up with the Internet (in America the same thing took one day). That our belongings would emerge from the storage room where they had been kept all moldy and partially missing or damaged and I would spend two weeks establishing even the most vital conditions of the most basic existence. That because of all this, I would fail even the prolonged deadline for handing in missing homework to El Paso. That the very next day after our landing I would already be showered with tasks, lectures, media interviews and undertakings and in the meantime, the only thing I wouldn’t have time for would be to actually arrive home. That the long-awaited Midwifery Today conference I would attend merely four days after settling back home and that was supposed to be my return to the international midwifery community would put such a strain on me, in spite of my enthusiasm, that it would prove too much for even my long-enduring system and I would develop a fever for three days resulting from the sheer effort. And even though we would work shoulder to virtual shoulder with my colleagues on The Week of Birth series of events to be held the following week, the promised five-minute back-slapping was not to happen for weeks to come, neither with Gyuri nor with any of my friends.

To tell the truth, I met these challenges with a skill that even I was surprised by: I held my talks about El Paso confidently, without any fear, as I had the birth center’s sixteen-year experience supporting my statements. It had a very different effect on the audience than two years ago, when I had talked about the very same aspects of midwifery from a merely subjective point of view.

Even at the annual conference of obstetric nurses, where I miraculously got a chance to speak on behalf of the Association of Hungarian Midwives, and where we expected the most opposition to the out-of-hospital model of care I was endorsing, my report was met with undivided attention and approval.  All the more so because I was the only speaker who didn’t read up her thesis but spoke unrestrained human words, projecting self-explanatory, beautiful photos in the background. I could hardly believe it but not even the strict medical professors could corner me with their cross-questioning.

These successes filled me with the blood-surging excitement, elation and mischievous pride of creation, yet in between the hours of work, some strange mechanicalism overtook me, coupled with the same ambiguity I had felt at the airport; at that time, I couldn’t reach a new level of existence when I set foot on home ground.

I think the hardest thing in all of this was that during the past fifteen months, I had kept on collecting inside myself all my need for rest and for personal love, and now, when I thought „finally!”, a strict voice from somewhere kept saying „no, you can’t yet, still not.”

I wanted to cry, weep, sob out all the trauma of the long strain, all the catharsis of the wound-up intensity of experience, the maddening pleasure of unprocessable beauty brought by arriving and growing lives, among them my own. To pour everything out on the table, like pieces of leftover turf-cake from a journey.

I couldn’t. I ran into the walls of duty, got swept away by the twists of struggle for survival, got caught even on my own inner poise that was way too used to staying alert, sane and strong, holding my ground and staying on top of things all the time, both as a single mother and as a midwife. The very thing that made me capable of surviving the unsurvivable, growing strong to the point of some kind of spiritual indestructibility, was the one that stripped me of the capability of weakness, vulnerability or overflowing. When I needed it the most, I couldn’t use the healing power hidden within frailty, the opportunity of returning after a loss of balance. These were tough times, in a different way than in El Paso, but part of the same process.

Then, slowly, something started to unfold. At the end of June, I got an invitation to a weekend meeting of the doulas’ circle. There were participants with whom I had attended the first Hungarian doula training in 2000, then founded the association, but also some others, who were trained during the time I was overseas. With a few of them I had had a working relationship online for months, but we had never met in person before. Consequently, this was to be very promising old-new company in every respect. During the weekend, I talked much with almost every member of the group of about thirty, both collectively and in private. After so much deprivation, it felt indescribably good to be together with people of my home and my calling, with whom we understood both tongue and thought. It was touching to see the undivided attention they gave me when I was talking about El Paso or some other midwifery issue, and the unconditional acceptance they surrounded me with. Paradoxically, although I was the only certified midwife in the company, it was a real midwives’ circle, proving that such a thing doesn’t begin with the certificate. So many for one cause... what hopeful moments they were.

At last, we were all sitting around a big bonfire, talking and singing in Hungarian, on Hungarian soil, sipping some delicious home-grown vine, laughing (what laughing?! rolling on the floor cracking up!) at Hungarian puns created by all those hyperintelligent minds. And that was the first time I felt that I might actually touch down one day.

This closeness to my friends washed away some of my boundaries, peeled off my outer crust. In the morning of the second day, my lower back started to scream with pain so badly that it made me stop in my tracks over and over again, almost as if I were in labor. I knew there was no physical reason for this feeling, it was just my body trying to help me get over with an emotional state not unlike dry retching, caused by my inability to well up and tip over. Thus I welcomed the pain and tears came so close that all I would have needed was a shoulder to lean against. But there were many of us present, way too many, so I „handled the situation” once again with an all too usual self-discipline.

In the most dramatic moments of my life, whenever the road ahead seemed all blurry and I felt hopelessly lost, many times I watched the videos taken at my children’s births. To me, these are the ultimate points of reference, like the fireplace for an untrained dancer, from which he can always start over. To relive the transforming experience of becoming a mother has often helped me overcome particularly difficult milestones of my life.

Now, while struggling with the haphazardness of my settling down at home, it had never occurred to me to resort to this time-tested remedy. Maybe because I didn’t recognize for a long time that this was indeed one of those difficult situations.

In El Paso, many of the student midwives experienced their year of apprenticeship as a transformation process, with all the pain, searching and enlightenment of a true rite of passage. So much so that „post-MLL-depression” has become a known phenomenon at the school throughout the years. It stemmed from the fact that the lifestyle that would completely fill the apprentices’ lives could make it difficult for them to find their out-of-school identity afterwards. I, however, had felt  from the start that I was past that particular boundary. In a way, I had gone there a midwife at heart, with the necessary spiritual maturing already behind myself. I had learned and grew a lot in El Paso, but metamorphosis was no longer among my homework assignments. Thus I couldn’t fathom why on Earth my subconscious was making such a big deal out of a „plain” moving and taking service.

Although there was no „fireplace” of a videotape, the desired understanding came once again in the form of a birth, by the grace of providence. In the middle of June, I finally met Eva whose pregnancy I could only follow from a distance before. The desire of personal contact must have built up very strongly in both of us since our first exchange of e-mails, which was reflected by the fact that our first prenatal visit turned into an eight-hour Sunday afternoon family meeting. It was incomparably different to relate to her and her husband Ivan with their two-year-old daughter’s birth in our shared past than it would have been with someone I see for the first time in my life at the initial visit. We talked as old acquaintances. The birth we experienced together was a solid presence between us, like an unbreakable bond, a knowing wink of complicity, an offensive and defensive alliance, blood contract. They gave me their full trust. This was an astonishing gift to me as they knew this was to be the very first birth I was to attend as an independent midwife. So I engaged in the interplay between the family and myself with great thoroughness and even greater joy, in order to secure the best possible background to Eva’s birth by carefully wielding all the tools of holism I possessed.

It was not just a baby we were pregnant with, though. Around this time, the outlines of a small group started to form: the first few people to whom I was to pass on the torch of knowledge from El Paso, so that together we could introduce holistic midwifery education in our country. For months before I had been investigating, both within myself and through my personal connections, who these people could be. After all, it could make a huge difference: who will stand with me at the crucial moments of births, and whether they will be worthy of carrying on this responsibility when I’m no longer around. At the same time, I realized the gut-wrenching importance of my own central role. A newly trained midwife like myself assumes the role of a preceptor (or teacher) only under the rarest circumstances, which meant to me that I was to grow up to the task at the untimely speed of an orphaned child.

In El Paso, whenever a midwife saved a critical situation at a difficult birth and we would thankfully turn to her, saying „I don’t know what I would have done without you!”, they often responded with these words: „Don’t worry. When no one will stand behind you, you will be able to  do it alone because you won’t have any other choice.” They would say this with such conviction (and obviously, they spoke from their own experience) that it was burnt into my mind like a mantra. It was this thought that gave me hope once again - that I might be able to stand my ground. The challenge may be one size bigger than those usually dealt by fate to people of as limited experience as mine, but as there is no one else to do it, I will be able to because there’s no other way.

And this is exactly what happened. From the first moment on I felt the additional grace, the path-smoothing bliss, the inspiration and strength proving that the Universe firmly stood by this mission. Soon enough, it also revealed the identity of my long-desired companions, and it did so by a sequence of seemingly coincidental events, amazing almost to the point of creepiness.

Gyuri and I had been working, thinking and creating together for so long, in a firm alliance through vast spaces at times of physical separation, that he had become part of the apprentice group with the ease of an intake of breath. Gradually he was followed by others who found their way to me one by one: first came Zsuzsi, whom I had known and loved as a talented fellow AquaNatal instructor for quite a while, then Zsuzska[1] and Virag.

I met Zsuzska immediately after my arrival, at a two-day midwifery workshop. I was complaining to Gyuri that I needed an assistant, a woman as Eva wished, with whom I could attend the upcoming birth, and I had no clue whom I could ask. Thereupon Gyuri pointed at Zsuzska, saying he thought she was one of the most promising new doulas, why didn’t I ask her. I only had a flash of time to weigh the matter, backed by my trust in Gyuri’s judgment. Why not, indeed? „Would you like to come with me?” „Yes, gladly. And thank you.” Well, things that last for a lifetime can begin like that.

Virag, who was the fourth to join us, is a volcanic phenomenon. She can as easily be strong-willed or naturally beautiful as angry, meditative or passionate. I’m not sure if I will ever know her but one thing is certain: she’s a real midwife in spite of her professional inexperience, and I spotted this right away. Later I wrote about this to her as follows: „You were the only unmapped landscape for me [...]. Then I was sitting with you at that table in Telki when you said you had been looking at your hands at home for a long time... you remember. Then I somehow fell into that strangely focused, aura-seeing mode that I sometimes get into when intuition breaks in on me and the only feelings that came to me were „Midwife energy. Midwife heart. Talent. Potential. Lots.” The way intuition works is such that I don’t know how I know - I just know. Well, now you are a member of our Circle as a direct result of that and by now my experience supports that I made a good decision.”

Being through the personal call with each of these people, it was the four of them I was preparing to sit with in the first formal Circle, marking the beginning of their apprenticeship. This time, I was to attend and facilitate the event in the role of a full-fledged midwife and a preceptor to these people.  We embedded our Circle ceremony in a two-day orientation workshop.

Zsuzsi, who lived the farthest from us among the apprentices-to-be, arrived already on Friday, towards evening. I was more than happy to see her, especially since I had been literally on my feet since 7 a.m. that morning, blending and stirring at the oven all the ingredients of the next two days’ bodily nourishment. So it was delightful to have a nice chat after all the lonely work and also to have another pair of hands to help. Right away, we set ourselves to the task of exchanging the last two years of our personal history over the lettuce and potatoes with a most womanly thoroughness. Meanwhile, I told Zsuzsi that Eva’s baby was officially due today and asked her to remind me the next morning to find out a „B” plan in case the baby decides to get curious for the light of day in the middle of our training.

We finished cooking towards midnight, playing an odd three-dimensional puzzle with the ready-made food while trying to fit it all into my late grandmother’s 35-year-old fridge that was as tiny inside as it was loud outside. Meanwhile we were throwing fits of laughter contemplating the fact that there was no way one could stick in a single celery stalk anymore, neither standing, nor lying flat, set on edge and so on. After a job well done, we were about to go to sleep when the phone rang. Since I knew perfectly well that a phone call at this late hour could not mean anything but the call to the birth in question, I picked up the phone with an almost evil grin, silently paying a mental tribute to fate’s sense of humor.

Eva’s contractions were coming only every ten minutes and her voice sounded talkative, so I knew it was too early to set out to their house yet. I decided to go anyway because Eva lived at the opposite bank of the Danube, and being nighttime, there was no ferry. So I was in for a long way through the bridge in the city of Budapest. A second baby may come fast, so I didn’t dare to risk a close call. I called Zsuzska with the news. While I was preparing to leave, a unique atmosphere settled over me, like touched smiles in the silence of Christmas candlelight. I was getting dressed unhurriedly in the soft light of the night lamps, turning back from the door for my midwifery bag that I had brought in from the car for the next day’s apprentice workshop. We had a last good laugh with Zsuzsi, pointing out what an unpractical idea it would have been to forget nothing but the equipment, and finally, I stepped out into the tepid July night.

By now, all the long day’s exhaustion had left me, its place taken by a crystallized, focused excitement. Many think that a midwife never feels fear on her way to a birth, or at least she shouldn’t, but this is not true. Everyone has some fear within, the trick lies only in the way we recognize, integrate and use it. I, too, was afraid, more than a little, especially because it was to be a first time. This was when I really started to appreciate my holistic midwifery training, where I, lo and behold, had even been taught how to be afraid. I found myself greeting the feeling as an old companion, negotiating that it would give speed to my reflexes, objectivity to my senses and precision to my movements. We came to an agreement in this, my fear and I, and I was set free by this newly made alliance, gaining space for a kind of mischievous euphoria. The car raced as if on air-cushions (and I didn’t even drive fast), gliding effortlessly over cobblestones and pot-holes, while my favorite songs were sparkling out of the stereo like firecrackers. To my heightened senses they came crystal clear and completely noise free, vibrating up the length of my spine.

Maybe the darkness of the night enhanced this strong feeling of boundlessness, making me unable to see any horizon or limitation around me. Whatever it was, it made me call El Paso on a sudden impulse, so that I could share the experience with the midwives and apprentices on shift. It turned out the best possible idea, because it was Pissis who picked up the phone and got excited about me with her honest-to-goodness Argentinean zest (and so did I, in turn). I almost saw her standing there, making wide gestures with the phone in her hand and an ear-to-ear smile on her face. She promised to forward my „first baby” news to the others and they would send me some MLL midwife energy. Hearing this gave me a sense of security, like that of a teenage high school student heading to the final exams, calling home one last time. It felt unspeakably good.

Soon I arrived at Eva’s. In spite the fact that I notoriously get lost whenever I get a chance, I found the way at the first try even in the dark. As I burrowed myself into the narrow back-streets of the sleeping village, my mood changed as well. There was silence here, mist, secrets. A feather-footed Ivan led me into the house. Unlacing my shoes at the door, I was thankful for the motion that’s so mechanical at other times, as it reminded me of Old Testament rituals: Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."(Exodus 3:5).

Zsuzska came. Eva smiled at us, offered us this and that as a good housewife should, and stopped only once in a while for a minute of concentrated, deep breathing during contractions. I saw her radiantly beautiful as she was carrying the harvest-ripe fruit of her pregnancy around the house with the gentle calmness of those already initiated into the order of life. Her chestnut hair in a braid down to her waist, like that of a pretty farmwife from a long forgotten age. While I was savoring the pleasure of being a guest in this cozy little home, the part of my mind that I had to keep sober and objective for the professional part of my midwifery was also rubbing its hands in satisfaction: „Yes, this is it, this is what we want! If we have already jumped back a century at the very beginning, by the end the primal mother will surely emerge and there won’t be any trouble at all.”

Since I felt that our presence was too early yet, causing more harm than good, I locked arms with Zsuzska and steered her out of the house for a little riverside walk. I meant it as a short outing only, and we had a nice chat. I didn’t expect to feel what awaited me at the end of the street, when I caught the first glimpse of the majestic river’s dark mass of water rolling along, sparkling in the moonlight. It seemed as if I was on a pilgrimage, thinking what a pity it was that not every midwife before every birth could visit such an immense natural force radiating so much calm steadiness. You can’t imagine any better preparation, if you are once again about to place your hands on Life’s pulsating artery. We only spent five minutes at the riverbank, but it was more than enough for me to calibrate my own role in relation to nature and the upcoming event.

Zsuzska and I welcomed the early morning walk, as well as the long talk we topped it off with in the car when it started to rain. We had never had so much time for each other. I think that was where we really got acquainted. We scrambled back into the house only when the sky was already turning light blue at the horizon.

Eva’s contractions were still only eight to ten minutes apart, which allowed us a short nap on the couch. Zsuzska slumbered a bit, but I couldn’t fall asleep: the excitement of responsibility was too much. However, I was glad that the survival exercise of El Paso’s 24-hour shifts gave me one clear advantage: the ability to stay awake for a long time. I was tired of course, but I had a clear mind and was fully capable of action.

Around 7, Eva’s daughter Bianka woke up. Ivan took her to the grandparents and Eva asked us to stay with her. Her contractions were getting stronger and she asked for help. We offered her a warm belly compress with clary sage. She grew to like it so much that from that point on Zsuzska was constantly changing the fragrant-wet towels on her in a patient, cyclical rhythm. She folded her other hand, still hot from the water, onto Eva’s lower back, which was acknowledged with a thankful sigh. It was good to see their harmonic, dance-like interaction and the way Zsuzska was growing into her own born midwifery with a quiet naturalness, almost within minutes.

Much time passed like that. Around noon Eva was getting tired, tolerating the contractions harder and harder, while they still didn’t come more often than every five-six minutes. She could hardly rest at all between contractions, but fortunately (and in response to our firm encouragement) she was at least eating and drinking well, so she could keep her strength. I felt that the free flow of energy that I experienced at the beginning of labor had somehow stopped. Eva was not progressing. Her face twisted into a painful grimace during contractions and sometimes she explicitly expressed that she was struggling against the contractions: „no, no, no...”. I tried a cautious internal examination to find out where exactly we had got stuck (until then I had not considered this necessary at all), but in the half-squatting position she was in, I couldn’t feel enough to make more than a rough estimate about the opening of her cervix. Soon I decided not to push the matter any further because I judged that a more thorough exam would cause Eva more discomfort and pain than the information it could give me would be worth. Moreover, the worst experience in Eva’s previous hospital birth was exactly this kind of examination, the last thing I wanted to remind her of. Thus we relied on external signs once again. I tried to make up a plan of how we could get Eva out of the deadlock and how we could achieve some good, strong, regular and frequent contractions. I saw she was getting tense with pain, pulling up her shoulders. I wanted to help her relax, let herself go with the contraction and work with them instead of against them. Finally I suggested a warm shower and a therapeutic enema, the former for relaxation, the latter to support her contractions.

Under the shower Eva started to ask worried questions, why her labor wasn’t progressing, what had happened. First Ivan, then Zsuzska did the same outside in the kitchen. I told them honestly what I thought and what could be done. Zsuzska drew me aside at some point and asked me how long it could go on like this. I told her: until Eva overcomes the plateau or gets so exhausted that she wants to go to the hospital, or one of them manifests physical signs of distress necessitating medical help. Hearing my answer, Zsuzska’s face mirrored both relief and determination: our job was defined now and we both knew we were ready to follow Eva all the way to the end of the road, no matter where it would take.

The warm shower gave Eva a few eight- or ten-minute breaks between contractions, when she could rest. Meanwhile, I gave her some pictures to visualize: a blooming rose, an opening gate through which her baby could arrive. Once again I was fascinated seeing how much a woman in labor is helped by conscious relaxation of her shoulders. Eva commented later that she had felt some „miracle” happen there. From that point on, she was breathing calmly again, her sounds weren’t faltering anymore but flowed instinctively, her movements and her bearing became balanced. The pleasant wave of energy I felt reverberating in my own body whenever I stepped into Eva’s aura spoke volumes about the change, more than any dilation exam could have.

Not even an hour passed when Eva announced that she felt the urge to push. Because she was sitting on the toilet ever since the shower and the enema, it seemed unlikely that the sensation could have a digestive source. My memories of Eva’s first birth when she dilated from one centimeter to ten within the last hour also supported the likelihood that the baby’s head had started to move down. At this point, Eva wanted to go back to the room, where she went down on all fours next to the bed.

I’ve been often asked how we know without vaginal exams when it is time for the mother to push. The simplicity of the answer always makes me smile: „the urge is irresistible, we hear the sounds and eventually, we see the baby’s head”. The audience is usually taken aback but gets thoughtful, hearing how unsophisticated an occurrence this can be, while so over-mysticized by the medical profession.

Well, the unmistakable pushing voice that burst out of Eva’s throat during the next contraction was a textbook example of the above: it resolved all doubt about how matters stood. Exchanging a knowing glance with Zsuzska, we quietly prepared the necessary tools to receive the baby: a pillow, soft and warm towels, underpads. Slowly, I was enveloped by that peculiar wave of condensed energy that I tend to feel when a baby is born into my hands. Now that no preceptor midwife was standing behind my back, it came even more overwhelmingly than ever before. To myself I just call it „getting high without psychedelics”: time stands still and races forth at the same time, my senses are heightened, my whole being condenses into a knife-point of intensity, and in the meantime I’m almost swept away by the breathtaking greatness of the moment. I think this sensation indicates a seamless proximity to the essence of life, the beginning and the end, which we all long for throughout our lives and which keeps us midwives so unswervingly in love with our work.

Beautiful moments followed. Zsuzska and I watched with the excited joy of a gift-unwrapping child how the labia were slowly unfolding during the next two contractions, then a glistening blue-black pearl the size of my fist appeared: the tip of a full bag of waters. It was a dazzling sight. The enchanted expression on our faces must have been contagious for Ivan, because at this point he, too, was enraptured, even though he couldn’t see what we saw as Eva was holding on to him tight with both hands. We only had a few seconds to feast our eyes on the delightful sight, though, because the next moment the membranes ruptured, followed by a gush of amniotic fluid. The waters came out with a suddenness that I find impossible to get used to, as it always manages to startle me. Behind the flood, the top of a little head appeared.

Eva was easing her baby out calmly and slowly but also strongly, so she was stretching with an astonishing elasticity even as her baby was crowning. Soon a pair of closed little eyes appeared, then a little nose, a tiny mouth, and finally the baby’s chin as well.

But then a strange feeling penetrated me and instantly made me switch over into a mode of increased alertness: this emergence seemed unusually slow. Something was not quite right. Even though the baby’s heart tones had been perfectly normal two contractions ago, the head looked pale and grayish. I cautiously felt around and found the umbilical cord. This would not have caused me any worry by itself, but it was so tight around the baby’s little neck that I started to contemplate whether I was to take the extreme (and in itself dangerous) measurement of cutting it before the baby was born, so that the child could come out at all. Moreover, a shoulder was stuck, so the head hadn’t begun its natural corkscrew-like turn. Instead it was pulled backwards inside. The seconds ticked away mercilessly. The situation gave me every reason to panic, but I didn’t feel anything like that. Somehow there was no time for that - just a sharp, active focus that the altered state of consciousness I was in made me perfectly capable of. Within a split second I decided to resolve the shoulder dystocia first. I didn’t have any chance to doubt I was able to resolve it. Kaley’s voice rang out in my mind: „if the head is out, you can get the baby out”. She told and retold this sentence to us back at school, over and over, almost hypnotizing it into our very cells. It worked. „You can get the baby out. You can...” – I heard the echo inside. „Push, Eva” – I asked her. „Your baby wants to come out. He needs you.” Eva understood. I don’t know, whether she drew her strength from the earth she was kneeling on, or she got it from the female ancestors who had imprinted their lives into her genes, but I have never seen the kind of force she exerted to bring forth her child, not even in hard tools like a vice, let alone the flesh-and-blood loins of a woman. The small body was once again promisingly moving outwards. Meanwhile, I observed which way the little head wanted to turn, and gently helping with the motion, I tried to free the shoulder behind the pubic bone with a learned up-and-down motion. „You can get the baby out” – the certainty kept echoing in the distant halls of my consciousness. The shoulder slowly slipped from under the bone and Eva gave her baby into my hands with one last sigh.

My first concern was to unwrap the cord, and only then could I place the small body onto a pillow, so I could take a look. The baby was bluish-grey and pale, eyes closed. I wasn’t sure I really saw or only imagined that he flexed his limbs for a moment, then went limp again. I let my fingers run along the baby’s spine with a firm motion: I wanted to be sure whether he had fully arrived after the difficult birth, whether he was really with us. „Have I just heard a snuff? He’s too grey.” I sent Zsuzska for the oxygen: maybe I will need to resuscitate him. Zsuzska brought it immediately, without a word. I took the terry towel and rubbed down his back and feet, constantly calling him. Maybe just a second before I decided to take the stethoscope and the resuscitation bag, all his muscles tensed as if by the touch of a magic wand. He shoved himself backwards as if doing a pushup, so his head moved several inches away from the pillow. He lifted his soul-seeing gaze, which still held the deep blue of the Universe, onto his parents, then sounded two sharp battle cries. At once the air broke into his body, along with the rosy color of health. „Alright. Now it’s alright. Welcome, little one.”

This was the first time I could look up. Ivan was once again looking back at me with a moved, radiant smile, after half a minute spent in numbing worry. Zsuzska was still breathing in ragged gasps, but as I looked at her, she smiled, too. Eva spoke: „May I hold him?” „Of course!” – I exclaimed as I was reaching the baby on my arm to Eva between her legs, so she could take him into her arms. It’s a boy. „My son.” For Eva, the outside world disappeared. Making the inimitable sounds of the newly birthed, exactly midway between laughter and crying, she swept the baby into her arms with a skilled motion. Her baby. Mama tiger. I watched her, the strong, courageous mother, proud that I’m a woman, like her.

Within five minutes the strong little newcomer, Laszlo by name, was already in a nursing bliss, sucking himself inseparably onto Eva’s breast, while she was lying comfortably on her side. In another five minutes, Eva birthed the placenta effortlessly. She hardly bled any. We tied the umbilical cord much later, when not even the part closest to the baby was pulsating anymore. Tying the white cotton string that we had prepared especially for this purpose and drawing it to an honest tight knot felt much more of a humanly act than fastening impersonal plastic cord clamps. Ivan cut the cord with my MLL-engraved scissors. The first one, both for the scissors and for me. „How many will follow?” – I mused. A little later Eva cut the little string-bracelet, which all students had tied on the day of the hand-blessing ceremony, off my wrist. This had been my umbilical cord to the Alma Mater, and this day the proof that I was mature enough for independence.

Half an hour later I checked whether Eva had a perineal tear. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had found a deep tear because I had given up perineal support completely when I was trying to free the shoulder. But nope. During her pregnancy I would jokingly say to Eva that it was not allowed to tear with me as my suturing skills were as good as nonexistent yet. Well, Eva took the advice seriously and obeyed: not even a scratch could be found. Our role as birth attendants was reduced to that of the stage-setter as we started to clean up the house.

We stayed with the family for three more hours. Meanwhile, Zsuzska cleaned everything spotless, like some good fairy, and did so with a speed that hardly left me any opportunity to help. In the meantime I called the rest of the apprentice group who were gathering in our house, as well as El Paso, to break the news of the birth of little Laszlo. Nine is my lucky number. It’s the ninth of July. It’s a nine-pound (four kilo) little fellow. It felt almost as if he was my own baby. No wonder, as not only a boy child but also a family of four, an independent midwife and an apprentice midwife was born that day.

Before we left, Bianka arrived with the grandparents. As the little girl was exploring every single body part of the newborn with the curiosity of a two-year-old, constantly commenting her discoveries, she reminded me of my son Levente. He had behaved precisely the same way when his sister was born, almost with the exact same words: „shehaslittle eyes”, „shehasalittle mooouth” and so forth. I silently gave thanks for homebirth that makes this possible. What unique moments these are!

As the family became complete, we could leave them with our conscience at peace. They gave heartfelt thanks for our help, surprised that we thanked them in turn for the honor to have been there. Maybe they never heard anything the like.

It was about nine o’clock in the evening. I was already sitting in the car, when the realization struck me how unspeakably good it was to return to three fellow midwives, all of whom were waiting for us at home, curious, proud, happy for our happiness, accepting us with love. Both Zsuzska and I were racing our cars so we could get to them as soon as possible. We had talked with them a few times during the day to inform them about the proceedings, but meeting them in person seemed even more exciting.

We already knew Zsuzsi had called Virag early in the morning and I talked to Gyuri to cancel the workshop for the day, but they resisted the idea of withdrawal with a most lovable stubbornness. Virag arrived in the morning, followed by Gyuri towards evening. So by the time we got there, we found a sort of party mood in the house. I didn’t even have time to marvel at the strangeness of the situation that my friends receive me with a feast in my own house, because all the three of them stood at the gate and Zsuzska and I wordlessly fell into their embrace.

How can a single moment be victorious, exhausted, powerful, shelter-needy, relieved, humble, proud and exposed at the same time, as well as equally and endlessly open to giving or receiving love? I don’t know but that is how it felt. Fabulous. Moreover, it happened three times: each of my friends is a different personality, hugs with different energies, gives and receives differently.

We giddily let them shepherd us into the house at the head of the little triumphal procession. Interestingly, they had set up the party’s headquarters on top of the huge king-size bed I had originally made for Zoltan’s sake. He’s next to two meters tall and his feet would overhang anything shorter. Well, even he fits this respectable piece of furniture which was now very handy because it allowed the five of us to sit or lie around comfortably. While Zsuzska and I were taking turns in the shower, then emerged from the bathroom with dripping hair, completely revived, the others were merrily passing around the wine bottle, listening to the birth story as if spellbound. I hadn’t slept for forty-six hours but fatigue still couldn’t get the better of me. Instead, I was overtaken with elation. A lively conversation arose as we recalled the exciting events which were had been quite emotional to both of us. Recollection provided us with an opportunity for inner processing, while for the others it was thought-provoking and educational. As Zsuzsi commented on the events later: „I think this initial experience forged us into a closely interconnected group from people who had simply liked each other. A Circle. […] We had been talking and laughing about something else for quite a long time, when Zsuzska suddenly said: „I’m hungry!” This was when I realized how immensely useful it had been to just sit there, drinking wine, listening and responding, so that they didn’t just shower and take their tension to bed. How shall I put this? It not only meant „off to the kitchen!”, but also indicated that the soul was relieved, so the body could get back on track, too. Suddenly, I saw ourselves from above for a moment and it struck me that my presence had very real benefits, cheering for those who had taken action. This has opened up some very deep channels in me. Even though it’s just a small thing in itself, not a world-saving revelation...”

I woke up early the next day. The house was still quiet, even though some were already up and about. I slowly walked down into the garden to fill my lungs with fresh air for a day of responsibilities. This was the day of the fourth and first Circle, that of inheritance, of life’s self-renewing hope. The company of awakening plants seemed a good starting point. I picked off the garden’s most beautiful and fresh, dew-kissed rose. It was for Gyuri, whom we planned to invite to the formal women’s Circle with this symbolic gift of a „female sex organ”.

Before breakfast I withdrew into the bedroom with my small Circle sculpture and meditated over it for several minutes. I remembered the first morning of every half year when we would see sage smoke trailing from under Kaley’s office door, and imagined what it must have felt like to prepare for a Circle of thirty or more on those mornings. I was awed by just five. I prayed to God or Goddess, I didn’t know who it was, for strength and guidance to serve well. „It’s time.” – sounded the answer and the ninth beat of the clock at the same time. There was no more fear or self-consciousness. It had begun. The formal greeting rolled out of me, repeating the words of sister midwives trained in El Paso and generations of women all around the world: „I, Nandu, daughter of Ilona and Marina, granddaughter of Julianna, honor you and welcome you to the Circle.” I passed another milestone today, the first time, but not the last. Like on the day long ago when the first baby was born into my hands, all I felt was that this was the natural way, the thing I had always wanted to do. The four of them, somewhat unsure, yet full of courage, picked up the words, rolled them, passed them on, evoking ancestors, fates, pain and pleasure. I was no longer alone.

We worked much that day. I was among them in the role of tutor and guide, but this was unimportant. I remembered when I was on teaching practice during my last year at university, watching with horror from the back of the classroom as the class ate up the shy teacher-to-be who had her turn before me. It was a bunch of 12-year-olds, seemingly all of them particularly mischievous little hellions. I dreaded the day when I was to stand in the front, thinking it impossible to keep discipline in a class like this. When I finally showed up in class as their teacher, to my greatest surprise I was met by silence and order. But... I hadn’t done a thing! Just came in! Charisma? Intuition? I never found out. But I have known ever since that one cannot teach, just live and learn life together. I felt the same with the four of them now, as I laid my ideas and thoughts in front of them, and they added their part with sharp wit and sensitive trust, so that it could be whole at the end.

We wrote an apprentice contract on paper, but at the same time, something untearable was born in our hearts: „my sister midwives”, „our brother midwife”.

The day drew long. We learned the taste of working together as a team, setting up equipment or managing an emergency, the art of smoothly supporting each other at a birth. They listened with attention, asked questions and kept trying with the persistence of the truly devoted. Meanwhile, some natural harmony hung between us: even our hunger and thirst was timed the same way. I would never have thought it could be like this, that the Circle could be so round.

At the end of the day, I blessed their hands. This was not the same as the rosewater hand blessing on graduation but a smaller, more intimate initiation, an invitation to the sanctuary of touching mothers and babies. With jasmine-scented oil I massaged the four pairs of hands, each so different, yet holding the same energy and fate. Then I focused the life force of my own midwifery into my hands with my breathing and radiated it into them, so that they could sense it. A little later I felt I had to touch the tapestry adorned with Laura’s, Pissis and my handprints on the wall, so that my sisters’ energies, and through them the energies and experience of all the world’s midwives can strengthen the ones in my Circle. I didn’t know whether they felt the tingling of all I was holding in my hands but as I broke contact with the last pair of hands and saw the way they were sitting quietly, hand in hand, all doubt faded away.

So that’s why I had to experience the trials and tribulations of transformation all over again! I understood at last, not just with my mind but also on a cellular level, deep inside: this was not just a „plain relocation and service-taking” as I had imagined before. I had to become a channel of knowledge and elemental energy in such a short time that it seemed hardly more than the blink of an eye on this cosmic level. I started to grow into something new. Even though I feel small and imperfect now, maybe a distant day, years from now, I will be worthy to be called a master midwife. Catalyst of the growth of human spirits, of transformation. What a task! No wonder it was hard to believe that it was really me who was called for it. I had to experience the continuity of passing on knowledge, which can never stop, like our own growth into midwifery can never be completed either, no matter how many and how important the milestones we have passed.

At dusk we lit four torches from the oil lamp burning in the middle of the Circle sculpture I had brought from El Paso and walked up the hill with the five little flames. A picture came to me: if we could spread out in five different directions now, then with the infinity of sharing the flame, soon torches would be aglow all over the country. I knew that a lot of time would have to pass, before we could really spread out like that, so that every woman in the country could have the option to birth with the attendance of a midwife, with Eva’s dignity. But the five new little flames were flickering in the wind: we are on our way.

It was hard to call it a day when we got back to the house. Everyone was slow to pack their bags. The shared objects of the Circle’s warm nest suddenly turned into „stuff” to put away. Nobody was overhasty in saying their personal goodbye. Love had an almost solid presence in the words and touch exchanged. Zsuzska and Virag rolled through the gate first. Maybe it was the hardest for them. Zsuzsi took her leave from Gyuri, then slowly walked back into the house: she was to go home the next morning. I just stood there, tired but happy, like someone who has fulfilled her duty.

Gyuri turned to face me by the gate. In the fine summer night mist of the Danube after rain, I stood in his unhurried, warm good-bye embrace, forehead to forehead, with all the admiration of his friendship in his eyes. „You know” – he began -, „whatever I had known about you so far, I think you were truly born as a midwife tonight, weren’t you?” „Sure” – I answered with a knowing half smile. „I see. This has happened to you before.” – he said with a sudden understanding. „Yes, it has. And it will again.” – I agreed, and I knew I was home at last.

 

[1] “Zsuzsi” and “Zsuzska” are two different nicknames of the same name, Zsuzsanna, which is the Hungarian equivalent of the biblical name(s) Shoshanna, Suzana, Zuzana, Suzanna, and many other derivations in other languages.

 

Unedited version. Please don’t copy in any form.
© Andrea Noll (Nandu)
All rights reserved.


Dear Friends and Supporters,

As you can see, the work has just begun. Please keep sending all the support you can muster, because we sorely need more funds for books and equipment. Our practice is very small and not self-supporting yet, so we need you more than ever to be able to grow! Here is the list of equipment we need the most, but any other tool, book, disposable supply or anything useful you can think of is welcome. Thank you!!!

Andrea Nandu Noll
nandu@nandu.hu

P.S.: I would also appreciate some feedback on the story above: how did it read for you?
P.S.2: Oh, and I almost forgot! Photos of the birth in the story can be seen here.

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