New Birth Story! Hemlock’s birth

We have a new birth story to share! It’s not up on the site yet, but here it is in the meantime. Enjoy!

Glenn is strolling around our room at Alma Midwifery with our new baby, singing. It is unreal, what we’ve begun; neither of us can fathom it. It is still so strange and new that we haven’t at all caught up to it. We’re still back there, wherever we were before any of this began.
Early Friday morning, middle of the night, I got up to use the bathroom and saw a little bit of cervical mucus. Would there were a prettier word for mucus, but there you have it. I had a suspicion that this may be the turning of things. I woke to use the bathroom again later, and there was more of it, tinged pink, so I asked Glenn what time it was – 3:13 – and said I had news: what they call “bloody show.” Another not-very-nice term for something, but again, there you have it.
I knew it was important to get rest while I could, but I also knew myself too well to know I wasn’t going to fall asleep while there was writing to do, so after lying in bed a while looking at the half moon I went downstairs to savor the moment of turning. I walked outside to get some soup from our bag in the car because I was so hungry, and knew it was important to eat while I could. After soup and yogurt and raspberry leaf tea, I went back to bed – but first, standing outside in the driveway I looked at the moon, at Orion and the seven sisters – the micro-dipper, we always called it – and felt the night air, and remembered all those other nights I’d looked at them, and how different it was then and how same.
Early, around 6:30, I asked Glenn if he’d be willing to go out for coffee. I also wanted to take those few last photos of pregnancy. He tidied up our room while I went downstairs to make some breakfast; our housemate Sarah was in the kitchen, getting ready for work. I told her cheerfully that I was in labor, which was funny. She asked all about it, kind of taken off guard, but more and more excited. She said to keep her and our other housemates all informed, because she for one wasn’t going to be thinking about her job that day.
At this time I’d been having surges since three in the morning, which were uncomfortable enough to make it difficult to lie in bed, but manageable enough that if I was standing and moving I felt fine. They were different than the practice contractions I’d been having for months: they were sharper and heavier, like gas pressure, and they weren’t a whole-abdomen thing. Unlike the feeling of my uterus turning into a stiff ball, these were low, deep down in my pelvis.
Glenn suggested we take the photos I had in mind before going to coffee, which was wise. Then we changed our season dial: a ceramic disc on the wall with the wheel of the year engraved in it; we’d forgotten to turn it to autumn on the 21st. On my way back downstairs I passed our house chalk board, where we leave notes for each other, and saw that Glenn had written, “No one had Friday? Hmmm….” Funny and interesting: we’d been collecting guesses on when the baby would come, and of all our friends and family and coworkers who placed a bet, not one of them guessed Friday. It was the only day that *didn’t* get a guess. So I suppose our baby likes the negative space.

We went to coffee, the Albina Press, where most of our early morning coffee getaways have taken us. I wanted to have one last special coffee date, just the two of us. Glenn brought the book of Scandinavian fairy tales I’ve been reading (the complete and unabridged stories collected by George Webbe Dasent), and, over his Americano and my peppermint chamomile tea, we read “Gudbrand on the Hillside,” a story about a husband and wife whose bond is so strong it gets them through all kinds of follies unscathed. I was barely able to sit through it. I was ready to get going at the end.
We drove over Mount Tabor on the way home to see the park in the fall. It was nice, but I was kind of impatient. We got home and chatted a few moments with our housemates Russ and Sue, who were really excited and deliberately playing it cool. Sue had the look of recognition when I described how contractions were feeling. We chatted a good couple minutes before I felt another one coming and knew I had to get off by myself. I said I was going upstairs to nap, hoping the chamomile would bless my effort, but it didn’t work out that way.
Glenn called our midwife Kori to give her an update. Surges were coming every four minutes – had been since we’d left for coffee – and getting more intense. He told her I was very calm and lovely about it. She said they’d be getting stronger from here, and that I might start making noises, and that was okay. I actually wanted just to go to the birthing house then. I didn’t want to wait till things were really happening, and then have to handle the transition by car, which was feeling more impossible to face the longer we waited. Kori said she’d send Tarra, another midwife on our team, to check on us. At that point – I don’t know if it was coincidence, or if having heard her say it made it come true – surges got serious, and I started vocalizing them, keeping my voice low and my throat open and letting my lips inflate each time, the way a horse sighs, because I knew from Ina May’s books that letting your lips blow air bubbles also relaxes all your sphincters, including your cervix. I was really sleepy and wanted to rest, but couldn’t get comfortable, even in between. I lay on my side, I sat propped on pillows, I pretended to doze when I could, I perched on the edge of the bed – but everything had its catch 22, and nothing was comfortable for long.
When Tarra arrived I was grumpy because I wanted to have left a long time ago, and also because the intensity was getting bigger. I was putting more of myself into my voice by then, hanging on the volume to carry me through. Tarra suggested we go. I concurred and started the journey out of our room, down the stairs and out the door, holding my belly and moaning steadily, while Myrtle and Guthry – our almost five-year-old housemates, Russ’ and Sue’s twins – watched with big eyes from the corners. Glenn got the car door and Tarra suggested I kneel on the seat backwards, but that hurt so much I could hardly even try it. I lay sideways instead, hanging by one hand from the handle over the door, just as a nice couple showed up and said to Tarra, “We’re here to see the house?”
Our landlord was showing the house that day.
Tarra said, “Um, we’re not the people to talk to.” So they went up the porch to meet Sue instead – and we officially won the Spectacle of the Year Award.

“Are you driving or am I?” Glenn asked me. We’d been making little jokes on and off the whole time. Ina May said you can make things easier for yourself by being amused, and by being grateful and considerate. In her words, if you can’t be a hero, at least you can be funny while being a chicken. Which is why, along with making my own jokes when I could, I’d been saying “thank you” and “I love you” and “how are you.”
In any case, the drive was awful. Five miles of it. I realized within the first 50 yards I would not be able to handle the car moving during a surge, so Glenn would pull over, which he had to do 8 or 10 times, start to finish. There were speed bumps, traffic lights, bumpy pavement and road work. “Flaggers be damned!” I laughed, and, “Run it!” at the yellow light. Glenn asked if he could yell out the window to the flaggers that his wife was having a baby, so get out of the way. (I opted no.) Once we were stopped at a light during a surge, which hit its peak as the light turned green, and I said, “Don’t go!” It wasn’t really done when the light changed to yellow but I didn’t want to get caught there again, so I told Glenn to gun it, which is funny when you think of all the cars behind us who probably thought we were real jerks. In between surges we’d cruise along, and I’d breathe, “Okay… okay… okay…” mostly to reassure myself; then a surge would set in and I’d start vocalizing, louder and louder to get through it, hanging on that handle over the door and calling low deep down.
We finally pulled up to the birthing house, Glenn got the door for me and I started walking up the sidewalk, up the stairs, stopping once to hang from his arms. Stephanie, the third midwife on our team, led us to the suite where they’d already filled the tub. I went to the bathroom, came out taking my clothes off, and got straight in. It was so intense at this point that when we first got into the room and they said, “Okay, now you can do whatever you want,” there was absolutely nothing I wanted to do, and I turned to Glenn and cried, “Help me!” But as I got into the water I realized that nice things did still exist in the world, things like relief.
That didn’t last. I leaned back in the water and felt, at first, that most wonderful quality – equilibrium – in between surges. But I also felt more and more uncomfortable, like I needed to lean forward, get moving. Tarra suggested I change positions, apparently picking up on that, so I crawled to my hands and knees, and that set everything to chaos. “Ow, ow, ow,” I was breathing, and then a surge would sink in and I’d start calling again, loud and long. I hung on the edge of the tub, I lay on my side, I crouched on my knees. At the end of every yell I’d say quietly, “Water,” and Glenn would put the straw to my lips. Ice water in a glass, or iced juice. I love ice; at least I do now. At one point I said I was hungry, and then there were Clif bars and sliced strawberries and crackers and cheese. I had two nibbles of Clif bar and that was all. Otherwise I just kept saying, “I just want to sleep,” or “Why?” or “It’s so much.” Sometimes I’d cry during a surge. I just did whatever my body wanted to do. But surges were, by now, so big, there was nothing *to* do. They were coming right on top of each other. I kept waiting for that alternate state of consciousness they talk about, when the world gets lucid and things blur together, time ceases to be, and best of all you fall asleep between waves. But that didn’t happen.

I remembered one of Ina May’s birth stories, where a woman said that labor can feel like a train is bearing down on you and you’re about to get run over, but that you need to realize, no, you’re not on the tracks – you’re strapped to the front, speeding along with it, and you’ve got to be okay with that. I remembered, too, women choosing to say, “I just want to open; I just want to integrate this.” I felt an incredible pressure between my legs – something I can only describe as a hollow tree trunk expanding wider and wider, so heavy, so thick. I remembered Ina May saying it’s better to pay attention to the expansion than the contraction. So I did. I said aloud, “I just want to open!” I kept telling myself, “It’s not going to hurt you. It’s not going to do you harm. It *is* you. This power *is* you.” And I’d listen when Glenn said, “Let it roll through you.” Or when Kori said, “Deep breath… blow through your lips now… that one’s over; let that one go.” And I squeezed Glenn’s hand, and Stephanie’s, and I kept asking for water, and I wiped my face with the cool wash cloth they brought. All of this really helped.
Of course, I also thought, “Why aren’t they doing anything?” Glenn said later that was the hardest part, feeling like something had to be done about this, but choosing to know that I was already doing it. I don’t know if I could have chosen to stick it out if I were in a hospital being offered interventions. I had no idea how long this was going to last – minutes? hours? days? There was absolutely no escaping it. The only way out was through. I’m so grateful for that. I’m so glad I had no choice but to figure it out, to go through this series of revolutions on my way to dealing with it. The first and most immediate impulse was, “I don’t like it! Make it stop! I want to get away!” But I knew that wasn’t the way through. So I turned toward believing it wouldn’t hurt me, and choosing to work with it, choosing to want to open, choosing to relax myself. But it got so strong, that started falling apart. So I remembered Ina May’s advice to “let your monkey do it,” to get out of the way and follow your body, and when I did, I found myself doubling over, gripped by a vise around my middle, and then I was pushing into my body with a force I’d never felt before. I felt it like a bowel movement, and heard my voice take a whole different tone: deeper, hollower, fuller, louder. I realized it was better if I kept my eyes open. I felt wildness and shock pouring out of my face, like someone who wasn’t hidden in the rock when God was walking by. I remembered a photograph of a laboring woman with that expression, and I remembered she was smiling, so I smiled, and rode it high and hard and wild. I stopped looking for rest in between surges. I stopped trying to be conservative and save my energy. I took it by the mouth. When I met Glenn’s eyes, I saw that he saw it, and he would nod to me, and he would say, “That’s right,” and look scared and amazed and compassionate.
Then Stephanie said, “Why don’t you check yourself and see if you can feel your baby?”
And I felt a head: two knuckles’ distance in.

“Am I pushing?” I asked. I remembered that in the Hypnobirthing school they talk about breathing the baby down, rather than forcibly pushing, and wondered if that’s what I was doing. It sure felt like it. But I still didn’t know if I was even fully dilated. I knew we hadn’t been there that long – they were checking the baby’s heart rate every half hour, and I knew they hadn’t checked that many times. I didn’t want to push if I wasn’t fully dilated; I didn’t want to waste my strength. I also didn’t want to know if I wasn’t very far along, though, because that would be so discouraging. Stephanie just shrugged peacefully. Then I was gripped by another wave, and a short while later I felt the baby crowning.
Now I knew we were almost done. The presence of this body in my birth canal was so solid and thick. I pushed, or breathed, or bellowed it down even further. I felt it withdraw again as the pressure receded; I didn’t want it to withdraw though. I looked for another surge and when it came I pushed again, and cried, “It stings!” and tried to cover my perineum as Kori told me to, to support the stretching, and I didn’t know if I should wait or go, and didn’t want to linger there like that, so I went. The head was born. Strange, impossible sight, impossible sensation. Then the body slithered suddenly out into the water, onto the floor of the tub.
I was too shocked to catch him. Glenn reached in and we lifted him up together. I leaned back and held him, someone peeled the membrane off him to let him out – his waters were still intact; they had never broken – and Glenn came around behind me to see him. Someone said, “It’s a boy.” His lips were stretching back, pursing together, blowing brown bubbles. He squalled once or twice. His cord was thick and blueish. His body was grey and round. His face was round too. People say this moment is when you feel elated, but mostly I was surprised. I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea how to feel anything at all.
After a few minutes I asked what was next, how to move on, since I was sitting in a tub of red water with a slippery baby in my hands, still tied to him by his cord. The midwives helped me pass him to Glenn without pulling on the cord, then I stood on my knees, forced a cough, and delivered the placenta. Glenn cut the cord, took off his shirt, gathered the baby to his chest and went to the rocking chair to sit with him, while the midwives stood me up, rinsed me with the shower head and scrubbed me with a soapy towel. I lay down in bed. I think we lay there together for a good while – this part is where it becomes a blur to me. At some point the midwives came back and sutured me up – I’d torn a little – and Glenn stayed with the baby for his first exam, then snuggled him on the bed during my suturing. Kori helped me start to nurse him. We cuddled up in bed again what seemed like an eternity later, exhausted.
So, start to finish, labor began at three in the morning. Active labor started around nine. We got to the birthing house around eleven, and the baby was born at 1:30 in the afternoon. Four and a half hours active labor, about 10 hours total. He was 7 pounds 14 ounces, and 19 and 3/4 inches long.

I can’t believe it went that fast. No one else can either. Kori said it was an honor to share this with us; we were so tuned in, instinctual, able to flow with the moment. She also said that being born in the cull, with waters intact, is an auspicious sign in many cultures, a rare thing meaning this baby has a special spiritual gift. For instance, being born this way is prerequisite to being the Dalai Lama. We’ve been joking about that since, but it’s really cool to know.
In the morning we decided on his name: Hemlock Conall Harvey McCumber. We liked Hemlock for the beauty, age, silence, strength and magic you feel when you’re standing in a hemlock forest. Something about the spirit of that resonated with him being born in the cull. We liked Conall because it’s Irish, from our heritage, and it means “wolf,” which is an animal that’s very important to me. We liked Harvey because it’s a gift from my family, and we liked McCumber because it’s a gift from Glenn’s.
Little Conall, little Hem, is beautiful. They say having a baby means falling in love all over again. I guess that makes sense, given that it takes time for me to fall in love. I was looking into his eyes the next day, after a long morning of activity – finally there was a quiet moment and I looked into his clear blue eyes and saw him. It was overwhelming. He is rich and clear and very, very real. He is a little person, and we know him. He is beautiful. That was when I knew I loved him.

Alma’s Annual Picnic


One of the highlights of our year at Alma is the annual picnic, where we invite all of our past and present Alma families and we get to see Alma babies who aren’t babies anymore.

The oldest Alma “baby” is six years old! We just love seeing our clients again, and getting to have this yearly check-in with the growing Alma flock. This year’s event was no exception: scroll down to see photos from our event which was outside at Buckman school on September 26th:






A great time was had by all! To seem some videos from that day (and especially if you haven’t yet) check out Alma’s youtube channel. Thanks to all of our Alma families who were able to make it, we so appreciated it!

Alma is green!

At Alma we do our best to minimize our environmental impact, even as we accept that some medical waste is unavoidable (needles, bandages, and many other items cannot be safely reused).


Currently, the ways in which we do that are:

  • Reducing, reusing, and recycling!
  • We have an active recycling program, that includes composting paper towels
  • We use reusable underpads at births as much as possible
  • Earth-friendly cleaning products
  • High-efficiency washers and dryers
  • Changing our lighting to be more up-to-date and earth friendly
  • Battery recycling program
  • Using recycled paper products as much as possible

We are constantly looking for more ways to tread lightly on the earth. The newest change is that as of 2011, Alma will no longer have an advertisement in the yellow pages, and will be generally decreasing the amount of print ads we run. Yellow pages generate an alarming amount of waste! The most obvious reason for this is how many fewer people use them as a resource today. According to Yellow Pages go Green, the 540 million directories printed in the US represents:

19 million trees to provide the paper

1.6 billion pounds of paper wastage

7.2 million barrels of oil (not including delivery

268,000 cubic yards of landfill

3.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity consumption

We are excited about this change! Let us know if you have more ideas about how we can continue to make Alma the greenest birth center possible.