Babes In The Woods
The drama, beauty and emotion of a home birth is deep and exquisite. When a mother went
into labor, the whole land tingled with excitement and anticipation. Often people would
gather outside the house and 'Om.' Musicians would play whatever was pleasing to the
mother and child. Everyone wanted to be there when the baby was born. To be invited was a
special privilege, implying that the mother had a special place in her heart for you. As
the child grew up, you kept that special close relationship which sharing in the birth had
GWEN: "Two babies were born at the bottom of each canyon. One of the women had
trouble expelling the placenta after the birth, so she hiked up the steep canyon wall with
it hanging out of her like a tail. But she arrived safely at the hospital. At another
Ridge birth, the couple and their friends dropped acid. Both mother and child paid for it
afterwards by getting sick. Birth is plenty high without such foolishness."
BILL: "The most chaotic birth I ever attended on the land was in a small tent in
the middle of the night. The mother was having her second child, and her first was still
too young to understand what was happening. She thought her mother was wounded, and spent
the whole last part of the labor clutching her mother's head and screaming at the top of
her lungs. The confusion was compounded by the poor illumination provided by a hissing
Coleman lantern. When the mother started to deliver, the baby came very quickly. The
fellow who was catching dropped the ball! The newborn baby was rolling around in the
bloody sheets, seemingly unable to breathe. Gwen rushed over from the other side of the
tent, fished the child up and turned it upside down so the mucus would drain. At last it
showed signs of life.
"The most together birth I witnessed was by a black mother. She did not let out
one sound, and the labor lasted only about four hours, unusual for a first birth. The
expression on her face was businesslike and confident. If she felt any pain, she did not
show it, and her baby was as fine and healthy as any born on the Ridge."
At that time most doctors did not approve of home births, let alone out in the woods
with no hospital nearby in case of trouble. The lack of cleanliness, knowledge and
preparedness terrified them. But in the fifteen or so births on the Ridge, not one doctor
assisted. Luckily, there never were any major complications despite the amateur midwifery
and primitive conditions. On one occasion, after thirty-six hours of labor, the mother was
taken to the hospital; the baby just wouldn't come out. Upon arrival, she gave birth on
her second contraction. Some innate fear must have been holding her back.
Nowadays more and more doctors are beginning to understand how the added safety of the
hospital is offset by the vibrations of illness and death. Practices such as taking the
baby away from its mother shortly after birth and placing it in a sterile nursery, of not
encouraging breast-feeding, of automatic circumcision of the boys - all these are changing
because mothers are insisting upon a more natural approach. So often the hospital
transforms birth into an ugly event. Increasing numbers of doctors are willing to deliver
at home, and there is an attempt to license midwives in California. Perhaps the ideal
solution would be a mobile unit - a 'delivery van' equipped for surgery - parked outside
and available if the mother experienced complications.
GWEN: "At eighteen, Carol had been released from Juvenile Hall, placed there by
her mother who had been unable to understand her daughter's rebellious, free spirit.
Hearing of Morning Star, she and two boyfriends moved there and set up a camp. Soon she
was pregnant and did not know who was the father. As the baby grew inside her, she began
to believe God wished her to have the child and would care for her. She moved to the Ridge
in May, 1968, when she was already nine months pregnant. Although she loved Morning Star,
she could not feel relaxed about having her baby while running the risk of being arrested.
"Her first contractions came while she slept in the back of a car parked on the
county road by some friends who were returning from a movie. Realizing she was in labor,
she decided to walk the mile and a half down the access road to be with Beatrice and
Willie B. in their tent. By dawn, her contractions were two minutes apart and she moved
outside to lie on a blanket while Beatrice chopped wood, built a fire and put some water
on the stove. As the sun rose higher, word spread that Carol was having her baby. Adults,
children and dogs began to gather. With the sun two hand-widths above the horizon, Carol
pushed a baby girl into the world whom she named Morning Star. The mother was exhausted
but ecstatic, the baby healthy, the day beautiful, and everyone hugged and congratulated
"We all left to go about our morning rounds filled with the first deep sense of
ourselves as a strong, joyously united family. The beauty of the event stirred deep
emotions in me, and I spent the rest of the day with fantasies of giving birth. Although I
had always wanted children, I suffered from unpleasant notions about childbirth. The
discovery that having a baby could be a warm, happy event was very exciting to me. Carol's
strong faith in God's love and caring was shared by many of us that day.
"Later that same year I became pregnant, and the romantic notions of maternal
bliss were quickly shattered by my increasing need for emotional support and Bill's
reverse need to get away from feeling trapped. New misunderstandings developed between us.
We began to share less and less of our lives, and I began to feel the desperation of being
locked in an irreversible situation. But the spiritual serenity the Ridge offered me, and
my own love for my forming child gave me the peace I needed to enjoy fully the physical
experience mothers find so blessed.
"During the rainiest winter months, my uterus pushed heavily on my bladder.
Several times a night I dashed out into the rain to pee and then hurry back into the warm
bed. I dreamed of huge trees covered with fruit under a shining sun. As my stomach grew
bigger, I wanted more and more to be alone. The studio was the center of the community,
and all day long people came by for one reason or another. At dinner I could be cooking
for two or for twenty. The red 'condemned' notice stapled to the outside wall added to my
insecurity. One warm June evening, when the studio was filled with people, I took all my
bedding and went to sleep in the garden on a pile of mulch hay. I dozed off under a sky
filled with countless stars and awoke in the morning sunshine to find a gourd growing
beside my bed. I never slept in the studio again.
"The weather favored us with no more foggy days until the fall. Sometimes the fog
crept in at night, but the sun always burned it off by early morning. After I moved out of
the studio, it became more or less the community mess hall and I rarely entered it. Bill
moved our mattress to the garden and hung a tarpaulin over it. We added a small extension
to the garden, built shelves, set up a table and a wood stove and put our clothes in a
wooden box. Our bed was surrounded by growing things. We ate our own vegetables and went
naked all day long. I was profoundly content living outdoors in such a simple manner, with
housekeeping reduced to a minimum. I have never enjoyed any house more than I enjoyed
living amidst the fog, the sun and the plants.
"Because I was alone most of the time, my thoughts focused on preparing my nest
for the birth of my child. I was in love with being pregnant, and the idea of giving birth
outdoors was very pleasing. I felt strong, confidant that with my body and my body alone I
could provide everything my baby needed. Yet on the advice of friends, I visited a doctor.
He was horror stricken that I was over seven months pregnant and had not had a check-up.
He asked if I had been taking iron supplements.
"'No, but I've been eating my fill of organic vegetables, raw milk and fresh
fertile eggs,' I replied.
"'That has nothing to do with it,' he snapped. After feeling my stomach, he added,
'It is the main concern of our office to see that the mother is comfortable during labor.
Many women speak of natural childbirth, but I have yet to see one do it.' He scheduled me
for another appointment and a more thorough examination, but I did not return.
"In the mornings, Bill got up first and built a fire in the stove. If it was
foggy, he hung my damp dress to warm and dry by the fire. I got up, dressed and cooked
breakfast while he went to help with the morning milking. I could hear the people
gathering at the barn, calling greetings to each other, and the clanging of the milk pail
while I cooked eggs just gathered from the hen house along with freshly picked vegetables.
Bill brought the milk and the latest gossip. We included whatever fruit was in season with
our breakfast. Wild raspberries ripened earliest, followed by wild blackberries and then
an abundance of Gravenstein apples from Morning Star's orchard.
"After breakfast, I washed the dishes in the first sun-warmed water in the garden
hose. The rest of the morning I spent in the garden weeding, watering, hauling compost and
mulch, digging up new plots with occasional breaks to lie in the sun beneath the leaves of
my plants to admire their colors and patterns against the sun and blue sky.
"In the noonday heat, I took hot showers with the garden hose. After lunch, I
napped lying naked in the shade of the tarp. Afternoons I spent reading, working on my
baby's quilt, doing exercises and practicing my breathing for labor, rubbing my large
stomach and feeling my expanding breasts. Friends visited, and occasionally a naked
tourist, clothes and shoes in hand, walked by the fence peering at me. There were several
regulars I recognized and ignored. Now and then someone stopped and stared as if expecting
me to put on a show or invite them in. I would pull on a dress and glare until they went
away. Other tourists walked right up to me. When I asked if they wanted something, they
answered, 'No, I'm just looking.' It was as if we were a life-style zoo.
"As the sun sank towards the ocean, Ridgefolk drifted to the evening milking via
the community garden to collect something for supper. I usually cooked a pot of rice and
whatever vegetables were ripe. When the fog did not blow in, we lay in the warmth of the
evening, gazing up at the infinite heavens filled with stars, feeling the greatness of the
universe and the simple beauty of existing within it.
"Bill was expecting a boy and wanted to name him after his dead father. Whenever I
suggested girls' names, he said 'It's going to be a boy.' So I thought about girls' names
to myself. I wanted to name her after a plant, but I could not think of a flower or herb
that seemed appropriate. Then I thought of Raspberry. The red raspberries in our garden
were delicious, and I liked the sound of the word. I mentioned it to Bill but he made no
"One month before the expected birth date, I experienced a heavy mucus discharge.
Charlotte told me to expect the baby within three weeks. It seemed too soon to me. My
stomach was not that large, and I had been thinking it would be a late birth. But I
gathered together scissors, cord, a nasal syringe, surgical gloves, diapers, a rubber
sheet, towels and pads. I sterilized them all and tied them up in plastic bags, placing
them beside my midwifery books to be ready when needed. I was anticipating the birth with
confidence. Bill, who had been hesitant at first, was now happily expecting to deliver.
"One week before the expected delivery date, I spent the whole sunny day feeling a
rush of energy such as I had not experienced for several months. I baked bread, worked in
the garden, and did not take my usual afternoon nap. I felt a very faint sensation in my
stomach and wondered if it could be the start of labor. Late that afternoon I was sitting
on the bed chatting with two friends. When they got up to leave, I began peeing
uncontrollably all over the covers. I wondered how that was possible, but then realized
the clear liquid was amniotic fluid. My water bag had burst. I could not feel any
contractions yet, but I knew I must be in labor. I then felt a rushing need to shit, and
emptied my bowels into the earth outside the garden. I was ready.
"A couple of hours later, Bill came home from a trip to town for a flashlight in
case it was a night delivery. Although I couldn't feel any contractions, I had read that
the first labor of a healthy woman took from eight to twelve hours, so I expected to
deliver that night. It seemed so simple. We gathered all the birth supplies, checked the
time and wound an old gold watch that had belonged to my grandmother. We ate supper and,
with darkness settling over the land, went to bed. I lay very still, feeling very faint
contractions like mild menstrual cramps. But unless I concentrated they drifted away. Soon
I fell asleep and began to dream. A very powerful contraction awoke me, and I tried to
stay awake to see if there would be more. The next thing I knew, the rooster was crowing
and it was morning.
"Was I in labor? I couldn't feel any contractions. I cooked breakfast, fed the
calf in the barn and started some work in the garden. Bill pointed out that my water bag
had burst so I must be in labor. He suggested I lie down and concentrate about being in
labor. I followed his advice and lay on the bed thinking what a beautiful, hot August day
it was, perfect for having a baby. Before long I began to feel more contractions, stronger
and closer together than the night before. Around noon we timed the contractions - three
minutes apart. Bill decided to get Gina and Ramón. They appeared with Katy the Dog and a
Ramon-a-phone. Lying on the bed next to me, they chatted, played music and passed around a
joint. I did not feel like smoking. I wanted all the oxygen available to me and felt quite
stoned already. Gina made lunch but I wasn't hungry. By three o'clock the contractions
became stronger and even closer together. I was panting now and giving my full attention
to what I was doing. I gave my watch to Ramón to do the timing. As the labor became more
exciting, he overwound the watch until it broke, its hands at six-thirty.
"Time disappeared for me. The next hours swirled by in a series of visions and
emotions strung together on one thin thread of consciousness. I experienced sudden desires
- to run the length of the ranch, to pee, to eat chocolate, to get angry at those around
me. On the other side of the fence I saw a row of faces I couldn't identify except for
Claudia Cow who was gazing at me with such sweetness and deep understanding. With each
contraction my stomach rose high and hard on one side and the tips of my nipples hardened
and protruded. I panted faster, and felt the contractions overwhelm me. Incredible
sensations were sweeping through my body, one contraction following another so closely
that I couldn't get the rest I needed between them.
"Bill began to massage and talk to me gently but firmly about the sensations of
birth. I felt strengthened by the music of his words. Gina held one hand and Ramón the
other, both giving me their total attention and love. Occasionally the contractions would
stop before returning at irregular intervals. I complained that the baby was never going
to come, that the bed was dirty and that I couldn't stand it any more. What if something
went wrong? I realized that I must be in the transition stage and that I should not push
until my body started doing it. Time wore on and I finally said to Bill, 'I can't stand
it. I've got to push.' He said to go ahead.
"With the next contraction I began to push, trying to feel like a tube of
toothpaste being squeezed out from the bottom. In the middle of the contraction, my body
followed my desire to push. I felt the forces of my muscles pushing the head into the
birth canal. I braced my feet against Bill's knees and with each contraction pushed with
my legs and pulled down with all my strength on my friends' hands. As the top half of my
body rose, my head fell back and my mouth released a half grunt, half yell. I felt a huge
hardness filling my vagina very tightly. Between contractions I lapsed into a dream state
until I felt my muscles begin to stir again. Then I brought my whole attention to expel
the hard head of my child, my loved one, further into the world. When the head crowned,
Bill began shriek and giggle, saying it looked like a foot. I told him no, it was the
head. With the next contraction, I felt my incredibly taut and tingling labia slide over
the ears, nose and chin. From the cries reverberating around me, I knew the head was out.
With one more contraction I felt the shoulders, the elbows, the torso, the legs and feet
all slide out into Bill's waiting hands. I looked down at my child and saw a skinny, red,
squirming baby let out a stream of pee from a beautiful little cunt.
"Everybody was crying and screaming, and Bill was saying it was the most beautiful
thing he had ever seen. He placed her on my stomach, and I turned to gaze into her eyes as
she turned to gaze into mine. She was looking to see what mother she had gotten as I was
looking to see what child I had been given. At that moment, I heard Bill call her
"After the cord stopped pulsating and started to dry, Bill tied and cut it while I
waited for a contraction to expel the placenta. When none came, I held Raspberry to my
breast. I wondered if milk was really going to flow from them, if the breasts of a girl
were going to transform into the breasts of a mother. When Raspberry felt my nipple
against her cheek, she quickly turned her head and began sucking as if she had been doing
it for thousands of years. I was the beginner. She sucked as if she was planning to suck
forever, so I pulled her away to put my energy into expelling the placenta. I squatted and
pushed my sore stomach as hard as I could until the deep red, shiny placenta slid out,
only to hang by a piece of skin. I know I should not pull it out, that it must come out
intact. So I waited, pushing, losing strength, until Ellie came and twisted it until it
"We removed the bloody sheets as evening came. I made a fresh bed, cleaned
Raspberry and myself, and got into bed with Raspberry and Bill for the night. The fog was
coming in, so I pulled a cover over her head, holding it up with my arm so she would
breathe easily. Many times during the night I awoke and listened to her breathing,
smelling her newborn smells and feeling so much love for this new person who had just
arrived from so very far away."