She never tired of the miracle. Each time she knelt to "catch" another baby, beloved California mid-wife Peggy Vincent paid homage to the moment when pain bows to joy, one person becomes two, woman turns to goddess, and the world moves aside to make room for one more soul.
Trained as a nurse at Duke University in the early 1960s, Vincent begins working in the delivery room of a local hospital in the San Francisco Bay area. Even after establishing an alternative birth center at the hospital, however, she is still frustrated with her lack of autonomy. Too often she witnesses births changing from normal to high risk because of routine obstetrical interventions.
Vincent then devotes herself to creating unique birth experiences for her clients and their families. She becomes a licensed midwife, opens her own practice, and delivers nearly three thousand babies during her remarkable career.
With every birth comes an unforgettable story. Each time Vincent "catches" a wet and wriggling baby, she encounters another memorable woman busy negotiating her unique path through the labyrinth of childbirth.
Meet Catherine as she rides out her labor in a car careening down a mountain road, her husband clueless at the wheel. Megan delivers on a leaky sailboat during the storm of the decade. Susannah gives birth so quietly and effortlessly, neither husband nor midwife notice much of anything until they see a baby lying on the bed, and Sofia spends her labor trying to keep her hyper doctor-father from burning down the house.
More than just a collection of birth stories, Baby Catcher is a provocative, moving, and highly personal account of the ongoing difficulties midwives face in the United States. With vivid portraits of courage, perseverance, and love, this is a passionate call to rethink today's technological hospital births in favor of a more individualized and profound experience in which mothers and fathers take the stage in the timeless drama of birth and renewal.
It was in nursing school at Duke in the 1960s that Vincent found her calling: delivering or "catching" babies. She moved to California and became a midwife, specializing in home births; over the course of 40 years, she brought some 2,000 babies into the world. There's a predictable plot structure to most of the stories she recounts: the initial meetings with the pregnant woman, the last-minute phone call once labor speeds up, the coping with contractions, the appearance of the baby's head, the wet newborn, the oven-warmed blankets, the celebratory meal afterwards. Despite the repetition, Vincent's account is a page-turner. It's not just the risk that something might go wrong (meaning a nail-biting trip to the hospital for an emergency cesarean), and not just the quirkiness of home birth settings (which can involve jealously raging house pets or leaky houseboats), but something inherent in the magic of birth itself. What sustains Vincent and her readers is this sense of standing ringside at the greatest miracle on earth. A solid writer, Vincent doesn't preach the virtues of unmedicated birthing; she just lays consistent stories of women doing it Christian Science moms, Muslim moms, spiritualist moms, lesbian moms, teen moms and just plain ordinary moms. With the midwife's axiom "birth is normal till proven otherwise" as a guiding principle, all these women have a chance to make childbirth a crowning moment in their own lives. Male readers may find this female-centered narrative off-putting, and mainstream readers might raise eyebrows at the inclusion of children in the birthing process, but Vincent addresses these issues fairly directly herself. Agent, Felicia Eth. (Apr.) Forecast: With appendices guiding readers to more technical resources, Vincent's latest baby is bound to be popular with women's health and alternative medicine readers. A cover blurb by Anne Lamott could break it out further. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 16, 2002
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Excerpt from Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent
Chapter One: You Have to Lie Down
DUKE UNIVERSITY, DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
"Please lie down," I begged Zelda. "Please."
Wearing nothing but a shiny coat of sweat, the young black woman stood upright on her hospital bed, stomping from the lumpy pillow to the foot rail and then back again. For the past fifteen minutes she'd been running laps on top of her bed, towering four feet above me as I raced along the floor with my arms outstretched in the futile hope that I might catch her if she fell.
"It's against the rules to do that," I whined, aware of how prissy and juvenile I sounded, but I was just a student nurse, and I'd be in trouble if I couldn't control this crazy pregnant woman. I tried another line of reasoning. "You might hurt yourself, not to mention your baby." Yeah, that sounded better. But she wasn't buying it.
Moaning, she sped to the head of the bed, tromped on the pillow with her callused feet, and grimaced as another labor pain began. Shaking her head from side to side, she banged on the wall with her thin hands. I watched the line of her vertebrae sway like beach grass in the wind while she dealt with the pain.
"Lordy, lordy, sweet Jeeeesus, help me, Lord. Yes, Lord, stay with me and guiiiiide me. Mmm-hmm, yes, yes, sweet baaaaaby Jesus. Umm-hmmm..." As the contraction wound down, she murmured, "Thank you, thank you."
She was twenty-two, in labor with her third child, and so skinny I could see the tendons in her arms and the sharp angles of bones in her face. Even with her belly sticking out in front, her hipbones jutting beneath the brown skin were easily visible. I saw the baby's knobby heels and elbows moving just below the surface of Zelda's taut abdomen. It was the only part of her that was big. It looked as though the child in her womb had drained all the nutrition out of her body and into its own, like sand in an hourglass moving from one chamber to another.
Short of tackling her, I didn't think I could convince her to lie down, so I pulled up the safety rail but saw the low barrier would contribute nothing toward preventing a fall. I lowered it, shaking my head in confusion and wondering what Mrs. Purdue, my instructor, might say. But then I figured rules are rules, especially when you're a student nurse, so I hauled it up again. I saw Zelda's half-smile as she watched me from the head of the bed. Blushing, I could just imagine what she was thinking: up, down, up, down, what is this crazy white girl gonna do next
Then Zelda turned again and headed toward the foot of the bed, lurching and reeling above me, and I thought, Lord, she'll just trip over the bar and land on her head. So I lowered the rail and this time I left it down. Besides, it gave me better access to her. I thought maybe I could rebound her onto the bed like a basketball if she fell.
Zelda mostly ignored me, and I knew I looked as ridiculous as I felt. Earlier that morning as I snapped up my denim-colored uniform, I had no hint I'd be assigned to an uncooperative woman who refused to follow the rules. A year on the medical and surgical floors where so many of the patients seemed to be suffering from rare or lethal diseases had left me wondering if perhaps I should transfer into elementary education. Maybe I wasn't cut out for nursing.