After this, our third home birth, I wanted to tell everyone about my Mighty Mighty Vagina by hiring a messenger airplane, the kind you see flying over the ocean at the Jersey Shore, with a big banner declaring, “THREE UN-MEDICATED HOME BIRTHS!”
Birth has become a battle ground where the forces of money and control seem to be winning over a natural process. Even among my friends there are hurt feelings and wildly different opinions. Despite all the conflict surrounding it, I’ve decided to advocate for home birth more openly. I know it is not for everyone, but I feel it should be presented as an option to all women. This blog is not filled with medical facts and statistics, but rather my personal experience with the medical model, midwives, and home birth. Here’s my story for the curious folks out there.
Across Melfa Lane, in our all pedestrian neighborhood on the campus of the University of British Columbia, lived Karine and Eric, my Quebecois neighbors. The had two beautiful children, one who was just born in their townhouse. The idea of home birth sounded absolutely bonkers to me! I had never heard of it and could not imagine the implications of pushing a baby out on our green Ikea futon. Around the same time, my NYC cousin sent me a link to her friend’s blog describing home birth after I asked her about doulahs. All of this was new to me. It wasn’t mainstream and I was interested.
The Vancouver public library in West Point Gray displayed staff favorites on the shelf just before the kid’s section. The book Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf grabbed my attention. We were still thinking about getting pregnant that fall when I read about post-partum depression, motherhood, and alternative birthing options. I was shocked by the number of things that could go wrong during a hospital birth mainly due to medical interventions. I had never considered another option! I flew home to my BFFs wedding, revealed that I was thinking of a home birth and was met with the response, “But what about the NICU? You need the NICU there. Something could go wrong!”
Three months later I was pregnant and felt like crap. I went to a family doctor that a colleague recommended. (In Canada, you don’t use an OBGYN unless there are complications. You either use a midwife or a family doc.) At the end of the appointment I told her I was thinking about home birth. She frowned, shook her blond bobbed hair and said quite sharply, “I think that is irresponsible. My child needed oxygen when he was born.”
American and Canadian opinions seemed to agree. I was already a selfish, bad mother.
Three weeks later I miscarried for reasons I’ll never know. I was eight weeks pregnant. Two months later I was pregnant again and even more curious about home birth as I swore off docs and decided to find a midwife.
I found a midwifery practice that I felt good about. We carefully sidestepped our relatives questions about which hospital we would have the baby in, saying we would “labor at home as long as possible.” My midwives were caring, supportive, firm, and calm. They had a level one emergency room with them and a hospital room waiting if needed.
Despite my crazy anxiety after miscarrying, I had my daughter at home in our bed. I was in active labor for 14 hours and pushed for three. Renza’s head seemed to move out and in and her heart beat slowed. This was all fairly typical. After nearly three hours of pushing, I was told I needed to get her out in the next five pushes. The cord was wrapped around her neck when she finally arrived, quietly and beautifully. She stayed on my chest while the umbilical cord pumped its last bits of blood into her body and out of mine.
My 9.5 lb son was born in the same bed in Vancouver. His fat little torso got stuck on the way out (body dystotia). I credit the calm environment with my body’s ability to stretch to its full capacity, tearing less than an 1/8 of a centimeter.
Last winter, our little American Beauty surprised us with her presence. As we adjusted and rejoiced at the idea of having a third, I became fearful about our medical care. It was one thing to give birth on the west coast of Canada where midwifery care is accepted, paid for, regulated, and ubiquitous. It is quite another to give birth in the US where my friends talk about the security on the maternity ward just in case your baby gets switched or kidnapped.
With the state insurance card in hand, we interviewed our first midwife. She was pulsing with nervous energy, angry at the hospital system in our area who booted her out for doing home births. We were totally turned off. Weren’t midwives supposed to be earthy, practical and calm? We found a birthing center near our new home in Kutztown. What a relief. They did home births as well as hospital and birth center births. Their waiting room had a wooden kid’s play kitchen and there were pictures of babies all over the walls. I felt at home until I met the midwives.
My friend Lindsey jokes about “Med Wives.” They are nurse midwives, educated in the typical medical model. Though they are trained to help women give birth, they still see the male dominated medical model as the authority and defer to it regularly. What they project is that “birth is a medical event, not a natural occurrence,” similar to the vibe I felt from the first family doc I saw in Vancouver.
When they asked me to take the gestational diabetes test, I tried to decline. I didn’t need to take it in Vancouver. When I said I hoped not to take it, the “medwife” said, “Your baby can die from this.” What a thing to say to a pregnant mom! I went home, did a bit of internet research and got even more pissed off. She was trying to scare me. (As my research stated and another midwife in the practice later confirmed, babies are not typically at risk of dying due to GDB unless the mother has a history of diabetes not related to gestation).
The practice gave me an ultimatem, telling me I could not birth at home unless I took the test. In the interest of my goal of a happy home birth, I took the test. It came back negative but my feelings about the center changed. I am thankful I lived in a prevention focused medical system in Canada, rather than what I consider the fear based system in the US. My experiences in Canada gave me the confidence to trust myself and my body.
I week or so later I tuned into an episode of Up All Night, with Christina Applegate. Family members kept telling me about the show and how funny it was. I watched a segment where the main couple is viewing a natural birth video. “It’s like hair coming out of hair! Ewww…turn it off, turn it off!” shrieked Christina Applegates’ character. A friend emailed me a link to Tina Fey’s Saturday Night Live skit about natural birth. If you haven’t seen it, it is once again all about hair (obsessed, people?) and the strangeness of a natural birth. And yes, I did laugh, but underneath I wondered what our media was doing to promote healthy natural births.
At 36 weeks, I decided to take a risk. We recently sold our VW golf and got a used mini-van. We hoped to convert our garage to an office space that I could use for a private counseling/coaching practice and Waldorfy kids space. Instead of spending the extra money on our renovations, we decided to find a lay midwife (a non-medical model midwife) and pay her out of pocket. Once I made that decision, my whole body relaxed. I felt confident again in my ability to birth naturally.
I met with our midwife three times before I gave birth to our sweet 6 lb 10 oz girl. I used a birthing stool, relaxed my jaw (and therefore my cervix) and pushed our baby out in just less than an hour. I ate some Cream of Wheat with maple syrup, walked to the bathroom, and hung out in our house with my husband and three kids. My baby was in my arms.
When I called my BFF to tell her about the birth, she said, “It seems like the pain is always pretty bad for you.” I laughed saying, “Well, I have done it three times un-medicated. I think I just remember all the pain!”
We giggled when I told her it would be nice to have someone take care of me for a few days, rather than feeling like I had to do the dishes. She suggested I go to the hospital, tell them I gave birth, and ask if I could check in for a few days to relax.
When people ask my why I did it this way, I tell them that I am more afraid of the hospital than being at home. Some hospitals are doing a GREAT job and I am awed by them, but others have actual goals set for increased C-sections rates to prevent litigation, minimize the time they spend with birthing women, and increase profit.
Though there are things I don’t like about Ricki Lake’s movie, The Business of Being Born, she does do a good job describing the cycle that occurs when pitocin, the induction drug is given. Women come into the hospital in labor, they stop progressing (their cervix does not dilate further), then they are induced because the medical system often has a time line for birth. Once they are induced the pain is more intense then it is with natural birth, so they are offered an epidural. The epidural slows down labor again, and then, due to stress on the fetus, as indicated by fetal heart monitors, a c-section is seen as the next option. (Check out this scary link on “pit to distress,” an actual term used in hospitals to get women to the OR by distressing the fetus through induction: http://www.theunnecesarean.com/blog/2009/7/6/pit-to-distress-your-ticket-to-an-emergency-cesarean.html)
I am all for the miracle of cesarean births. Without them, a few little tikes I know wouldn’t be here, but the rising rate of them indicates a separation of women from their bodies and their choices. I knew my body and I knew that if I were in the hospital my cervix would close right the hell up.
Just as I had never heard of cervical fluid as part of reproduction, (the egg white looking stuff in your undies when you are ovulating that they failed to mention in 10th grade health class), I had never heard of home birth until another woman told me about it. I am amazed at what the human body does each day as women all over the world give birth. The disconnection that happens in a medicalized birth process seems to me to be a metaphor for our disconnection with our mother earth and our power. Women everyday, as a my cousin Jen once said, “growl our babies out,” if we are allowed to feel in charge of our bodies and the process. Pass the secret on.