I’m currently on hiatus from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but want to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. For a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)
This guest post comes from Courtney who blogs at A Life Sustained.
Portrait of a Home Birthing Couple
If you had asked me a year ago to envision a “home birthing couple” I probably would have described a pair of long-haired back-to-the-land hippies living in a cabin in the woods and shunning any and all medical advances. That, or some sort of religious extremists. I definitely wouldn’t have described myself or my husband, we’re far too run-of-the-mill, but that’s exactly what we’ve become. As of this February we have become a home birthing couple.
I’ll fully admit that I never really gave much thought to what my birth experience might look like. I assumed that I would go to the hospital, scream a lot like they do on TV, and then be handed a swaddled little bundle o’ joy. But by the time I got around to seriously considering having a child, my life had begun to change in much larger ways. After a quarter century or so of flitting from one thing to another, never having a real job, and pretty much just coasting through life, I decided that that was no longer how I wanted to live. I was desperate for something deeper. More meaningful. I wanted to take more responsibility and make actual decisions rather than just falling into the next stage. Words like “mindful,” “sustainable,” and “deliberate” took on new and profound meanings for me. All elements of my life were suddenly under a critical lens and my plans for childbirth were no exception.
My mother was 30 years old when she gave birth to me. She wasn’t particularly planning on having a natural birth, but ended up with one because the window of opportunity for any drugs had already closed. After a very short labor, I was handed to her still covered in vernix and she had an intense urge to lick me clean. She held me to her chest, drank in my new-baby smell and was immediately ready to have another one, she said. This is the story of my birth and it has completely shaped my notions of what a “normal” birth looks like. I thought that all births looked this way.
It was at a fundraiser for my local women’s clinic that I saw the film The Business of Being Born. It didn’t necessarily convince me that I wanted to birth at home, but it did show me that I had made a lot of assumptions about attitudes and practices towards birth in the hospital setting. It also made me realize that if I thought my birth experience was an important thing, and I did, then I needed to take responsibility for that experience, educate myself, and come up with a plan.
After much, much reading and visiting with other soon-to-be-mamas, I took the easy way out. That’s right. I chose a home birth because, for me, it was the easy option. I knew that I wanted a natural water birth. I also knew that I cave easily under pressure and all it would take would be a stern word from anyone in a white coat and I would abandon my plan. Even just a “why don’t you get that epidural, honey,” I knew, would cause me to falter and I just didn’t want to deal with that pressure. I talked it over with my husband, who, although skeptical, trusted me to make an informed decision and was willing to surrender to the fact that I was the one giving birth and so I should be the one to have the final say in where that birth took place.
Not too long after I turned 30, I got pregnant. And I panicked. What should I do? Who should I call? I didn’t even know how to go about finding a midwife who would attend a home birth (Direct Entry Midwives, those who usually attend home births, cannot legally practice in my state, making finding care a bit more challenging). I did, however, remember that a friend of a friend was a doula (a word whose definition I didn’t even know a year prior). Even though I didn’t know her very well at that time and I am incredibly shy, I contacted her, shared our good news, and begged her for help. She, like most midwives and doulas that I’ve met, was incredibly kind and compassionate and she set up a time for us to meet with her and the midwife with whom she works.
We met in the warm and welcoming environment of her home and I knew immediately that these two women (well, and my husband) were the only people that I needed next to me when I went into labor. I didn’t need time to think it over. It just felt right.
Over the next nine months they provided in-depth and personalized care. There was no waiting in waiting rooms and each appointment lasted at least an hour. During this time, the midwives did all that would be done at a prenatal appointment at the hospital (check weight, blood pressure, urine, listen for fetal heart tones, etc.) plus a lot of time was spent giving full answers to our many questions. A lot of time was also spent laughing. These women were fun and they helped me to see that labor, although an intense experience, could actually be enjoyable, something to look forward to, and nothing to fear.
I should have known that I would soon be going into labor because I stereotypically cleaned my house from top to bottom. I justified this uncharacteristic behavior, however, with the fact that we had a prenatal the following day and I didn’t want the midwives to see just how lackadaisical we really were with housework. At 1:00 A.M. I woke up with contractions, although I didn’t really recognize them as such. I was more annoyed than anything because for the first time in three months I was actually comfortable and was having a fantastic night’s sleep, but then these cramps just kept waking me up.
In denial that this was it, I labored alone for three hours and let my husband sleep. When I finally needed some help coping with the contractions I woke him up. Even at that point I didn’t really think that I would be giving birth that day. My contractions were 5 minutes apart and a minute long, so we called the midwife to let her know. Normally this would be the point when things are just getting rolling, but when she heard the vocalizations I was making, she said that she would be right over.
Because I was at home I was able to move around as I wanted. I spent most of my time in a half bend over a waist-high dresser, but also spent some time on the floor and kneeling on the bed. I felt completely free to make as much noise as I needed to (which turned out to be quite a bit) without feeling self-conscious. I believe both of these things were really key in how quickly and easily I dilated. I felt safe and my body took that as permission to do what it needed to do.
My water broke three hours later after which I got into the tub and after two hours of pushing my son was born and laid naked on my chest. He was perfect and I was without words. I’m pretty sure the first thing I said was, “it’s a baby!” and of course, I cried.
Throughout most of the labor my midwives mostly just stayed out of my way. They offered constant reassurance and support, but they let me move and proceed as instinct dictated, offering gentle suggestions on how to modify what I was already doing to make it more effective. They monitored the safety of the situation, intermittently checking fetal heart tones and came prepared with emergency equipment. At no point did I ever feel that this wasn’t a safe decision. I was confident, and I still am, that birth is a natural process that our bodies are perfectly designed to cope with.
For the 90% of pregnancies that are low risk, like mine, birthing at home is such an opportunity. It was an opportunity for me to find out how strong I am. To share an intimate experience with my husband. To bring my son into the world in a manner that was calm, gentle, safe, warm, and loving. After we were all cleaned up, the midwives tucked the three of us into bed, made us breakfast, and started a load of laundry. They came back to the house to check on us (Housecalls! I didn’t have to figure out how to transport a newborn to the doctor’s office in the dead of winter!) the next day and again at one week, two weeks, and six weeks.
Our home birth was such a positive experience, but it was also so…normal. When people ask us about it, I think they expect to hear some long nail-biting tale in which we “almost didn’t make it” or for me to start talking about what a moon goddess that I am. They are always surprised by how simple and straightforward the whole thing was; exactly as it should be.
Courtney is a Midwestern mama who is striving to create a home that is simple, mindful, and full of nature and beauty. She is passionate about treading lightly on the Earth, supporting local craftspeople, and all things natural and handmade. She blogs about her transition to living a more sustainable life as well as her transition to motherhood at A Life Sustained.
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