Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Reluctant Homebirthers

My midwife calls my husband and me "The Reluctant Homebirthers," a very appropriate title. Yes, we planned to birth at home, but not until the last minute. And when all this started, I did not at all expect to end up giving birth in my own tub. In fact, I believe D said "hell no" when I first brought it up.

I have long been an advocate of natural childbirth and the practice of midwifery. After taking a course my senior year of college called Women & Reproduction, taught by a midwife, my understanding of women's bodies and the natural process of birth made natural childbirth seem not only preferable, but safer and easier. I won't take time to go through all the reasons, but in short, it just makes sense to me that mothers should be allowed to be out of bed (reclining in birth is counter productive!), and that hospitals are more likely to intervene, and one intervention in a natural process throws the entire process out of whack. Women's bodies are designed to give birth, so why mess with it? For those interested, I'd recommend watching the documentary The Business of Being Born for a quick overview, though I think the film skips some opportunities to discuss the scientific benefits of untampered-with birth.

Not me

I feel the need to point out here that I don't identify myself as a hippie. I like doctors. I am pro-vaccine and love science. I once told my husband that I didn't want a midwife who would show up in Birkenstocks and a broomstick skirt with a crystal around her neck. To me, natural childbirth out of a hospital made sense scientifically and logically, not out of some need for me to express my "womanhood" or damn The Man. (I will now say that natural birth is incredibly empowering and hippies are awesome people, smelly sandals and all).

My first birth was at a freestanding birth center. My part of SC does not have any birth centers adjoining hospitals, which would have been my first choice. As a person who always plans for the worst-case scenario, I liked the idea of being close to medical help. Our center was three miles from the hospital where my overseeing doctor practiced, which made it worth the 1.5-hour drive during labor. My experience there was wonderful, I loved my midwives, but I knew (and my birth team agreed) that I wouldn't want to make that drive the second time. I also remained in touch and became friends with the woman who had been the apprentice at my birth, Carey. She is now fully licensed and practicing with an office 10 minutes from my house, so I knew I wanted to work with her. The only trouble was that she only did home births. Just like doctors can't just stroll into any hospital and start practicing, midwives have to be affiliated with birth centers to deliver there. So that was my choice: work with Carey, or find a birth center in Greenville (45-50 minutes away) and find new midwives.

Thankfully, Carey wanted to work with us, enough so that she contacted local birth centers to see if anyone would let her deliver there. A new one had just opened up, and they said yes. We were thrilled -- I could work with the midwife I wanted, have all my appointments be local (for those who don't know, midwives do all your prenatal appointments as well, and wow are they kinder and warmer than doctors' visits!), and still deliver in a birth center that was nearer to a hospital, though still a 50-minute drive for us. We made this decision, booked a tour of the birth center, and then let the months pass by.

So much nicer than a plastic box
We had to cancel one tour. Carey had to cancel one time. The owner of the center, who would be the second midwife attending our birth, cancelled one time, and then didn't show up another time. Suddenly, we were within two months of birth, and we had never toured the birth center, met the owner, seen a contract, or received any feelings of support or trust from the center. We grew nervous. One trait a midwife must have is reliability, and we weren't feeling that from the center's owner. Plus, and this is small but nagging, the center's fees were expensive.  I expressed my anxiety to my overseeing doctor at my 35-week appointment, and he frankly told me this: "If you choose out-of-hospital birth, it makes no difference if you're in a birth center or at home. The midwives have the same equipment, the same training, the same oversight. At a birth center, you're basically just renting a room for the location." He then suggested I asked a friend in Greenville if I could deliver at their house -- a favor too big for me to even think of someone to ask. So we then discussed the "what ifs" of transport, and he assured me that my location to hospitals -- one 15 minutes away, another 25 minutes away, and one with a NICU 50 minutes away -- was perfectly safe for anything that might come up during a home birth (for the record, very few home births require transport, and when they do, it's rarely a dire emergency; you usually have plenty of time to decide when and where to go. For real emergencies, you call 911).

So I came home from that appointment and sat down my husband for a chat. He agreed to a home birth before I had even finished my spiel. I asked how he had changed his mind from being so clearly opposed to the idea just a few months before. "Well," he said, "I'm going to be worried about you [he may have actually said "terrified" because he's not a big fan of the labor process] wherever we deliver. If you feel more comfortable at home, and that seems easier, let's just do that." So, at 35 weeks pregnant, we became part of the fringe.

So much nicer than a hospital bed
We discussed how our families would feel, fearing the worse, but they were all surprisingly supportive. In fact, most people I told said something along the lines of "good for you! I hope it works out." We received a lot more support than I expected, and though I know it wasn't a decision many others would make, no one called me crazy.

Thankfully, our birth went smoothly. It was so easy to labor at home, not worry about when to leave, what to pack, where to go. There were no forms, no people to meet, no sterile environments. I watched the Olympics in my living room, sipping Powerade. My mom moved in and cooked. After the birth, the baby and I walked to my own bed and didn't leave it for three days, a wonderfully calm and healing experience. If we were to have more children, I would certainly birth at home again -- and this time, without reluctance.

2 comments:

  1. It sounds wonderful, really! I'm glad it all went smoothly, and that Mother Nature once again proved how brilliant she is!

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  2. Thanks for sharing Claiborne and little Amelia is beautiful. It's always nice to hear stories that promote midwives/natural birth, etc. I'm seeing a practice of midwives this time around and the looks I get from my friends here in NC when I tell them is one of general bewilderment.

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