This essay is something that I posted on a message board a few years ago, and upon revisiting it today, thought it appropriate for this blog. Having had several years to work on conceiving a baby, I’ve also spent a great deal of time contemplating getting said baby OUT. Not everyone will agree with what I’ve written below, but it’s the result of a significant amount of research, soul-searching, and talking to countless mothers.
My Journey Home to Have My Baby
I grew up “knowing” that childbirth was painful, traumatic, and inherently dangerous. Without a trained doctor to catch the baby, Mom and baby alike faced all manner of horrible complications. You went to the hospital, got drugs to numb the pain, and the doctor delivered your baby. You went to your room to sleep, the baby went to the nursery where people who knew what they were doing made sure he was ok. You lovingly peered through a window at a sea of babies and made happy faces at yours.
My mom would have died in childbirth if she had had my brother 100 years ago rather than in 1978. She simply couldn’t dilate past 2 cm, and when she hit the 24 hour mark after her water broke, it was time for a C-section. When I came along in 1980, I was – of course – a C-section.
As I got older and swore up and down I wouldn’t have kids, I listened to everyone else’s stories. “I was overdue, so I had to be induced.” “The baby was 7 lbs, and I just couldn’t do it vaginally, so I had to have a C-section.” “Thank God we were in the hospital. I never could have done it by myself; the doctor had to use forceps, vacuum, all kinds of things. We would have died.” “So-and-so had a baby at home; she’s crazy. In fact, I think I should call CPS on her for neglect. Do what you want with yourself, but don’t harm your baby because you are a sprout-munching hippie.” (YES, I have heard every one of these in pretty much those exact words)
I wasn’t planning on having kids anyway, but this kind of thing made it that much less appetizing. Why on Earth would I deliberately go through such a dangerous, scary ordeal?
Then I got married. And then we decided we wanted kids. Oh boy.
Not wanting to put myself or my baby in any unnecessary danger, and wanting to know EXACTLY what I was getting myself into, I started researching. I was terrified of doctors anyway, having had some really nasty experiences at the hands of a number of doctors throughout my life. I wanted to make sure I knew as much as I could, so that maybe I could prevent myself from having my streak of Bad Doctor luck extend into childbirth.
I wanted to know all about epidurals (not because I thought they were unsafe, but because I’m terrified of needles and that one was going to go in MY BACK!!!). I didn’t want to deal with the pain, but a needle? In my back? *whimper*
Maybe it was luck, maybe it was divine intervention (being an atheist, I’ll go with luck), but the first site I found was a homebirth site. Ooookay, well, maybe these people have links to normal birth stuff. Well, they did…normal, non-medical, non-managed births. Normal births.
I didn’t sleep so good that night. I spent most of the night staring at the ceiling thinking about the birth stories I’d read. I’d never read birth stories before. And they were so….peaceful. The pain, the horror, and the fear were not the main themes of the stories. In fact, they were barely present, except for pain, but that wasn’t a big deal. It just “was”.
I started finding more stories that unnerved me even more. People who had had their first one, two, even three or four kids in a hospital. The experiences haunted them. At best, they were uncomfortable, something wasn’t right. At worst, they were horrific to the point of longterm psychological and physical trauma. It was the other side of the stories I’d heard all my life. It wasn’t “thank God the doctors/hospital/machines were there to save us”, it was, “What the hell did they do to me?”
But if birth itself is so scary and dangerous, what could possibly have happened to make them believe doing it at HOME, without a doctor, was safer?
Failed epidurals. Reactions – in Mom and baby – to pitocin, epidurals, painkillers, and the like. Gaping episiotomies that really didn’t need to be there. Infections. Being tied down to hospital protocols that, now that the women mentioned it, really didn’t make much sense. Not eating/drinking? For 12, 18, even 36 hours? Or lying in bed with your legs in the air instead of squatting or being on all fours, which, to my great surprise is the way many women give birth when left to their own devices. Being in bed with your feet in stirrups actually closes the pelvis considerably, and pushes the tailbone into the way…I had no idea.
I always though you gave birth on your back with your legs up, but why were these women standing, squatting, and kneeling, and having big babies with nary a tear? Why was pushing counted as 2, 3, or 4 contractions or pushes, not 2, 3, or 4 hours? And it wasn’t just second/third/fourth time mothers, it was FIRST time mothers.
These weren’t women who were sad or angry and wanted to sue, or seek revenge. They were women who realized something was amiss and did something about it. And the subsequent experiences were not only better, it was not uncommon at all for me to see them described as “healing”. Healing? Birth? I thought those two only went together when you were talking about stitches and stretches. How odd.
It kept me up all night because it rattled me out of my comfort zone. One of the truths that had been ingrained into my head all my life…maybe it wasn’t so true after all.
But I’m not going to automatically buy into something because I read it online. So it was off to the bookstore. I picked up books in every part of the spectrum: from pro-homebirth to pro-hospital, and everything in between.
One was written by a couple of RN’s that worked in labor and delivery. They said right up front that they wouldn’t be discussing homebirth in their book because they believed it was dangerous. I read their book, and couldn’t help asking myself (constantly) “why do they need to do this or that?” “That doesn’t make any sense.” “Why?” “WTF?”
I read Henci Goer and Ina May Gaskin. I found a 2” thick book all about everything pertaining pregnancy and childbirth, with information on home and hospital. I read every last one of them cover to cover.
I didn’t sleep the next few nights either.
So I started corresponding with women on homebirth lists, lurking on message boards for everything from negative births to homebirths to unassisted births (yikes! I thought) to unmedicated hospital. I talked to people who adored their hospital births, and people who were traumatized by them. I talked to mothers who adored their homebirths, and tried to find people traumatized by them, but found very, very few. I literally read hundreds, probably well over a thousand birth stories.
So many questions were raised in my mind: Why were there so many C-sections? Why did so many women “need” inductions? There was so much going wrong with so many women that I had to stop and ask myself, was it the process of birth, or the way it was being managed? Why did normal, low risk moms suddenly need a million interventions, and why did this happen so often compared to at home?
Most of all, why were women giving birth at home, with people they love and trust, in dimly lit, quiet rooms? Why weren’t they on their backs, straddled, screaming bloody murder, in unbearable agony? Oh, because I guess that’s not how it’s really supposed to be.
It’s been nearly five years since I started looking for information, fully intending to give birth in a hospital just like everyone with a brain in their head would do. And here I am. We’re still trying to conceive our first, but the fear I had about birth is gone. I know it’ll hurt, but I’m not afraid of that pain. I’m more afraid of what could happen if I try to alleviate that pain with drugs. Barring any unforseens requiring a doctor, I don’t see any reason why an event that *could* be safe and peaceful needs to require me fighting against hospital protocols and putting myself or my baby in that environment.
It was an unnerving, comfort zone rattling journey, but in the end, it was a journey home, and it was worth it.