(October 6, 2011. 22.5 weeks)
Last weekend was a cloudy, rainy one. The kind that’s ideal for crafting, organizing, getting pizza delivery, and watching a good guilty sci-fi pleasure (like the new TV series Terra Nova). But also for baby-book reading, and very long prayers and thinking time on the couch about bringing this little one into the world.
Daniel and I knew from the beginning that a hospital birth was not for us. Unless my pregnancy turned into an absolute high risk pregnancy or complications arise during my labor, I knew I wanted to have our baby in either the comfort of our home or a birthing center. There are a million reasons why. And when I say a million I mean a million. Since I don’t have forever to write this post I will do my best to narrow the reasons down. But before I dive in, I want to preface some things. First off, I didn’t want to write this post. Childbirth and how you go about it is a sensitive topic. It’s very controversial, and it’s an extremely personal decision. But my husband convinced me it would be good for me and possibly good for my readers. It’s good to think deeply about the important things in life, appreciate different perspectives, and learn from each other. And that’s what I want my blog to ultimately be about. A safe place where I can share my art, the significant things happening in my life, and a place where we can enjoy life together, and talk about it.
With that said, here are some of the reasons why and how we came to the decision of having a home birth.
First of all, I’ve never felt comfortable in hospitals. I’ve been reading probably way too much about all of this, and one of the things I keep coming across is that when the birthing mother feels comfortable, safe, and relaxed her labor progresses and usually goes well (imagine that). Hospitals are too bright, sterile, and stressful for me to feel anything but comfortable. Plus, I’m always in a bad mood when I go because something is usually wrong with me. I’m sick or hurt. That’s what hospitals are for—sickness. And, simply put, I don’t believe birth/pregnancy is a sickness and I don’t want to be in that frame of mind when I’m in labor. Healthy, low-risk pregnancies and births are not emergencies, problems, or abnormalities, and I believe those are the things that a hospital is appropriate for. That’s what hospitals are good at and I’m thankful we have them for those reasons. But, perhaps not for a normal, healthy pregnancy and birth. I believe women’s bodies are well designed for birth and that the overwhelming majority of women can actually have an un-medicated, natural birth.
Sadly, I don’t hear or see this belief as often as it seems like I should. Essential knowledge of women’s capacities in birth seems to be lost not only to professional caregivers, but also the women of childbearing age themselves. Myself included, at one point. All I knew and saw in society about childbirth was that it was excruciating, traumatic, and completely beyond the birthing women’s ability to handle and accomplish without medical intervention of some kind (even though women have been doing this since the beginning of time). Since that is the image I had of childbirth, I would have no way to know how well healthy women’s bodies can work in labor and birth had I not heard the stories of many of my friends, neighbors, and women I’ve never met but have had the privilege of reading about. It was all these stories of natural, un-medicated, and, dare I say it, comfortable births one after another that got me seriously thinking and asking the question “Why are these women able to have gentle, un-medicated births, when so many women, particularly in the western world, do not have these stories at all and seem doomed for painful, traumatic birthing experiences?”
Well, the more I read, and the more I listened to women the more clear the answers to that question became. And the answers did not consist of these women being special, unique beings of some kind. They’re all just like me and you. What I realized the more I read and learned is that the difference between these women isn’t physical (99% of the time). We have the same intrinsic physical capabilities they do. The difference seems to have to do with the environment, support or lack of support, and belief in the birthing woman. I know most of us women brought up in western cultures are bombarded with messages that teach us to think that our thoughts and feelings don’t matter when it comes to the functioning of our bodies. Thoughts and feelings are considered irrelevant to physical welfare. When something goes wrong with the body, our culture teaches that pharmaceutical medicines or surgery will be necessary. Am I right? But think about it, how do you feel and how does your body respond when someone tells you, “You’re marvelous,” and genuinely believes it? Pay attention next time, I bet you’ll be surprised at the physiological response your body has. I believe the birthing woman’s body can work really well given the right support and circumstances. The birthing centers, home-births, midwives (including ours), that I’ve read about over and over again have had astounding statistics. Fewer than 2% of these women had cesareans and fewer than 1% had their babies delivered by forceps or vacuum extractors (that is a mind-blowing percent when the cesarean rates in most hospitals now are 30% and climbing). The outcomes of these births have demonstrated to me how rare it is for complications and difficulties to occur when women are properly prepared for birth and when technological/medical interventions are kept to a minimum—that is used only when actually necessary.
Which leads me to the next main reason we are having a natural, home birth. We are going this route not only because I’ve learned I physically can do it (though that’s huge), but also because, based on the research we’ve done, we believe it’s actually safer and healthier for our baby and myself. From what we’ve learned, unnecessary medical interventions and practices, such as, inducing, various forms of anesthesia (i.e., epidurals), episiotomy, c-section, being forced to remain still while lying on your back during labor (the most painful position possible), not only make labor and post-labor more difficult and painful, but they can lead to many of the complications you hear occurring in labor. In other words, the complications that arise after these interventions are done might not have occurred at all if the woman was trusted and given space and time. This post would get too long if I went specifically into all the risks and complications that can arise from these interventions (it’s already long enough). Bottom line (for us), is that there is an intricate and exquisitely balanced cocktail of hormones that is necessary to trigger all of the functions of labor and birth. They play key roles in regulating and timing uterine contractions during labor and birth, and they stimulate the maternal and infant emotions and actions that are vital to the survival of the newborn. This cocktail becomes imbalanced when synthetic hormones and medical interventions are used. This—naturally—leads to complications and women all of sudden find themselves undergoing unforeseen, major surgery (c-section), which is so much riskier than a vaginal birth, getting the epidural they never wanted, and ultimately not being able to be fully present for their newborn. I don’t want this to be our story, unless I know we’ve done everything we could to avoid it and it still ends up being absolutely necessary. And I feel most confident that that will only be guaranteed under the care of my midwives, and in the context of our home.
All of this being said, I do want to say, I know that there are hospitals and doctors out there who are working toward changing these practices and perspectives on birth (especially in Portland). This makes me really, really excited. I think the pregnant woman is the only one responsible for her birth and she should be able to decide where she feels safest to birth her child. If that means having a natural, no-intervention birth in a hospital, she should be able to have that. Unfortunately, I don’t hear that story often, and I don’t think hospitals are 100% there yet.
I could go on and on, obviously. But, I’ll end here with how excited I am to embrace my birth and (if I’m not a part of that 2%) have our baby in our home. For the first time, the thought of being able to feel every part of giving birth to my baby is exciting instead of scary. This labor is not an illness to be numbed, it’s something to be experienced. The thought of getting to do this along side my amazing midwives, doula, and supportive husband is an overwhelmingly happy thought for me, and I can’t wait.
I hope, more than anything, this was informative and encouraging for all of you. Especially to those of you who are pregnant or want to be someday, I hope this encouraged you to spend some time researching your birth options. It’s one of the most important parts of our lives.
Much of my resources were from various birthing books, articles, and actual women who have given birth in hospitals, birthing centers, or their homes. This book has been particularly transformational for me.