Author’s note: Our new baby was born at home in our bedroom this past Wednesday without a birth attendant present. No name (yet). No weight (we don’t own a scale). No midwives. This week’s posts are the story of how we came to choose an unassisted birth and about the birth itself. This is the second installment. The first installment is here. To read the whole story, please check back daily.
“We both started at the same place,” James explained during another “conversation” about unassisted birth. He put his hands side by side to show me what he meant. “And we both moved away from that place together.”
He kept his left hand in place and moved his right hand to show how we had both changed together: We started off as children of divorce who grew up in the 1970s playing soccer, eating Fruit Loops and Ding Dongs, watching TV every day after school, and participating in the mainstream without question, and together we became young parents who had a traumatizing hospital birth with almost every unnecessary intervention possible (except a C-section) who decided after months of research not to follow the CDC vaccination schedule, to make our own organic baby food, to hold our baby when she cried despite doctors telling us we would “spoil” her, to use cloth diapers even though everyone we knew said it was too much work, and to question the assumptions of our childhood.
After educating ourselves about it, reading everything we could, and meeting people who were more progressive than the limousine liberals I grew up around and the right-wing conservative business people from James’s side of the family, we left the world of medical hospital births behind and decided to have our second and third babies at home.
“But then,” James continued. “You made this even bigger leap,” he put his right hand as far from the left hand as he could. “Now you’re over here,” he bobbed his right hand up and down. “It’s taking me a lot longer to catch up, but I’m trying. I’m almost there.”
Our friend Nik was sympathetic. “I think it’s amazing what you want to do,” he told me. “But I understand it from James’s point of view, too. He has a lot to lose.”
Most people in America believe what Nik was implying: to have a home birth without midwives present is dangerous.
I could die.
The baby could die.
Maybe that’s what James was really afraid of.
But when James and I talked about our two home births, we realized that the only things that went wrong during Athena’s birth were midwife-induced.
Because it was February in New England during a snowstorm, the midwives did not come until the last 20 minutes of the labor. Even though I was in full-blown transition, I still remember Jharna barreling into the room.
“Have you checked her?!” she asked loudly to Kristen, who had arrived a few minutes before and had just enough time to set up her equipment. Jharna’s tone of urgency broke into my concentration—I was standing by the edge of the bed having a toe-curling contraction and my water was breaking.
“No need to,” Kristen replied. “I know she’s in transition.”
Though Kristen was calm and centered, Jharna started ordering all of us around. “You need to get on the bed,” she told me. “YOU NEED TO GET ON THE BED RIGHT NOW!”
James and I had not considered where I would birth the baby (other than at home) and this sounded reasonable at the time. I clambered onto the bed, gave three terrific pushes, and the baby practically flew across the room. During the minutes this took to happen Jarna managed to yell at me again to say that if she didn’t call my friend and toddler they would miss the birth. Then she bellowed down the stairs for Sue and Hesperus to come up.
At the same time, Kristen looked at the baby’s head when it came out and said, “Oh good, no cord.”
James pointed to the white serpentine thing wrapped around the baby’s neck and said, “What’s that?”
“The cord,” Kristen conceded, gently pulling it up and away from the baby’s neck.
Because I had pushed from a supine position, as ordered by a midwife, I ended up with a second-degree tear in my perineum that needed stitches.
Athena was a small baby and I am a wide-hipped woman.
It took years for me to realize that the tearing was completely unnecessary, the result of Jharna’s arbitrary idea that the baby needed to be born on the bed.
Or perhaps the idea was not that arbitrary and was actually for their convenience: if a woman is lying down and still (instead of moving, alternating between standing, squatting, and being on all fours), it makes it easier for the midwives to see what’s going on and to catch the baby.
After the birth, Jharna and Kristen disappeared into our guest room because Jharna’s back and neck were tight and she needed a massage. I’d like to think now that they were trying to be considerate and to give us some space, but even at the time I remember feeling slightly put out: they had been in our house for less than an hour and were already thinking more about themselves than about us and our new baby.
When I got pregnant for the third time, I called Kristen and told her I’d like to hire her but I did not want Jarna—who had no children of her own—at the birth. Kristen and I had become friends and I told her frankly that Jharna’s energy felt really negative. Though she initially agreed, she changed her mind. “You’re asking me to go behind my partner’s back,” she said. “I can’t do that.”
The birth attendant we chose this time, Megan Hill, was not yet certified as a midwife. But she had ten children of her own, all born at home. Five of her ten had been born without any outside assistance.
Interested in reading more? Post 3 tells the story of our second home birth, attended by a midwife-in-training and a doctor.