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. The first installment is here. The second installment is here. To read the rest of the story, please check back daily.
The not-yet-certified midwife we chose for our second home birth, M., had dreadlocks down to her ankles. She didn’t have an office. Instead, she brought her 4-year-old daughter with her when she visited our house for prenatal appointments.
Mostly we just talked.
She told me about how everything always got broken in her house but she didn’t get angry at her ten children because there was no point. She told me about how one of her daughters was autistic and would walk in circles for hours, a smile on her face. And how her second oldest wanted to be a midwife too.
I told her how I tore during Athena’s birth.
“You won’t tear this time,” she said. “You didn’t need to tear.”
“I didn’t?” I knew instantly that she was right.
But the birth process with my son started inauspiciously. My water broke at 11:00 p.m. and catapulted me into active labor. With my oldest daughter my water had broken at 11:00 p.m. as well, though she wasn’t born for another 22 hours.
I sobbed as amniotic fluid went into the toilet. I didn’t want to have another birth like Hesperus’s and I felt scared and tired. I didn’t wake James because I was afraid that everything would happen like the first time and that he would get exhausted. Instead I sat on the office couch and sewed up his robe, inside out, until the contractions were too intense to stay still. By then M. was there, though James was still sleeping.
M. was right, of course. I didn’t tear. The labor lasted only about four hours and was not nearly as bad as I had feared when it started. My friend Kathleen, a medical doctor who came as a friend not a doctor, showed up about twenty minutes before the birth.
When our son’s head crowned, I started walking away and Kathleen panicked, “Jennifer! Where are you going?!”
“JUST DON’T DROP THE BABY,” I cried, and twisted my body onto the bed as he slid out. M., who was crouching behind me, caught him.
That’s when Kathleen flew into a frenzy of action, grabbing a towel and vigorously rubbing the baby, directing James on how to cut the cord, whipping out a tape measure to measure his tiny perfect head. (“Can you leave him alone, please?” I said, annoyed. “It’s better to have a baseline, Jennifer,” she answered, clicking her pen closed as she finished writing on the chart.)
Our bedroom was small and it felt like there were a lot of people present. M. had essentially done exactly what we needed her to do: nothing. She checked the heartbeat five times while I was in labor but she did it so unobtrusively and gently that I did not even notice. Kathleen, who later told me that sitting on her hands and watching—this was the first and only home birth she had ever attended—was one of the hardest things she’d ever done, had done too much.
M. and Kathleen being there made James’s presence that much less important.
They were the authority we were deferring to, directing a natural process that could have unfolded on its own.
As much as I love and appreciate both of them to this day, their presence made the birthing that much less intimate, that much less about our family, that much less about our love for each other and our trust in the process.
We still weren’t at the same place about unassisted birth, but James agreed that our best birth had been Athena’s BEFORE the midwives arrived, when it was just the two of us, James and me, working as a team to ride out the contractions and help my body open up.
Maybe, just maybe, this birth could be like that one. But sans midwives.
Talking about our previous births, reading about unhindered childbirth, and thinking more about it, James started to believe that an unassisted birth might actually be a good idea.
Interested in reading more? Post 4 tells the story of our unassisted birth.