Author’s note: Our new baby was born at home in our bedroom this past Wednesday without a birth attendant present. 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. The third installment is here. The final installment, about the labor itself, will be posted on Friday.
“So, who’s your midwife?” A friend asked.
“Oh, someone from out of town,” I heard myself lying into the phone.
“Have you chosen a midwife?” A mom from my daughters’ school wanted to know.
“Um, well, sure, yeah,” I hedged. “Hey, have you signed up to volunteer at the Winter Faire?”
It was my mother who asked the most urgent questions. She called James on the sly and told him to make sure we picked someone—anyone—as soon as possible. Away on a business trip close to my due date, she phoned from Puerto Rico to be sure we had a birth attendant.
“We found a midwife Mom,” I said. “A young woman who’s very competent. You have nothing to worry about. She’s great.”
“I’m. Just. So. Relieved.”
I hung up the phone and went into the kitchen.
“I think I just lied to my mother,” I said to James.
“You told her we had a midwife,” he laughed. “But you didn’t tell her the midwife was going to be at the birth.”
It had taken him a good four months but James had come around and actually seemed to be looking forward to the birth. He was as excited and impatient for us to be in labor as I was. And we really had identified a midwife in the Valley who supported our choice to have an unassisted birth and offered to be our “knowledgeable family friend,” willing to come over if we needed her, though not technically as a midwife (for which she could lose her certification) but just as a friend.
I told fewer than half a dozen people our plan for an unassisted birth. I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want people sending negative or fearful energy in our direction. I also found it trying to allay other people’s irrational fears.
“I’m not a hero,” I heard myself say several times, “I have nothing to prove … if something goes wrong or if there’s any reason that we need to, the hospital is a 2-minute drive from our house. I trust my body. I trust myself. I trust that I will know if something is wrong…”
I spent an hour on the phone reassuring my best friend that unassisted childbirth was safe. Sue wanted me to talk her through everything that could go wrong, so I did.
I told her what most people don’t know: that taking a shower is more dangerous and results in more deaths than having a baby, that driving in a car to the hospital is the most dangerous part of labor—besides what can go wrong because of hospital intervention—that large scientific studies most recently in Canada, but also in the United States, New Zealand, and Australia have all shown very clearly that homebirth is safer than hospital birth, and that there are women all over the United States having unassisted births, but because they fear social disapprobation and people’s irrational rage, they mostly keep it to themselves.
I suggested she read Heather Cushman Dowdee’s incredible cartoon about the unassisted birth of her son and look at Shauna Mama’s unbelievably moving and amazing photographs of herself catching her own baby during an unassisted birth.
I told her about Sarah J. Buckley, the Australian family physician, whose husband is also a doctor, who decided on an unassisted birth at age 40 with their fourth, a daughter who surprised them all by coming out breech (with no complications).
I also spent a lot of time preparing for the birth. I bought two kinds of “chux’s”: one package of disposable absorbent pads and one single chux made of cloth; I also bought ultra thick sanitary napkins and witch hazel (you put witch hazel on the napkins and put them in the freezer for after the birth); we had a handy man install a metal bar in our bathroom shower so I could lean against it during labor if I needed to; I drank loads of red raspberry tea, which is supposed to tone your uterus; I exercised every day; washed our cloth baby diapers; cooked and froze a huge batch of burritos; and started being obsessive about keeping the bathroom—where I expected I’d be laboring a lot of the time—clean and tidy. My friend Jenny leant me an herbal tonic to stop post partum hemorrhage and I asked friends to be on stand by to drive the kids home from school (Athena and Etani both wanted to see the birth) or pick them up from after school activities.
But most importantly I spent quiet time every day imaging the kind of birth I wanted us to have, relaxing, and meditating. If you know me in real life, you know that I’m not much for relaxing and I tend to dismiss the hooey-wooey stuff that people in Ashland like so much. I usually don’t have the patience for baths or the concentration for meditation but I’m trying to change that. To prepare for this birth I made myself slow down. I lit candles and sat in the tub and practiced making “aahh” and “oohh” noises, thinking about the baby moving through my body, being gently squeezed by contractions.
“I will have an easy, gentle birth,” I told myself every day. “I can do this.”
“My body is strong,” “The birth will be fun,” “I will keep a sense of humor,” “James and I will catch our baby,” “Contractions are an interesting sensation to pay attention to,” “This will be an easy, gentle birth.”
I said these things over and over to myself and made myself believe them. But here’s the truth: I wanted to have an unassisted birth more than anything and I couldn’t wait to go into labor but there was a small person in the back of my mind who thought I was asking for too much and was secretly terrified that something would go wrong.
Cartoon courtesy of Heather Cushman-Dowdee.