Today I’m proud to feature guest blogger Bert Powell, a.k.a. my dad. Normally my dad writes about motorcycle travel, but today he’s venturing off the highway and onto the rugged scenic route that is homebirth. In the span of only a generation, men’s role in childbirth has done a complete about face. As my dad tells below, he went from watching me be born on a closed circuit monitor in the hospital to being actively involved in the home births of 5 of his grandchildren (his other 3 grandchildren were born in the hospital). Here is his unique perspective:
One sunny October day in the 1970s my wife went into labour. Excited, we retrieved her pre-packed suitcase and headed to the hospital. When we arrived we completed the paper work and were checked into a lovely room in the maternity ward. We waited. And waited. Finally all signs of labour disappeared. The obstetrician (no mere GP for us!) prescribed some chemical to induce labour and we waited more still as contractions came and went. Eight hours later the obstetrician announced that a c- section was required. After all, we had traveled to the hospital, completed the paperwork, gone to the trouble of checking in and been prepped for the delivery room. May as well do this thing now. Who wants to go home disappointed and empty handed?
Even as a 25 year old I was skeptical of the doctor’s logic. When a nurse surreptitiously leaned over to me and whispered, “Sir take your wife home, she isn’t ready yet” our decision was made. We said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to the c-section and went home empty handed and all.
Two weeks later my wife was truly ready. Off we went to the hospital again. The hospital was pretty cutting edge and I got to watch my baby’s birth on a 12 inch, closed circuit monitor in a waiting room. An hour later I was ushered into the ward to see my wife and look at my baby daughter through the window of the newborn nursery. I couldn’t have been happier, prouder and more thankful for a perfectly healthy daughter, a beautiful wife and a problem free birth.
Flash forward 30 years and now my baby girl is having a baby herself, but with a major twist - something called homebirth!
“What the hell do you mean homebirth? Why do you think our hospitals are filled with highly trained people and specialized medical equipment? What if something goes wrong?” I asked, flabbergasted. I proceeded to list all of the terrible things that can happen in birth. Or at least the ones I had read about.
Kelley kept her composure, as she always does, and explained the homebirth gig to me.
“What are you talking about a midwife? You mean some tree hugging Birkenstock-wearing mama who read a few magazine articles?”
And so the banter continued and her exasperation with me never showed, but I knew it was there because fathers know these things. I was never under the illusion that my daughter was seeking my approval for the homebirth folly – she was simply informing me of her choice.
I was just about to make a really good argument (“But you won’t have a hospital bracelet for the baby book”) when the day of my granddaughter’s birth arrived.
Kelley was attended to by her husband, mom, sister and that tree hugging midwife, Miriam. Let me say that as challenging as birth is for the mother, it is also a challenge for the grandfather who is cowering in the family room listening to the yoga chants from the bedroom and letting his imagination stew over all the negative possibilities. My assigned responsibility was to look after my other daughter’s baby while she joined the more experienced adults in assisting the mother-to-be. Occasionally, I tentatively popped my head in the bedroom door to inquire how things were going. I was amazed at how calm, happy, relaxed and in control those in the inner sanctum were while I was literally tearing my hair out.
22 hours later, I had had enough. It was time to pull the plug on this silly experiment and get off to the hospital, where normal people give birth. I expressed my concerns in private to the midwife and was politely but firmly told that Kelley and her husband, Imran, would make that decision. In other words, I got the boot. Or the Birkenstock. Whatever it was, I shut up.
Two hours later, my granddaughter, Sage, was welcomed to this world in a warm, cosy bedroom by the loving and welcoming arms of her mother, father, grandmother, aunt and yes, that tree hugger Miriam. I was among the first to hold her. In some cultures, they say the first hold new life will be infinitely connected to that life forever.
Within 15 minutes Sage met the rest of her ecstatic family, which included young cousins and an uncle who had made a mad dash from a city 5 hours away to arrive only minutes after the birth. As for me, I had been transformed from a doubting grandfather to homebirth believer. Sage’s birth was gorgeous. Truly gorgeous. A celebration of life, family and what it means to be a human being.
The only misadventure to report was an umbilical cord that, in the tears and thrill of birth, my wife mistook for a penis. This resulted in me being told I had a grandson. Fortunately Miriam was there to encourage us to take a second look. I guess midwives do know what they’re doing after all. I learned that that tree hugger Miriam is in fact a highly trained healthcare professional with more experience in normal birth than any GP. I learned that an obstetrician specializes in birth pathology (thank God we have them, and hospitals, when we truly need them), while a midwife specializes in the miracle that is regular, everyday birth (and, amazingly, when births are left to themselves, most are regular).
As I consider Kelley and Sage’s births there is no question which was superior in terms of the infant’s health, the mother’s care and the family’s involvement. I have now grandfathered 5 homebirths as Kelley and her sister’s families grew. I used to see birthing as a medical issue, a necessary healthcare process you had to endure to reach the desired conclusion of bringing home a healthy new family member. Now I understand that birthing is not a technical job to be left to trained personnel only. It is a very personal experience for each family member and a bonding event like none other. Whatever it is for the family, it is a hundred times more for the mother and child. It is the first page of the newborn’s life story; it starts to define her relationship with the people who will always be close to her. That page will be read over and over again as the child grows. It will give her a basis of understanding of who she is and where she comes from. I don’t believe there is a hospital in the country that could match homebirth when it comes to giving a child such a solid foundation to craft a life upon.
So, if you are a soon-to-be mother considering homebirth, don’t expect your father (or others, for that matter) to be solidly behind the idea, not initially anyway. He may be fearful, skeptical or even cynical over your apparent snub of our wonderfully expensive healthcare system. That’s our nature. But be patient, persistent and give him time to think it through. Someday we will all see the light.
About Kelley Powell
Kelley has written for New Moon Girls, The Globe and Mail and Maclean's magazine. She teaches yoga and meditation and is at home with her 3 children, aged 7, 5 and 2. She is currently seeking a publisher for her young adult novel which explores meditation, the relationship between mothers and sons and what it means to be free.