My trip from hospital births with all the fixings to a unassisted birth at home while floating in a pool of warm water took me almost ten years. By the time I became pregnant with the ninjababy, my fourth; I didn’t want anyone with letters after their name anywhere near me: the last three children that I had birthed at the hands of the medical establishment had left me broken and scarred.
Baby one, my eldest, my son. I was young(ish) while I was growing him, but at 23 I knew that I wanted a midwife – not an OB/GYN. I didn’t really know much more than that, but looking back on my birth plan now I shake my head. I had listed no drugs, intermittent fetal monitoring, and no episiotomy. I wanted to labor in the shower and not deliver on my back and decline routine vitamin K and eye goo. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to achieve it at that point. I chose to birth in a medical hospital because I had been convinced that it was “safer” but my midwife may as well have been a doctor. She was part of a huge medical group, and the hands on personal attention I wanted was pushed off to her nurses and partners.
I had literally every intervention short of a c-section with DS1. I had an IV, constant external fetal monitoring, AROM, internal fetal monitoring. I was stuck in bed, given Nubain and then an epidural. I agreed to everything the nurses suggested because I believed that they had my best interest at heart, and knew more about birthing babies than I did. I ended up delivering him flat on my back with a NICU team in the room because after being pumped full of pitocin for 8 hours and not being allowed to eat or drink anything for more than 17 hours the machines said he was in trouble. Out he came after a huge and unneeded episiotomy to “hurry things along” … perfectly healthy and 8 pounds, 11 ounces.
Twenty months later when I was in labor with my daughter I thought I had it figured out. I was NOT going to the hospital until the very last minute! I had a short, succinct birth plan that I was sure they would follow! I had a BETTER midwife that would listen to me! This would be the one! I arrived at the hospital at 7cm to find that I’d be delivered by an OB since “my” midwife was off-call and a short three hours later was holding a bumpy headed baby girl … after being stuck flat on my back in a bed, having constant external monitoring, AROM, oxygen, an IV and a wonderfully unneeded to “hurry things along” episiotomy that expanded to a 3rd degree tear with I’m-not-going-to-tell-you-how-many-stitches. She was tiny, only eight pounds, and there was no need for all of the interventions that took place. On the bright side, I did manage to avoid an epidural, and her birth was drug free.
The birth of my second son was so traumatic that almost five years later I find myself still unable to write the story of his birth. I was violated, humiliated, tortured and dehumanized in every way possible. Animals birthing in barns are treated better. I left the hospital less than 12 hours after his birth with a fractured pelvis, both arms purple from IV’s, a bruised baby, and the feeling I had just survived a nightmare. I went straight to the grocery store, totally unable to process what had happened to me. I suffered PTSD (I later found out that “birth trauma” is a very real and under realized issue) and massive anxiety attacks that made it nearly impossible to leave the house for almost a year after his arrival. When I finally broke down and asked myOBfor help, describing the terrifying, suffocating panic attacks, soul crushing depression and out-of-control feelings he asked me if I was thinking of hurting the baby, then offered a script for Zoloft and the advice to “just get over it.” He was nine pounds and three ounces, and I was told that I’d never birth a bigger baby safely.
I literally swore that I would have no more children. No bastard in a white coat was coming near me again to torture and humiliate me. I WAS DONE.
And then my life changed. And I found myself pregnant with the ninjababy.
I was ten years older than I was the first time I had done this. I had birthed three babies with no complications. I had read more; I had more of a support system. I had watched documentaries, had a group of like minded crunchy moms on Twitter and a new and supportive partner. My entire life had changed. But the thought of going to the hospital to birth still terrified me.
So I chose not to.
No hospital. No OB/GYN. No testing, no blood work, no fingers poking my cervix once a week. No weigh ins. No drinking nasty sugar water to prove that my body could metabolize it. No paper gowns.
Not this time.
Our original plan was to birth at home, with a hands-off midwife. I wanted to do as much of my own prenatal care at home as I could. My first problem came when trying to actually find a hands-off midwife that we could afford. My insurance simply wouldn’t cover the charges for a home birth (don’t get me started on that…) and we just did not have the extra $3000 to $5000 that was the average cost in this area. Besides that obstacle, the few midwives that I spoke to did not exactly seem hands-off to me…I wanted someone to sit by and knit in the living room if and until I needed them, not someone who was going to insist on pushing a Doppler against my stomach every fifteen minutes and start talking transfer after 12 hours of labor. No one I interviewed “clicked” and I just couldn’t picture them at my birth.
We did find one, fantastic, awesome, amazing doula and midwife that we visited twice. She was kind enough to write a script for me to get the 20 week ultrasound I wanted since it was important to me to make sure there were no underlying medical conditions that would make a home birth actively dangerous, but realistically she lived much too far away to attend our birth. She offered to talk my partner through it on the phone if it was needed, and attempt to come if we wanted her, and I was okay with that. She also monitored my weight gain (actually, loss for the first seven months) and the results of my ultrasound and weekly urine tests.
I did all of my own prenatal care. I monitored my weight, bought urine dipsticks to keep track of protein and sugars and ketones. I have a blood glucose monitor that I used periodically before and after eating to make sure that my sugars were fine (they tend to run low). I rented a Doppler to have here to check his heartbeat as a “just in case” – though I honestly think I only used it twice, the peace of mind was nice to have. I ate well, took vitamins, exercised and kept track of how often he moved. I measured my belly to make sure that he was growing appropriately. I learned belly mapping to help me recognize his positioning. Once a month or so I’d have my blood pressure checked. We had two ultrasounds – one at twenty weeks and one at 32 after a fall – both of which showed a healthy boy growing well with no obvious health concerns. I did everything here that an OB would do in an office except for cervical checks the last month, group B strep, and glucose tolerance testing…all of which I felt safe in declining.
We did not go into this unprepared. We discussed unassisted birth here at length. We talked about the “what ifs” that may occur. Periodically TBA would have a question and we’d go over it until he was comfortable with the answers. I was personally comforted by the fact that the hospital was less than five minutes drive even in bad traffic, and that Rescue is housed two blocks away: we could have an ambulance here in two minutes if we ever had to call 911. I had taken a class in neonatal resuscitation. We had a birth kit here with everything we could possibly need that you could buy without a prescription. I had pumped midwives and doulas and friends for information on hemorrhage and dystocia and every other “worst case scenario” I could think of…but at the base of it, deep in my heart, I believed that birth was a natural process. Women are made to birth – that is what we do. I knew that we had a solid plan in place for the “what ifs” and also knew that the chances that we’d need that plan were low. I trusted that if I followed my body and listened to my instincts that all would be well. I was never once afraid. I never questioned our decision.
I won’t rehash the ninjababy’s birth story here: he has his own blog post. What I remember most about bringing him into this world was the amazing, relaxing, calm atmosphere in the house. There were no clocks counting down. I ate, I drank, I slept. I moved when I wanted to and changed positions. We watched TV and laughed. I didn’t know how dilated I was, and didn’t really care to know. It didn’t matter, I knew he’d come on his own time. We played the Beatles and lit candles and incense. We watched the sun come through our bedroom window and steam rise off the birth pool.
No one was yelling at me to push, or not to push. There were no strangers with fingers inside me. No one cut me, or pushed needles into my arms, or insisted I lay flat on my back. The room wasn’t filled with strange people waiting to snatch my baby away to clean him and inject him with unnecessary things and smear antibiotics in his eyes. He was born into his fathers’ hands, peacefully in the water, almost in the exact spot where he was conceived. He took his first breath in this world while cradled on my chest. There were no harsh lights or latex gloves or strange smells. There was just a perfect baby and his family. Before he was two hours old the three of us were laying in bed, warm sunshine coming through the window, nursing and napping. It was amazing, and yet also felt like the most natural thing in the world.
As a side note, the ninjababy was nine pounds and seven ounces – larger than my second son – and he was born without leaving so much as a mark on me. My smallest child did the most damage, my largest the least. His was truly a gentle and healing birth that I recovered from very quickly.
I accept that giving birth at home isn’t for everyone, and that giving birth unassisted is for an even smaller percentage. That’s okay. I believe that every woman should have the right and opportunity to bring forth life in the place and in the way she feels most comfortable. I also believe that this country needs serious reform in both mother-baby care and insurance coverage. Did you know that in 23 states certified professional midwives (CPM’s) can lose the ability to practice if they assist a home birth? Not only that, they can be arrested and prosecuted for “practicing medicine without a license.” (I need to note that CPM’s are different from CNM’s – certified nurse midwives – who are trained nurses. Most CNM’s work in a hospital setting.) It also maddens me that insurance will gladly shell out $25,000 for a cesarean section, yet balk at paying a tenth of that for women who want to birth at home. It just makes no sense to me.
Will we have any more children? I’m not sure. We discuss it now and again. If we do, they will be born unassisted, here at home.