Thursday, November 13, 2008

Someday, I may be mainstream

In college, as I was sorting through the discount book bins, I came across the book "In Labor". The book chronicled the move of birth from inside the home to the hospital, and with it, the displacement of midwives. This, by the way, is a unique feature of the US medical system. In other countries, as birth moved into the hospitals, so too, did midwives. But here, OBs had a rather forceful campaign against midwives as they sought to "professionalize" what they did. Apparently, OBs used to be sort of the bottom run on the medical profession totem pole, and part of this lack of respect came from them doing "women's work". Never underestimate the power a book can have in a young person's formative years when the phrase "rabid feminist" would not be at all too harsh.

When Ed and I first decided we'd have children, I went to the bookstore during lunch one day and was flipping through the pregnancy books. The one that caught my eye? "Baby Catcher" a lovely book with many vignettes about primarily home births, but a few hospital births as well. It's a midwife's tale of her practice in CA, at what she considered to be the height of the home birth movement.

When I became pregnant I knew I wanted a midwife attended birth, so I went to my insurance provider's website and searched for a midwife, and BirthCare came up on the list of approved providers. I went to their website and OMG, I discovered that they attended births at home, and this was just the coolest thing ever and I knew right away I would have a home birth.

And then I told Ed my plans.

He wasn't completely convinced of the sanity of my plan, but I had a few reasonable sounding arguments that appealed to him like - the last time I was in a hospital my ex-boyfriend was dying from leukemia, and frankly, I don't have a lot of happy memories there - and doctors like to do things their way, and if that's not my way, we already know who will lose (and there may be rational reasons for this in our litigious society) - and this may be our only child and I would hate to miss out on this opportunity, because I just know in my heart I am a homebirther - and by the way, did I mention how high the c-section rates in this area are and do you really want to see me cut open because I will totally make you watch the surgery. And by the end, Ed agreed to read this book, and I told him how I'd already made my first appointment and he should come with me.

At BirthCare, Alice (one of the midwives and a cofounder of the practice), interviewed us to see if I was a good candidate for home birth. At one point, she asked me why I wanted to have my baby at home and after I told her, she turned to Ed and asked how he felt and Ed responded "I don't actually have a full voting share in this matter" and Alice laughed and said "I think that's true a lot of the time, but most husband's don't usually tell me that". And after I'd been examined, I was officially a home birth candidate.

I told everyone about my plans and my friends who know me well often said "that's so cool, I want to hear all about it" and then, of course, there was a story about a home birth where the woman ended up delivering a breech baby and wow, was that scary and painful - but everything was fine, and then of course my sister told me I was nuts and my mom somehow knew this was sensitive territory to tread on, so she maybe said something like "it's not what I would choose", but that was about it - if even that. I think she knew my sister would do everything she could to talk me out of my decision so what was the point in her ganging up on me (thank you, mom). But by the end of my pregnancy, my mom had met another home birth grandma on the golf course and this was possibly the best day of my entire pregnancy because all of a sudden, my mom appeared totally zen about the idea.

I have only second guessed my choice twice - and that was moment before each of my children were born. Apparently, this is a classic sign of transition, when a woman has serious doubts about her ability to give birth. What possible biological function this serves I cannot even fathom.

I am intensely curious what Connor and Helen will think about when they learn they were born at home. Will they think I was crazy? Will Helen someday have her babies at home? Will Connor be the dad of kids born at home?

It's been a rough year for home birthers. ACOG and the AMA keep hammering their unfounded point that home birth is unsafe. My only guess as to why they care so much is because if insurance companies in the US ever figure out what a cost savings they could enjoy if they promoted midwifery care, many OBs could find themselves unemployed. After all, presumably c-section rates would fall more in line with the rest of the world and the need for those specialized surgical skills would just be a lot lower. They'd still be needed to handle anything out of the norm and high-risk pregnancies, but pregnancies like mine would never make it into the hospital (or woudl only be there for a few hours if a stubborn baby was lying transverse too close to her due date and needed to be turned downward - like Helen!).

Today though? Today was a good day because rather than reading another story about how midwives are getting the shaft, I read a story in the
New York Times that says home birth is coming back - and I love it!



  1. Here's hoping!,ilyte (says she who had 2 c-sections)

  2. When I was pregnant my friends and sisters at home would ask me a lot about my midwife, what she said?, when she's visiting? (yes visiting!) and I feel like I missed out on something.

    I read that article too by the way.

  3. I guess I was too scared to take that risk. Now that I've seen so many of you with healthy babies, I am sure I would not have had my c-section if I had chosen that option. At the hospital, being 9 cms dilated, my husband mentionned to them that the heartbeat of the baby had slown down a little bit. Should have they waited a few more minutes, she might have made it fine - but who knows.
    Second time around, there was no choice, I had to go throught the knife.
    Thank you Ellen for sharing your story.

  4. One of the best days of my pregnancy was also the day my mom met a grandma of a homebirther. Completely changed her perspective.

  5. Elaine,
    As always, thanks for sharing. I truly believe in the midwifery experience regardless of where you give birth. I know my midwife was focused on what was best for me and my baby, not what was best for her schedule. I will always be amazed and respect you and others who have given birth at home. I imagine it is an amazing experience.