So, last week I told you I am (gulp) working on a book. I know, right? [Clears throat. Attempts to evoke confident tone] I’m writing a book. In January, my friend and I talked each other into taking this online class that coaches you through the steps of writing and publishing a book, and within 48 hours I was plotting out a book on home birth.
It’s going to be a resource for people planning a home birth. Imagine “Idiot’s Guide to Home Birth” meets “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” Based on research and interviews with home birthing moms, partners, and midwives, it will have factual information to answer all the questions one might have when planning a home birth, along with vignettes from said moms, partners, and midwives. My goal is to present as many different perspectives as possible.
Am I trying to convince people to have a baby at home? Certainly not. I just want to create a guide for people who have chosen this route. While there are books upon books offering advice to prepare women for childbirth in a hospital setting, few books are dedicated to preparing women for a home birth.
Why do I care so much about home birth? Here’s a little story:
The day after I gave birth to my daughter, my sister in law asked me, “Was childbirth harder than an ironman?”
“It doesn’t compare really. Maybe it’s like doing a hundred ironmans, back to back?”
Once people got over their shock when I revealed my plans to deliver at home, many were quick to tell me I would have no problem with a natural birth, given my athletic background. I have completed two ironman triathlons and six marathons.
These people are not athletes.
Childbirth, I discovered, is nothing like an athletic event. In the first place, you can’t train for the big day. You don’t even know when the big day is. (My daughter arrived 2 weeks after her due date). Though I pestered my midwife for months, asking, “Are you sure? There’s no class I should take? Nothing I should do in advance?” She assured me there was nothing to do but try to relax, let it happen, and let her support me. Meanwhile, friends attempted to push their favorite birthing methods on me with a zeal that was almost evangelical. A co-worker claimed “You must do the Bradley Method!” One friend practically ordered me to use her technique. “Trust me. You need to do Hypnobirthing.” An acquaintance with a four week old called me when I was nine months pregnant and kept me on the phone for 45 minutes, describing in great detail the breathing method that she absolutely swore by. She made me breathe with her on the phone. (I still wonder how she found the time).
Meanwhile, I wasn’t really scared about how I was going to handle childbirth. It was the idea of actually being someone’s mother that gave me nightmares for nine months.
And when I went into labor, I soon discovered that childbirth was unlike any race I’d ever done. There was no telling how long it would take, for one thing. And there was no getting out of it. The baby would have to come out at the end, no matter what. Though I’ve never quit a race, the option exists. Childbirth required me to hang on until the finish, no matter how grueling the course.
My thirty hour labor lasted forever and for one blessed moment. It was terrible and beautiful. I was sure I would not be able to endure another second and positive that I was meant to complete it. I was not scared. I was simply doing what needed to be done, doing the same thing women have done before me for millions of years. And when the baby was finally born- I felt that I was capable of doing anything in the world- even being her mother.
And then I would hear other women talk about their birth experiences. One woman in my breastfeeding group said, “The baby was too big- eight pounds- so I had to have a C-section.” When she asked my how big my baby was I sheepishly told her she was eight and a half pounds at birth.
“Well, my baby had a really big head.” I just nodded.
One of my co-workers said, “I always wished I could have a natural birth. I had to have a C section with all four of my babies. The doctor said my pelvis was too small.” She said it with a huge smile. I nodded and shrugged, as if to say. “Well what can you do?”
My cousin recently told me, “I’ll avoid an epidural if I can. I’ll wait and see how bad labor is. But my friend is a labor and delivery nurse and she said childbirth is like breaking every bone in your body. I just don’t want to get attached to the idea of having a natural birth, because then if I do get an epidural, I will feel like a failure.” I can totally see her logic. But it makes me angry. All of these women’s stories and attitudes about birth make me angry.
I’m angry that modern medicine has told these healthy women that their bodies are lemons- that they are not up to the task that their bodies were, in fact, designed for. I’m angry that they have not or will not get to experience the joy and the empowerment of natural birth. Birth in the United States today is not a rite of passage for most women. Rather, pregnancy is a medical condition to be closely monitored and birth is a procedure that must be carefully managed. People don’t know that birth is an opportunity for women to be stronger than they ever believed they could be- an opportunity that nature gives us- and this makes me want to scream.
When my daughter was a few days old, I chatted with an old friend who had fought to have the water birth of her third child at her local hospital. After we caught up and I shared the details of my birth story with her, she said to me, in a tone that was almost conspiratorial,
“I think if every woman gave birth naturally the world would be a different place.”
I nodded emphatically into the phone and my eyes got teary.
“I think so, too. For sure.”
Click here for an addendum to this post, published 3/27/14