I’m having a hard time with the notion that I probably won’t be having the peaceful,
hippie, home-birth experience that I dreamed about ever since I watched “The Business of Being Born.” That film had a huge impact on me and forever changed the way I saw the entire birthing experience.
I had never seriously considered midwives, birthing centers or home births before then. I had never even contemplated any birth options outside of a traditional hospital setting! But as I watched doctors repeatedly ignore women’s instructions for everything from no Pitocin, to Cesareans, to epidurals – in fact, ignore their every desire (and right to have or refuse medical treatment), I began to see how invisible women, and pregnant women in particular, are to many doctors. They seem to be viewed largely as some kind of inconvenience that has to be scurried out within a pre-determined “reasonable” time, so the hospital can make room for another patient, the doctor’s tennis game (true story that happened to a friend of mine!) or vacation schedule. The process is sterile and dehumanizing in a way that I was never aware of until I witnessed how warm, comforting, supportive and peaceful a midwife-attended birth could be.
I started doing my homework, researching midwives, centers, home-births and birthing methods. Of all the methods I encountered, the Leboyer method resonated most with me. It is described (online) as a psychophysical approach to delivery with the goal of minimizing the trauma of birth by gently and pleasantly introducing the newborn to life outside the womb. It has four aspects: a gentle controlled delivery in a quiet dimly lit room, avoidance of pulling on the head, avoidance of overstimulation of the infant’s sensorium, and encouragement of maternal-infant bonding. Unnecessary intervention in the process of birth is eschewed. After delivery, the baby is gently laid on the mother’s abdomen, the back is massaged as the cord stops pulsating, and, when regular spontaneous respirations are established, the baby is gently supported in a warm tub of water by the father.
This is a huge contrast to hospital deliveries where you’re in a florescently lit room, often artificially stimulated with Pitocin, the delivery is panicky and loud (after all, the Pitocin causes contractions to become unbearably painful), because of that epidurals are often required, the umbilical cord is cut right away (preventing important nutrients, hormones and antibodies from transferring to the infant), and at birth, the infant is whisked away by the nurses for cleaning, weighing, observation and whatever else they do. If a baby has any complications at all, it can be up to 24 hrs before the mother is even allowed to see, let alone hold, her baby! The father has no role at all in the birth, except possibly the ceremonial cutting of the umbilical cord.
Additionally, hospitals require the mother to be on her back with her legs up in the air for delivery – the single-most difficult and unnatural position to facilitate birth. And don’t even get me started on the placenta and how many hospitals won’t release the placenta to mothers because they consider it a biohazard.
I could go on and on… but that’s not the point of this post. I’d already had a tough time convincing my husband to go along with my home birth plan, assuring him that we’d run it past my Ob/Gyn. And every time I mentioned home-birth, I’d have to explain, justify, educate whomever I was speaking to until I didn’t feel on the defensive anymore. “Why should I go to a hospital to give birth?” I would ask. “Pregnancy is not an illness.”
Some friends were instant converts, but I could see most people had real reservations. I decided that I didn’t care. After all, I wasn’t seeking their approval. I adopted a Mother-knows-best approach and was feeling more and more confident about my plan… until I read an article a few days ago – by a DOCTOR (in all caps because it’s so hard to find a doctor’s unbiased point of view on this). The article was about the growing U.S. trend of home-births. The tone was respectful and objective. I was immediately interested in what he had to say about my choice – the exercise of my control over my birthing experience.
In a nutshell, he confirmed many of the positive stories I’d heard about the home-birth experience and how it truly was beneficial for the mother: fewer episiotomies, less stress, easier births, fewer drugs or interventions, and how it really benefited women who wanted to assert control over their birthing experience. “Perfect!” I thought. I was already sold.
And then I read the other half of the article… which said even though it was a better experience for the mothers, the same could not be said for the infants. I’m sure he listed multiple factors, but the only one I saw – the one that glared at me and became larger than life – was “three to five times the infant mortality rate as compared to hospital births.” He cited the fact that doctors are not present at the majority of home births and that when emergency situations arise, oftentimes, they can’t get mother & baby to the hospital fast enough. It seems that delivery emergencies require seconds and not minutes before a response is required to save the baby’s life. He was open about the fact that emergency situations are rare. But what happens if you do have one?! He said home-births were better suited for women who have already given birth before without complications and not for first time mothers.
I was crushed. I felt that everything I wanted, everything I had envisioned was slipping away from me. I realized then that my first sacrifice as a mother would be sacrificing my desire for a particular birth experience. After all, my “experience” wasn’t nearly as important as my child’s experience… and given every improbable miracle it took me to get to this place… there’s no way I could afford to risk any of that. To insist on what I wanted would be the most selfish thing I could do.
It’s been a few days now and I’m still sad, but feel like a better mom already. I wish I could have it all work out the way I wanted. I wish my hospital had a midwife or that I could bring my own, but I can’t. My husband and I decided to take my birth plan to my next Ob/Gyn appointment in two weeks and see what she can & can’t accommodate. I know I’ll have to give up the dim lighting, music of my choosing, ability to eat a light snack and birth in a position most comfortable to me. I hope she can accommodate my no Pitocin, no Cesarean, no epidural, no episiotomy requests, waiting until the umbilical cord stops pulsing before it’s cut, immediate infant to skin contact and taking my placenta home with me.
Whatever happens in the end will be okay with me as long as our baby girl is healthy and happy. I hope she knows just how much we love her.