“You’re so brave! I could never do that.”
I hear this a lot. It’s not because I scaled Mount Everest (I didn’t). It’s not because my husband and I took a newborn and a toddler on a cross-country road trip and forgot the iPad (we did). It’s the reaction I often get when I say I gave birth at home.
Here’s the thing: You could do it – assuming the pregnancy is low-risk and the birth is attended by an experienced, professional midwife. Whether you want to have a baby at home is another matter entirely, and I’m not saying you should. I’m just saying that after I researched my options and weighed the risks of a home birth against the risks of a hospital birth, I felt more comfortable with the former. And that does not make me brave.
Bravery, to quote the late Susan Jeffers, is to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” I was afraid I might murder my husband for ordering Indian take-out while I was laboring with our first child (curry just doesn’t smell the same when you’re pushing out a baby), but I was not afraid of giving birth at home. Here is what I was afraid of:
Hospitals are literally life-savers, but I only want to be in one in an emergency. Having worked in them for over 10 years, I’ve seen them from the inside and they are rife with germs. They're also full of people who don’t necessarily wash their hands according to hospital protocol. And those people — despite their best intentions and no matter how much they know — do not know me.
Trusting strangers when I’m at my most vulnerable and not in need of emergent medical care is scarier to me than staying in my low-tech house with an experienced midwife with whom I’ve developed a trusting, personal relationship.
I don’t remember how I felt about the idea of having contractions in a car when I was pregnant with my first baby, but with my second, I knew what I was getting into. I knew I didn’t want to be trapped in a vehicle (even our brand-new minivan) once I was in active labor. It wasn’t that I was worried about making a mess in the car; I already had a toddler. It was just that the primal urge to get on your hands and knees and moan like a dying animal does not exactly make you feel like hopping in the car and buckling up. Or maybe that’s just me.
If I’d had my babies in the hospital I would surely have requested an epidural. I don’t blame anyone who does. An escape route when all you want is to be anywhere but where you are? You think your only options are dying or splitting open, and all of a sudden dying doesn’t sound so bad? I get it. I was scared of the pain of childbirth, for sure.
However I was absolutely terrified of the alternative. I didn’t want anyone poking a needle in my back. I was not willing to accept the risks of the rare but horrible potential side effects of an epidural. I just wanted a newborn when the delivery was over, not a pair of crutches, a catheter, a brain-rattling headache, or worse.
After my home births, my midwife came over for a well-baby visit within 24 hours of the birth. She came again at three days, seven days, two weeks, four weeks, and six weeks. Meanwhile, she put the fear of God in me; she threatened that if I failed to rest during the early postpartum weeks, my internal organs may never return to their rightful places.
I was lucky to have two healthy babies who did not need to see their pediatrician until the eight-week well visit. By that time, I was totally capable of being at a specific place at a specific time, leaky breasts and all.
I am afraid that potential new mom-friends who delivered in the hospital will think I'm a self-righteous hippie – or worse, a judgmental jerk – if the topic of birth comes up. I'm a lot of things but I would like to think sanctimonious is not one of them.
My friends say they love my honesty, which I know is code for, “Pam has no filter,” but when birth comes up, I become self-conscious. I'm careful about what I say and how I say it because the last thing I want to do is hurt someone.
Also, I’m not a hippie. Well, not a total hippie. I may have babies at home and chickens in the backyard, but the chickens are in a coop and the kids are vaccinated. And I love a mani/pedi as much as anyone – fumes, tabloids, and all.
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