We are planning on having a waterbirth at home, in our apartment, with a midwife and her assistant.
Three days ago, I would not have been able to bring myself to write that sentence in a place this public. Yeah, I wedged part of it into the last baby “registry” post but that doesn’t really count in my mind. Several weeks ago, I had been talking to my dad about insurance coverage for my midwife. He either asked or made some comments about the location – whether it would be in a hospital or birthing center – and I couldn’t just lie by omission, so I told him it was going to be at home. Apparently when he discussed this with my mom later on, he said he must have misheard me. It’s understandable; after all as Simon and Garfunkel sang, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest,” and it’s not like homebirthing is anywhere on the radar in my parents’ or even my circle of acquaintances. The cat finally clawed its way out of the bag when my mom went with me to my latest prenatal appointment and found out that my midwife’s office is just that, an office, and not a full service birth center.
Hospital. Disposable diapers. Formula. Those are just three of the normal things that people think of, that people use, when they have a baby or know someone who is. We’re not planning to use any of them. This is a huge, drastic difference between us and everyone we know who has kids. It can come off as an irresponsible rejection of the practices and experiences of our parents, especially if they choose to take it personally. I can see how it might be hard for them to accept, since their stories and bits of experiential wisdom would seem that much harder to pass on. Is my guidance going to be valuable, they might ask, if you’re not taking the same path I was on? Will my advice still be relevant? Will you still respect and accept my own past decisions and current opinions? Have you stopped listening to me?
I was hardly a model child growing up. Hardly. But I don’t think I went through a typical teenage rebellion. I never dyed my hair, got an “extreme” haircut, sneaked out in skanky clothes, purposefully broke curfew, smoked, drank, used illegal drugs, broke the law, had premarital sex, ran away from home, wore makeup outside of dances or theatre, wore nail polish outside of a couple times at home, had anything pierced, listened to inappropriate music (maybe LOUD music but nothing I’d be ashamed to have my parents hear, obviously), refused to go to Mass or pray, shacked up, pulled crazy dangerous stunts, intentionally damaged or destroyed someone else’s property, trashed the house, etc etc etc. Mostly I talked back to my dad, argued with my mom, and got bad grades. I dated two boys of whom my parents disapproved, but eventually I came around and disapproved of them too. I married before I finished college. My husband has long hair, but he’s a clean-cut Boy Scout conservative religious all-American chicken farmer at heart. Basically, I don’t think I did anything that was a line-in-the-sand, “my life is my own and I’m going to make decisions that are radically different from your own” kind of thing… So I guess this is going to be it.
It’s different from a typical rebellion though. I think typical rebellions come from having no clue why your parents expect what they expect, and doing the opposite out of a sense of misplaced defiance and false independence. Everyone has to differentiate themselves from their parents at some point in order to have a healthy, independent sense of self, but I think the teenage rebellions these days are self-destructive. If differentiation is supposed to help a person figure out who they are and what they think without having their identity completely imposed upon themselves by someone else, like a cookie press, then typical teenage rebellions fail miserably. Since the typical teen has no clue (or tries very hard to deny or suppress that clue) why their parents have the rules and expectations they do, all that teen can do is what he perceives to be the opposite. He still doesn’t have any real idea of why he’s doing what he’s doing, or why he’s not doing what he’s not doing. Turning into a “not-Mom not-Dad” doesn’t give that person a sense of self, because it’s just a negation, not a replacement of substance. If a teen’s goal is simply to turn into “I am not my parents”, then he has still not engaged, much less answered, the question, “What/who am I?” He has simply inverted the cookie press, or traded it for someone else’s cookie press. He’s still being molded by an exterior, rather than interior, force. Instead of gaining independence, he has switched dependencies from his parents to, usually, the dictates of a particular subculture.
I am not rejecting my parents by choosing to give birth to my baby at home. In fact it is some of the many values they instilled in me which draws me towards homebirth – values such as the importance of education and thorough research, practical simplicity and not needlessly overcomplicating things, prudence and thriftiness, the value of a well-thought-out risks versus benefits evaluation, and never ever making a significant decision without weighing all the available options. In fact I think I would be betraying a lot of these values, as well as my own intellectual honesty, if I blindly followed the leader and never looked into anything other than the usual hospital birth with an OB and sky-high risk of unnecessary interventions, impersonal care, and artificially inflated costs. I wasn’t raised to do things simply because “everybody else is doing it”.
My mom said that I jumped into home birth “without asking anyone’s advice”. It’s true; I did not ask for the advice from my parents, in-laws, other relatives, or friends about how or where to have our baby. That’s because every single one of them gave birth in a hospital. They have no experience with homebirth and therefore no basis for comparison. Chances are extremely close to 100% that none of them has ever seriously considered not giving birth in a hospital, much less researched the idea. My mom admitted that before she had my oldest brother, she and my dad considered homebirth. I have no idea how far they pursued the idea or what made them decide on a hospital, but the most pertinent fact is that they would have been contemplating it in late 1979, when yes, it’s true, practically no one was birthing outside the hospital except flower-bedecked hippies living in communes like Ina May Gaskin (who has since ditched the flowers but retained the braids, trains hundred of midwives, wrote a couple books, and runs a phenomenally successful birthing community called The Farm). The medical establishment had just gained some sure footing after a protracted, nasty battle to shift birthing from homes and midwives to hospitals and obstetricians. An explosion in medical and technological advancements made hospital birth seem like a pristine white future where there was no pain and, eventually, no baby or mother would die. The deck was stacked. The conversation was filled with all the things that could go horribly wrong. No one talked about the procedures in place for when things went right, because there was no such thing as everything going right in the medical and national consciousness. Obstetricians largely turned into hero figures who saved the day. As long as the baby and mother were alive at the end, no one questioned whether he needed to save the day.
I would just as soon ask them about advice on where I should birth as I would ask for advice on buying a car from someone who has never driven a car, has never seen a car, has never investigated how cars work or what features they have, and whose only knowledge about cars is 30 years old and composed of nebulous fears and misunderstandings.
“Hey, I’ve done about a year’s worth of research about buying a car; but what do you think?”
“OH my GOSH!! I’ve heard of people getting into horrible, deadly wrecks with those things! I know a woman whose daughter’s car ran out of gas and she was stranded for hours by the side of the road in the middle of the desert in August and she got heatstroke. I used to be a clerk in a law firm that worked exclusively with victims of car accidents, and there were so many people who had terrible injuries. Drunk drivers are everywhere! Cars are far too dangerous. I can’t believe you are considering buying one! You are obviously doing it out of ignorance, naivete, rebellion, and a refusal to think that bad things can happen to you. You should walk everywhere wearing full football gear like I do. Traveling is just too inherently dangerous otherwise.”
Instead, I read the testimonies of people who have had home births. I read articles and book excerpts by people who are trained for homebirthing and have attended hundreds of home births. I also read the testimonies and expert perspectives of people who have birthed in hospitals and who are trained to attend births in hospitals, and I ESPECIALLY read the testimonies and articles of people who have done both. I research every kind of birth complication I hear about; what causes it, what it affects, and how it can be fixed in and out of a hospital setting. I have read about and watched numerous videos on how the birth process works. I research every kind of medical intervention I hear about; what prompts its use (both legitimate and less-than-legitimate), what it does, what the side effects are, how it helps, and how it might make things worse. That kind of advice, insight, and information, from people who have been there done that and/or have the medical experience and training to give credence to their words, is what I’m basing my decision on… and I’m getting flack for not asking the advice of people who on the whole have no idea what homebirth is about?
Do I know everything about birth? No. Do I think I know everything about birth? Obviously no. My parents, relatives, and friends care about me, and that’s why they worry and bring up buckets of negativity, just in case I’ve never heard of some terrible thing that could go wrong, and should change my position on birth in an instant. (“What, there’s a thing called cord prolapse? Oh no, let me use your phone immediately to schedule a c-section at 38 weeks!”) But instead of accusing me of going into this blindly, do your own research. Read those studies for yourself, educate yourself on what it means to give birth in water at home in 2012. I am an ideal low-risk mother. I am healthy, I have no health-affecting vices, I eat right, I take an amazing prenatal vitamin every day, I have no risk factors barring an rh difference from my husband, I “have perfect blood” (according to my midwife after she got the lab results back, yay!), I am active, I am not exposed to harmful substances, I am young, and maybe most importantly I am engaged in the process and I am motivated to educate myself. Does that mean I think nothing can go wrong? Of course not. But chances are very, very low, that something will go wrong. I think the bottom line is: I do not want to be treated as though I am unhealthy until, in fact, I am unhealthy.
This is something both I and my husband have decided to pursue. We have engaged the services of a fantastic midwife and yes, we have contingency plans in case something goes wrong enough to need hospital care or if I develop something that makes me risk out of a home birth at any point between now and active labor. It’s definitely different from what everyone we know has done. Rather than being a divisive issue, though, I think it can be a wonderful opportunity to learn about, appreciate, and celebrate birth, no matter where it happens. It’s certainly an opportunity for me to continue defining who I am as my own person, without turning my back on where – and who – I come from.