When I decided (and announced) that I would be giving birth at home, I got the whole bell curve of reactions — bewilderment, horror stories and admonitions to NOT do it… but the majority of responses expressed strong support and encouragement. Unknowingly, I seem to have stepped into a trendy new space in parenting.
But for the Unconverted, the question — spoken or unspoken — is “Why?”
For some: Why would I give up the comfort of Drugs?? For others: Why would I put myself and my baby at risk by giving birth so far (20 minutes) from an operating room?
Let me start by stating that my decision was not a running away from anything, but a running towards something… My first live birth two years ago with my daughter, Cora Joy, was a picture-perfect hospital birth. My OBGYN, Dr. A, is a personal friend and one of the highest rated obstetricians in our region. Nothing goes wrong on his watch, mostly because nothing is left to chance.
I began my pregnancy with 25 unique blood tests — I asked the lab technician if she’d ever taken so many vials from one arm, and nope, I set the new record. This was most likely because I had miscarried about six months previously and he wanted to rule out all possible complications. Makes total sense. And fortunately, they all came back normal.
We had monthly check-ups where I was weighed and examined and told to not eat any sugar. He was very concerned by my 30-pound weight gain.
Somewhere during this time, I watched a documentary called “The Business of Being Born.” (It’s available on Netflix) I can definitively say, though I didn’t know it at the time — that movie was the catalyst for my impending ideological shift. I started a very dangerous practice, which has gotten many people into a lot of trouble over the centuries — I started asking questions.
I informed Dr. A that I did NOT want a cesarean section unless my life or the baby’s life were in danger. He explained all the different scenarios of why they do C-sections and how he might not be able to identify the danger before it was “too late.” But that was pretty much one issue that I was not budging on.
On the other hand, my desire to “go natural” was soon laid to rest. Dr. A informed me that going past one’s due date was very risky and because the baby would be growing daily, I might NEED a C-section if we went past the 40-week mark because the baby would be so big. And since he is only in the hospital on Tuesdays or Thursdays, I was scheduled for an induction two days before my due date.
We also discussed epidurals. I didn’t want to “drug” the baby accidentally, and was told that because an epidural stays in the spinal cord, it in no way affects the baby. He told me there is really no reason to go without one, except to “prove something” — that the epidural relaxes the woman and in his experience, seriously speeds along the birthing process. So I planned on having an epidural.
December 15th arrived and we had to be at the hospital at 6:00 am to begin the induction process. I got up early, took a shower, did my makeup and french-braided my hair (not the least of my accomplishments that day!). I video taped us parking and walking into the lobby — it was fun! I was excited — I was going to have a baby today!
The huge advantage of having a scheduled induction is that it makes logistics SO SIMPLE. Everyone knew what to expect. I had stopped volunteering the week before and had a farewell party. Michael had scheduled his time off. My family was able to notify their employers and book their hotel rooms in advance. (Let me interject — I MISS THIS. As a plan-loving CEO of a flourishing start-up company I would REALLY love to know exactly when this new baby will be arriving. More on this, I’m sure, in a later post.)
Of course, even though WE had scheduled our pregnancy, it turns out the rest of our community had not. The whole birthing wing was full and Michael and I were seated, anticlimactically, in the hallway. I had a chair, Michael did not. Since this was only 10 days before Christmas, I started comparing the situation (probably blasphemously) to Mary and Joseph with no room in the inn.
(can I interject again and just say that if Obama told me, in my final trimester, that I had to get on a donkey and return to San Diego so I could be counted — I would have done so much more than write hate mail… Assassination attempts may have been considered.)
Finally, we were given a bed in a room with 5 other women, separated by sheets. And what followed was seriously the worst part of my day (guys, if you’re reading and are not comfortable with graphic details — skip the following paragraph).
A very nice, very efficient nurse whom I’ll call Phyllis, arrived with my “induction gel.” I still don’t know what was in that gel, but the woman laid me down and stuck her latexed finger up my vagina, probed around for my cervix, which must have been lodged way the hell up there, managed to hook it with her finger and pulled – it – down, so she could swirl it around and “strip the membranes” before injecting the gel. I kid you not — this was the worst pain I experienced that day. I wasn’t screaming, but I was literally clawing the walls like a cat; I wanted to hiss at her to get the hell out of my business…. But didn’t. Instead, because I wasn’t progressing adequately, she had to do this same process TWO MORE TIMES.
During this time, I was just supposed to lie down. No sitting, no walking, nothing, because they didn’t want the gel to come out.
Finally, the contractions started coming fast and hard and Dr. A strolled in around 10 am to see how I was doing. Unfortunately, because they didn’t have any private rooms and were unable to monitor me, I was not allowed to get an epidural. But I guess Dr. A pulled some strings, because I was finally moved to a private room with a lovely view of the back parking lot, and at 3:00 pm — bless her heart — the Anesthesia Angel arrived. She rolled me over, swabbed my back, poked me with a long needle and — sweet bliss! I fell almost instantly asleep and had a nice nap during which I dilated from 6 to 9.5 centimeters. Talk about efficient! I woke up refreshed and ready to bring this baby into the world. My sisters arrived to say hi, but soon we were ready to push. Dr. A was called, Phyllis was there to coach me, Michael was holding my hand… the epidural drip was dialed back so that I could be an active participant without feeling too much pain, and sure enough, in less than 10 pushes, at 5:48 pm (almost 12 hours after we’d arrived) my slimy, red-haired infant slipped into the world. Michael got to cut the cord, and the baby was whisked off to be cleaned while Dr. A used the cord to pull out the placenta and sac, and stitched up the episiotomy (something I had forgotten to mention I did NOT want). Sisters and in-laws were allowed into the room while Michael and I weighed “Cora Fox” against “Cora Joy” as a name. I remember feeling euphoric and a little disconnected from reality; as I imagine being high feels.
Finally, everyone left and I got to bond with Cora and nurse her. We were moved to a room with only one other woman and Cora was taken away again. Michael was not allowed to spend the night, so fortunately, he got some sleep. That night I remember asking for constant water refills and tried to figure out this whole mother thing… I had heard that not all moms connect instantly with their child and I experienced that to some extent…
For those of you who grew up on “Beauty and the Beast” — I liken it to the moment when the Beast is transformed into the Prince. In your head, you know that Belle being with a human with flowing golden locks is a much better arrangement that her being with an 8-foot tall Minotaur, but… you had fallen in love with the Beast and the Prince, while very attractive, is quite simply not the Beast. ….that’s what I was experiencing with Cora. Here she was — perfect little independent human — but a stranger. I didn’t really know what to do with this Outside Baby.
But sometime during that first night, as I watched her sleep, the love affair was kindled. It probably took a few days to really catch fire, but it’s now been two years and I’m as head over heels for that little girl as anyone could be for another person.
I so badly wanted to go home the next morning, but they were worried about bilirubins and so decided to keep us for another night. So my sisters came back to visit with a picnic basket and my best friends arrived to meet the new baby (Becky was leaving for Europe the next day). Nathan was not allowed in because he was under 16, so he and his cousins whom he was staying with, got to say hello through the glass.
All in all, not a bad story. Pretty much the best you can hope from a fully-managed hospital birth, wouldn’t you say?I spent a second night propped up in a hospital bed without my husband, but finally, the next morning, I was free to go. We packed up and bundled Cora in her snow suit; I carried her while being wheeled out to the van, where we strapped her into her brand new car seat and I sat in the back seat with her as we drove home.
…but I wanted more.