It’s true. I’m fringe.
I breastfed my children to ages three and two, respectively. In America, only 6% of children are nursed past their first year. That makes my children more fortunate than others and also risked the good looks of my boobs, which seem to have held out OK.
I had a baby at home, in a pool incidentally. Homebirthed babies in the United States are about 0.6% of births. OK, that’s pretty goddamned fringe.
But I am not a fringe person. I am a pretty run-of-the mill person, college-educated and in traditional Western science, I’ll have you know – physics, chemistry, not a single Chinese medicine elective taken. I shave my legs. I eat sugar and I watch horror movies. I believe in Jesus and not in that live-in-a-commune-away-from-the-rest-of-the-world way; in the more boring, reading-the-bible kind of way.
But if I could convince a breeding family of anything, it is that 1. they should seriously consider a homebirth, and 2. no, I am not insane.
I felt like I could have written this short paragraph from a recent article in [s]Mothering magazine:
“Looking back, my transformation from homebirth skeptic to homebirth advocate seems unlikely. In most communities, we are taught from birth that babies are born in hospitals. And because nearly all American babies are born in hospitals, alternatives are marginalized.”
One of the best choices I made, one I practically stumbled on, was to have a baby at home. I differ from the author’s wife since I switched my plan at about 38 weeks, not 20. And since I qualified as a low-risk birth like 80% of American women (and that’s a conservative estimate) this simple decision on my part (Ralph helped) was smart, fun, inexpensive, safe, exciting, easy (considering it’s birth!), empowering, energizing, and in a word, lovely.
Homebirth is safe. Six studies including over 24,000 births and long story short: planned, attended homebirthed babies do better than babies in the hospital. Period. Industrialized countries with a midwifery model have more favorable outcomes than the United States, which scores second worse in newborn deaths for all industrialized nations.
Even a discussion of safety is somewhat disingenuous, because for me that isn’t the entirety of the issue. But who started picking on the safety of a birth choice, anyway? Who started telling women and families that their choice to forgo hospital-as-rote was “unsafe” or reckless or all about a political statement? (I have yet to meet the parents who truly would put a “statement” categorically above the welfare of their child – most parents, whatever birth model they choose, are making the best choice as seems fit to them).
If I reference safety I am not picking on the choice to do something different than I. I am not looking down on a woman’s first, second, third dose of a planned C-section. I am responding to the many who said I was “brave” or privately thought I was reckless or worse; those who expressed no curiosity about my birth. The husbands who did nothing to educate themselves nor empower their females and later cited their females’ high-intervention births as potentially “near death” or the baby as “too big” – as if women dropping dead in childbirth was something that happened far more than it actually ever did (references cited in gentlebirth.org article):
“Obstetricians tend to emphasize that many women used to die in childbirth, implying that we should be grateful for current obstetric practice. However, even in 1900, the percent of women who died giving birth was only 7/10ths of one percent! One has to wonder how this percentage compares with our countryâ€™s current cesarean section rate of 22%.”
This isn’t about safety, or at least not entirely. This is about dignity. This is about rejecting the countless ridiculous, and I mean ridiculous imagery and concepts of birth in our media, in our folklore. How many births have involved puffy women grunting and yelling, lying on their back looking entirely overwhelmed, screaming for drugs and squeezing their husband’s crotch in a retaliatory fashion – their husbands near-fainting from the graphic or scary nature of the birth and the surgeon / OB “rescuing” the mother from her crisis of birth? Would that be such an irritating image to me if it was even slightly ameliorated by images and depictions of what birth can be (and often is) – without all that unnecessary fuss, drama, implied farce, and silliness?
One of the most realistic birth scenes I’ve seen in a film, despite stressful and overly-dramatic circumstances, was the one at the end of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. Without ruining details, I had no problem believing in the performance of the woman giving birth even though the situation in which she delivered was far from typical and one no one would want. Another realistic birth I saw recently was in Altman’s Dr. T and the Women – so convincing I looked into it after watching and discovered it was an actual life birth. I have to wonder why most births in television and film that have more typical “circumstances” (i.e., hospital births) often have silly, high-danger, undignified, I’m-going-to-squeeze-your-balls buffooneries played out.
My first birth I will be forever grateful to the medical professionals who guided me through it. They were part of a system that did things their way, but they honestly gave me the most humane and loving care they could under that system. However, I am not proud of that birth. I got through it; they helped. When I think of that birth I remember lots of fluids, many changes of clothes and lots of pain, hushed voices and beeps, walking in halls where people I did not know stared or averted their gaze, wires and tubes and I was just ugly and unwieldy and very scared and unwilling for much of it. After my daughter was born, and the minute after, I was in heaven and pain-free. And I went home.
Two years later at home while laboring with Nels I watched a movie. I started to get distracted and turned the movie off. I started pacing. People came over. The lights were low. People talked and laughed. I panted and sighed and in between contractions as my doula stroked my back I retreated away from her and everywhere else into somewhere so deeply internal I’d long to be there again. It got harder for a while. Then Ralph and I held one another and whispered things to one another and my blessed pain-free time in between contractions seemed to stretch out forever and I was in a lovely trance. Then it got tough again but within minutes I delivered Nels and I can still see him stretched out in the water, so beautiful and I cried over and over, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!” And I felt so strong the whole entire time.
When I was done I felt like I’d climbed a fucking mountain. I would love to feel that way again. There is no feeling like it I’ve had since I delivered my baby while entirely alert and under my own power.
I wished my father and brother could have been there to see my second birth. I think they missed out not to be there. It was bigger than me and as momentous as anything that happens on this planet.
Speaking of gratitude, I will forever be grateful
that I birthed both my babies in a microcosm of alternative birth choices, similar to what the author of this article writes on:
“Windy and I are fortunate to live in a neighborhood with a microculture that straddles the phases of acceptance and understanding, a neighborhood that has prompted us to learn more. There are surely other communities like ours across the country.”
Had it not been for a community like this one, I would have missed out on so much. It is easy to not pay attention; to not look into something that seems like a no-brainer – babies are born in hospitals. After all, why not? “Most babies” and mothers are safe enough in America, right? Birth is only the beginning of a long relationship – who really cares how it all goes down? And besides, it’s just unseemly to align oneself with the “wacko fringe” when at very least your family is going to exhaust you with pesky or hostile questions, judgment, and prejudice.
But I wish I could share my experience without people thinking I’m fringe, that I have something against hospitals (I actually adore hospitals), that I was reacting to the “victimization” from my first hospital birth (I wasn’t), that I did a natural birth to prove I was a woman (I already knew that). I wish people could listen to impassioned homebirth advocates and listen – not respond with their own defensiveness, baggage, or judgments.
Every expressed word in response to learning Nels was born at home was supportive. And I do thank friends, family and acquaintances for that. Sometimes I wish the ones who privately held judgments would at least speak up, so they could learn more about me and why I did what I did.