Our baby girl turns a year old tomorrow, April 1st – least memorable golden birthday possible. A party for someone that young is baffling, but it’ll be fun to have family over, and if this how I do right by the lil girl, I’m in; my life is a million times richer thanks to her – a phenomenon I never expected, believed or even cared about when other parents claimed it.
We’ll get a kick out of celebrating her birth in the same place she was born. That night a year ago might be my life’s most incredible experience. I wanted to try and write to commemorate, but am posting it a day early so it’s separate from April Fool’s stuff. (Wonder how sick she’ll get of people “forgetting” her birthday. But then if someone actually does, they can act like they’re joking to buy time and make up real plans.)
I was absolutely against having our baby at home. Home birth seemed antiquated, pointlessly dangerous, and weird. Why? Why add the risk? Why, after nine months of careful nutrition, sobriety, and whatever else lovingly undertaken for the baby’s and mom’s sake would a couple willfully reject the medicine, technology, and expertise of a hospital setting, for some idealistic roll of the dice? Why!
But every passing day my one-month pregnant wife was feeling more strongly about a home birth. I couldn’t, wouldn’t understand and was trying to dig my heels in. The impasse was rough – couples don’t have to agree on everything, but this was monumental.
It was complicated, too, as the baby was equally ours, but the labor of course would not be. And while I’d never even witnessed the experience, my wife had the credibility of having previously given birth (to my stepson; more on the pending adoption in a future post), and she had a strong opinion about it.
She’d gone to a hospital that time, and I was aware it had been, to understate, less than pleasant. Though she’d go on to do far more research for the next one, her only real preference back then was that the labor be pharmaceutical-free.
You’re probably aware that pregnancy due dates are astoundingly imprecise, and yet hospitals treat them like gospel. When she was two weeks past her “due date,” my wife was ordered to report to the hospital, though she hadn’t begun labor at all. The staff opted to induce labor using a stimulant called Pitocin that artificially initiates contractions (and ideally dilation), a decision my wife was all but helpless about, but still managed delivery without any pain medication (which is apparently pretty remarkable, says dude who’ll never have to know).
The most important thing is that she and the baby were fine – cannot stress that enough. But the pressure, if not force from the hospital made the experience more miserable than miraculous.
With pregnancy #2 she decided much more research was in order. This included a movie on Netflix called “The Business of Being Born”, which largely informed her desire for a home birth. (It’s on YouTube as well.) Though she’d expressed this, I had yet to genuinely entertain the notion of having our baby at home, and didn’t even feel like a jerk about it – there was just no way it was happening. But I agreed to humor her and watch the movie, on the basis of exploring all options, thinking this would be a very quick option to disregard.
I sigh. My pride is still almost annoyed by it, but the movie blew my mind. This was stuff I hadn’t even considered considering. Totally new information and perspective to me, explaining epidurals, the massive increase in Cesarean births, the profit focus and excessive intervention of the childbirth industry, and all these different medical and developmental advantages of good(?) old-fashioned home births. (I’m realizing now that I actually did, and still do find this stuff kinda fascinating. Weirdo.)
I remained anti-. Clearly the movie ignored the perfectly good reasons for the major changes in the way our babies were born, and I’d find them and throw them in my wife’s face, because I’m twelve. So the next day I’d hunt online for studies and stats to spring on her – “Aaaa-HA! THIS is why we shouldn’t do it! Aaaand THIS! AND THIS AND THIS! HAHA!”
…For the life of me I could not find anything credible. I spent hours. HOURS. Pride aches continued. This hardly translated to enthusiasm, though. I’d searched and researched, only to concede defeat. Fine. BUT, I’d sure grill whichever midwife took us on!
Turns out Green Bay has a midwife, so I wouldn’t even have to leave town to put this silly idea to rest. Of course, we go to meet her – Stacy – and she is every bit as gracious, knowledgeable, and experienced as one could hope. (Curses, thought my pride.) We talked and talked, and my resistance melted away. My greatest relief came from learning a hospital transfer plan is always in place if deemed necessary, and finding out just how rare that is. Stacy had done this so many times, and for so long; she had all the numbers and credentials I’d possibly want. Furthermore, the cost was at least one-third that of a typical hospital birth.
I sigh again. Okay, okay. I was in. I was out of arguments. But I was still terrified.
And I still had to tell my parents. Honestly, even now that everything went as beautifully as it did, I still don’t think my mom’s a big fan of our decision (I’ll ask her tomorrow), but to her credit it’s definitely rare, and it must’ve seemed like the idea came out of nowhere, though she did also watch “The Business of Being Born” and I think that helped. You find, though, that everyone who’s ever had a baby, or ever even Been one, has an opinion on childbirth.
In fact the very first friend I told about our planning a home birth digested it for about ten seconds, then matter-of-factly told me we “should definitely go to a hospital.” I decided then not to talk about it to anyone else who didn’t need to know, including coworkers (which meant playing dumb or even lying about which hospital we were going to), until after the birth (hopefully-oh-please-Please-let-it-go-well) went well.
We had regular checkups and meetings with Stacy throughout. The support was so much more personal than I could’ve imagined getting from a hospital. She came by our house multiple times just to check on things, get a good feel for the layout, and make sure we’d be ready. We also enrolled in a natural birth class with a doula in De Pere.
9 months is a long time. We were also completely remodeling our kitchen – “nesting” overdrive. Since we planned on using a birth pool in our kitchen for the home birth, it was incredibly stressful not having said kitchen, and the cabinet company’s installation date was all but identical to the baby’s due date because we’re moronic masochists.
The day after our kitchen was complete, my wife went into labor, almost like her relief kicked things off. We had all the supplies at our house already; Stacy’d made sure of that. Birth pools are like inflatable hot tubs, though, and require a ton of warm water, which would’ve been impossible to achieve without the stove that we’d only just hooked up. The timing was ridiculous.
My wife was in touch with Stacy throughout that day. I worked all day, stayed my whole shift, distracted, but in regular contact. It seemed like this thing was really going to happen. We share a car, so my wife, in what turned out to be her early stages of labor, actually drove to get me, and even wanted to drive us to Stacy’s just to keep her mind on something. Stacy checked: dilation was underway, and we were in for quite a night. (I drove us home.)
We got back to our empty house; we’d planned for my parents to take our son and insane dog for the night. Bit of a trip that it was just us two for a minute there; I like that we had that. My wife timed and wrote down her contractions in our just-finished kitchen and breathed like women do when they’re about to have a baby or something, while I set things up. Stacy showed up shortly after with her two assistants, who we’d also gotten to know, and all the necessary supplies and equipment. Rounding out the crew, my mother-in-law arrived from up north.
Roll call: my increasingly less-talky, more breathe-y wife; four of the kindest females on the planet; and me, or whatever version of me that was. Goodness… it was go time.
A year later it’s still blurry. Wonderfully, though. Candles and music and warm water…almost romantic, really. I was as present and attendant to my wife as she wanted, though she mostly wanted to be on her own in our low-lit living room, leaning on an exercise ball, gently moving, breathing, sipping water or juice, listening to playlists of her favorite songs she’d set up weeks prior. I’d rub her back like I learned in the class we took. She continued to withdraw more into herself, preparing, and in the most comfortable conditions possible. Stacy, her assistants and my mother-in-law were there for help, but were so thoughtfully unintrusive. They were angels! I’m just glad I had that birth pool to work on, adding water, checking temperatures, anything.
As my wife’s contractions intensified we helped her into the kitchen and into the pool. She felt instant relief. Her mom and I took turns pouring water over her back. Candles and very low lights. Music from the stereo in the other room. In the warm water she leaned on the pool’s edge and breathed, and would occasionally have juice or water, but less and less. (She could have eaten, too, which hospitals don’t allow, though it helps to maintain energy.)
She asked me to put on Led Zeppelin’s first album, which is endlessly great and funny to me. She was progressing, so I tried to lighten things, because if there’s one thing a woman in labor wants it’s her husband’s jokes. “You Shook Me” was at the guitar-voice call-response part; I asked her if making Robert Plant sounds would help. “Dazed and Confused” came on; I asked if she wanted to smoke a joint. My wife was grateful for my humor, laughed uproariously, and proceeded to riff on Zeppelin jokes with me. That last sentence is the only thing I wish would’ve happened that didn’t.
The rest of it was positively dreamy. The A-side of the record ended, but no one noticed. The baby (we didn’t know the gender) was coming, and if I had the guts I was going to “catch” him or her. It was so, so hard watching my favorite human go through something I couldn’t help her with, and my body had reacted by completely numbing my arms. I felt so uncoordinated and scared, like I was going to try and pick something up with my elbows, but what a cool opportunity. (Side note: because unborn babies live in liquid, there’s no risk of a newborn inhaling water.)
No forceful pushing, the body knows what it’s doing…aaaaand BABY. I was holding our baby! YEAH!!! But I almost immediately handed off to my wife, who cried tears of every intensity imaginable. In her state of emotional tsunami, she declared the baby was a boy, though I wasn’t so sure. This wasn’t disproved for a minute since she was clutching the baby so closely. Apparently she’d mistaken the umbilical cord for, I don’t know, a historically long and ugly baby penis? I gently suggested she take another look. Our daughter’s first April Fool’s joke.
This was roughly 1 a.m. We had a bed set up in our living room so my wife wouldn’t have to go far or up any stairs. Call me weak, but that was the most wiped I’ve ever felt, and I was in and out of sleep while the midwife checked on my wife and (holy crap) my daughter. My beautiful daughter! I didn’t think a baby could look so cute just born, and she even smelled good and, man, it was just the most instant intense love.
The midwife and assistants left around 4 a.m. I’m pretty sure my mother-in-law stayed the night. The blur of it, I tell you! We went to sleep, in our home, with our hours-old daughter and it was just perfect. The midwife came back in the morning and we showered her with praise. Everything went so well!
We had numerous check-ups with Stacy after that, but eventually a pediatrician takes over, though we can still ask Stacy about anything.
If we have another baby we would be thrilled to work with her again. Would I be a ball of nerves again? Probably, because there’s the chance things won’t go as smoothly. But I’ve already done a lot of the heavy lifting; in making my decision, I worked up to a commitment where even if something went wrong, I would not regret my choice. How did I get there, when I’d started so adamantly opposed?
About a month before the birth Stacy had us complete a birth plan and some particularly introspective questionnaires. The questionnaire was what finally brought me as much peace on our decision as possible. It asked me to list my fears of having a baby in a hospital. Then, to list my fears of having a baby at home.
I realized that regardless of where we’d have the baby, I was afraid of unexpected complications. But in a home setting, I wouldn’t have the additional fear of hospital staff exerting force, and convincing us in our emotionally-flooded mental states to allow unnecessary, unwanted medical intervention (even though they’re genuinely trying to help). And again, in the very rare event that we would need medical assistance beyond what Stacy could provide, we could always transfer to a hospital.
Any couple will experience helpless anxiety before their baby’s born. If I felt even more of it because we’d be having the delivery at home, the advantages more than made up for it: not having to drive to a hospital, no confounding and painful laying on her back for my wife, no drugs, no doctor I’d just met who wants to finish up and get home for the day, and perhaps above all, the absolute comfort of being at home before, during, and after. Nothing felt rushed or wrong.
If you’ve read all this, thanks! If you’ve been part of a home birth, I hope I did it justice, cuz I thought it was just the greatest. I love my wife even more for wanting to do it. I sincerely hope this was positive for anyone to read, and by no means whatsoever do I look down on hospital births – again, the absolute most important thing is mom and baby are good. Sometimes a hospital is the only option. And even if it just seems too risky, I can relate to that feeling, too.
If you’re considering having a baby, I recommend doing a ton of research, if only to familiarize yourself with all the terminology so you don’t panic when you hear strange words thrown around in the heat of the moment. And maybe you’ll find negative information on home births that I couldn’t – if so, please let me know! Ask me anything you want about it, too.
The other resource I found incredibly helpful as the non-pregnant parent-to-be, regardless of where a birth is planned, was the book The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin.
Thanks again for reading! All the best,