Hi, It’s Nice to Meet You, I’m a Freak
Why yes, my daughter was born at home.
“Freeeeeak!!” my friend Betsy playfully screeches, referring to what that nice young couple was thinking about me as they quickly exited stage left. So is this how it’s gonna be from now on? I’ve suddenly transformed from Ms. Mainstream to a Freak?
Betsy and I had been taking a nice hike with our boys. I was sitting on the ground with my baby girl when the couple walked by with their baby, who looked to be the same age as mine. We all smiled.
“How old is your baby?” I ask.
“Nine months,” the mom says.
“Really? She’s nine months, too. What day was yours born?”
“January 13th,” she says.
“Mine was born the 12th,” I say.
The new mom beams and looks back and forth at the babies. “Ooooh,” coos the baby’s grandmother, asking if I had been at the big research hospital nearby.
“No,” I say, and then the kicker. “I had her at home.”
“Oh,” they mumble, glancing around awkwardly, and hurry off.
I’m left there, holding the bag as usual, wishing I didn’t own that particular conversation stopper. I really like meeting moms of babies my daughter’s age, but it’s too big a gamble for most people to take – getting into a conversation with a Freak.
What I want to say is, “Wait! Come back here! I’m not that much different from you! I want to do what’s best for my child, just like you. I can explain, really, I can! Just give me a chance!”
What makes me leery of hospital births is the stats: One in three of us has a Cesarean, and of those who don’t, one in three gets the consolation prize – an episiotomy. Not too appealing, if you ask me. So my husband and I researched the subject thoroughly and became convinced that in most cases, homebirth is safer than hospital birth, for both the mother and baby.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m enormously thankful for modern medicine and a willing recipient of most of what it can do for me. But as far as I can tell, hospitals are places for sick people: for people whose bodies are riddled with disease, for people whose hearts have stopped working, for people who have slammed through their windshields. To my mind, they are not places for women about to bring new life into the world, and they are not the first place on earth that a new life should experience – with the bright lights, loud noises and confusion, not to mention all the germs. A hospital is one of the last places on earth I would want to be during my first hour of life.
Though it was. A hospital used by the military in New York city. My father was in the service, and at that particular moment, in the waiting room. My mother was all alone, laboring in a sterile hospital bed, listening to the other women in labor on the floor screaming and yelling and “using profanity.” She ate a chocolate bar to give herself energy, but threw it up. She didn’t know what to expect. Her doctor cut her vagina without asking her. I was born into the world.
I didn’t want that to happen to my daughter, or to myself, now that I knew there was a better way. Although my son had been born in a hospital, my caregiver was an experienced midwife, my doula and my husband were there, and I had a really good natural birth. But the hospital’s rules and regulations compromised the experience for me, and for my son. And for my second child, I wanted something better, something quiet and peaceful. I wanted my daughter to present herself to the world in whatever way she would, without anyone telling her how she should do so. I wanted her to come to us the way only she was meant to. And in Vermont, that meant that I wanted a homebirth.
“Holy s---!” my father yelled into the phone when I told him my plans. My in-laws posed politely cautious and nervous questions. My neighbors received the news wide-eyed. My mother questioned my medical decisions in detail during my labor. No one in my immediate circle of friends and family thought it was a good idea. Except me. And, thankfully, my husband.
It was a cold January in Vermont, as usual. My in-laws had made plane reservations to come for two and a half weeks around my due date, hoping to be in town for the birth. My father-in-law chuckled good-naturedly at my huge tummy wrapped beneath a navy blue cardigan, it was so big. Within an hour or two of their arrival, my water broke. My labor built slowly and methodically over the next two days. The second night I sat uncomfortably at dinner, a delicious dish of rigatoni with spinach and roasted red peppers made by my mother-in-law, but only because my son begged me to. I had to go upstairs as the pain pushed into my consciousness and shoved everything else out. We called and left a message for my midwife, Carol, then paged her.
“Baby coming,” was all I could verbalize through the waves of pain when my husband came into the room. The baby was coming right then, and there was no getting around it. Luckily, Carol was visiting a friend of mine in a nearby town, and made it to my house as I was in transition. My pregnancy had brought flashbacks of the long and arduous pushing stage with my son up on the hospital bed, and a vague sense of trepidation filled me now.
“Katherine, don’t be afraid,” she said to me, upon entering the room and seeing the look on my face. A weight lifted from my shoulders. “Where do you want to have the baby?” she asked, her voice quiet and matter of fact, as if she were asking me if I wanted chocolate or vanilla. “In the bathroom?” “No, right here,” I said, squatting next to my bed and holding the bedrail.
“The baby’s head is right here, feel it,” Carol said, touching me for the first time. I touched the baby’s head and calmed. Within a few minutes, the baby emerged into my hands and then my husband’s. We lifted her and gazed at her little body. She was beautiful and quiet and peaceful. The three of us, there on the ground on our knees, amazed over this new life. I looked back and forth into their faces, feeling the joy and energy of the moment swirling amongst us, as if we were the only people in the world. Birth as it has been experienced millions of times over, a woman squatting on the ground, with a few people she trusted huddling beside her, looking her fear in the face and not turning away, then welcoming a new life into the world, and rejoicing.
I held and breastfed her. “Katherine, come take a shower and wash off,” Carol suggested. “Give the baby to Jeff to hold.” I hesitated. She had just come out of my body, and it didn’t feel right to give her to someone else, even to my husband whom I loved, and in the warmth and seclusion of my bedroom, just yet. She had shared my body for nine months, and it felt so strange to have her gone from it. But I needed to clean up, and the shower felt good. Then the three of us snuggled down in bed to rest.
My husband went downstairs to tell his parents the news. “It’s a girl,” he said to them. “How do you know?” his mother said, confused. They had not even known that she had been born. They joined us to admire the new baby, and then the three of us cuddled in bed and fell asleep. It could not have felt more like it was supposed to be.
My daughter took her time, slow and methodical and strong. And almost 10 months later, that is how she still presented herself to us: It took her time to warm up. She was slow and steady in her movements. And then she came on strong at the end. Her legs confident beneath her, she was already standing sturdily and taking steps. Quiet, she didn’t cry much at all and never had. And peaceful.
Author’s Note: Before I had children, my female friends and family members told me their stories of childbirth, and almost without exception, they were stories of trauma and powerlessness. I desperately wanted to have a different type of story to tell. With the birth of my daughter, I can now pass on this account. Of course, homebirth is still an extremely controversial subject. Please visit Moms Talk to weigh in on the topic or to share your birth story.
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