In high school, one of my basketball coaches had a homebirth. That planted the seed in my mind and I came to think of homebirth as something strong women do. Then I married a man whose mother was a midwife and many of my beliefs were fortified. I did my own research years before getting pregnant and I decided that homebirth was the best option for me.
I believed in homebirth scientifically. To this day I read the data to say that a homebirth is safer than a hospital birth for most low-risk women. I believed in homebirth spiritually and emotionally as well. I wanted my baby welcomed into the comfort of my home. The pros and cons went on from there. There really wasn’t a decision to be made— homebirth was the clear winner— and my son arrived on my bed on May 15, 2012.
During my first pregnancy, people would ask me, “Why do you want a homebirth?” With conviction in my heart I would answer that in hospitals things are done for many reasons: economics, fear of litigation, protocol, and what’s actually best for the mother and baby is unfortunately pretty far down on the list. I’m currently six months pregnant with my second child and someone recently asked me the same question. The best answer I could muster was, “I guess I’m crazy.” I no longer know if I’m doing the right thing.
If the answer were clear I wouldn’t be up writing right now; I wouldn’t have been up crying last night. I am torn apart. I feel that a homebirth is what’s best for my baby but I don’t think it’s what’s best for me anymore, emotionally. I don’t think I can handle it. I don’t think I’m brave enough to do it again now that I know first hand what it’s like. I know I could push through the pain but I can’t help asking myself, “At what cost?” What kind of wreck will I be on the other side?
I never thought homebirth was the answer for everyone, but I thought it was right for me in large part because of how unappealing I find the alternatives in my part of the country. I have studied labor enough to understand the delicate interplay of hormones and chemicals in the body. Once we start blocking pain the perfect orchestra of actions and reactions is interrupted, replaced with something artificial, something that can cause more harm than good. Then the “cascade of interventions” is set off and we are left doped and cut while our baby is taken away and cared for by strangers.
If I were to have my next baby in the hospital I fear that I would have to fight against the establishment every step of the way in order to achieve the things that are important to me. I don’t want to be hooked up to an IV, wear a gown and wristband, sit under florescent lights, and labor on my back in bed. I don’t want to be forbidden to eat or do anything that might interrupt the constant flow of data from the EFM.
I don’t want to be cared for by whomever happens to be on call that I’ve never met before. I don’t want to be wide open to hospital germs and multiple sets of hands as shifts change. I don’t want to be put on a timeline or hear about one more person who “fails to progress.” I don’t want the Pitocin that causes unnaturally strong contractions that causes you to need the epidural that causes the next domino to fall. I don’t want the epidural that doesn’t take, or doesn’t last, or only works on one side, or leaves the “patient” with a headache for days or weeks, with back pain for months or years. I don’t want someone to have to tell me when to push because I have no sensation at all.
I certainly don’t want an episiotomy or a forceps or vacuum delivery, or a C-section and the mess that that entails. I don’t want the baby to be separated from me for a single second. Ever. I don’t want the cord cut immediately, my placenta discarded. I don’t want gel in my baby’s eyes (just in case I have gonorrhea), I don’t want Vitamin K shot into her (just in caseshe gets a bleeding cut before she’s 8 days old), I don’t want her vaccinated against Hep B on her first day of life (just in case I irresponsibly don’t get her vaccinated before she has sex or starts shooting heroin). I don’t want any of these things or anything at all to interfere with our immediate bonding time or breastfeeding.
I’ll tell you what else I don’t want though— the pain.
People say that once you hold your baby in your arms you forget the pain. It melts away and nothing matters except for that beautiful creature looking up at you. Let me tell you this is a lie. I remember every vivid, raw second of the pain. The pain is seared across my brain as clearly as cattle are branded.
When I allow myself to think of my labor I see it only in colors. Red and Black. If I had to describe it more I’d say it’s like biting the live end of an electrical wire and being thrashed to and fro like a rag doll, hanging on for dear life. Except you aren’t even hanging on at all but being dragged. I realize this sounds ridiculous, that millions of women do it, that I wasn’t actually dying or being tortured at war. I’m just a rich American white girl but I am scared shitless nonetheless.
The only thing harder than labor is being pregnant. I lied to myself to get this far. I bought into the conventional wisdom that every pregnancy, like every labor, is different. My second pregnancy is different but different in my case is just as bad. Say my normal baseline is at sea level and labor is a mountain you have to climb. I’m starting in a hole, completely depleted, beaten down, and just plain down. I have a mountain to scale in front of me but I can’t even dig myself out of this hole. Sure I can string together hours or days where I seem so okay that I might actually be okay but if hours of labor can feel suspended in time then 40 plus weeks can feel like an eternity. Pregnancy is the loneliest time. You are just trapped in your body. I could tell you how low I’ve been but it will just make us all sad.
So back to the point of my story- I need to get this baby out of my body and I don’t know how. I don’t want a repeat of my last experience. I don’t want to feel the red and the black. I don’t want someone’s arm up my vagina to her elbow, repeatedly, while others pin me down. I don’t want blood clots or a hematoma. I don’t want a tear that can’t be sewn up because of the hematoma that rips open anew when it’s almost healed. I don’t want to pee in diapers because I can’t walk five feet to the bathroom. I don’t want my husband to cry, not because he’s meeting his son for the first time, but because I pooped after days of agony. I don’t want anyone to hold my hand and tell me they are sorry, that this is not normal.
I guess all I do want is to feel like I can do this again. I want to sleep soundly and once again have faith that it will all be okay. I want to have a positive outlook, a bit of my old confidence. I want to not be jealous of my friends who got epidurals and said their labors were easy and that they could do it again tomorrow if they had to. I don’t want to give up on homebirth, but I don’t want to feel crazy for not giving up. I want to dig deep and find some strength and some courage from somewhere- anywhere- and have a redemptive experience. But that’s a lot to ask so until then I’m just going to eat some more chocolate cake.
(Image: getty images)