The first photo I have of my daughter was taken when she was nine days old. She was beautiful at birth, a big, gorgeous, well-formed child. She was beautiful even with tubes running from her nose and through the stub of her umbilical cord, even in the blinking lights of heart monitors and breath monitors and every kind of computer that can be used to monitor life. She was perfect, and all I wanted to remember was her perfection. So we made a rule – no photos until she came home.
As I crossed my 32-week threshold last week, I felt my body start to change again. My breasts are just bit firmer, my hips just that much achier, those Braxton Hicks contractions just a little more uncomfortable than what I finally got comfortable with. My body is telling me it’s time to accept that labor and delivery are closer perhaps than I think.
At the same time last week, as if on cue, my hospital registration documents came in the mail, chock full of instructions on where to park, how to prepare, what to expect. And on the same day, in the newspaper, an innocuous article on home births.
I don’t do issues on this site. I knew going into the blogging business that most social, political, and cultural issues were off limits for me unless I wanted to alienate 99% of all potential readers – my politics make Bernie Sanders look like a Trump, my social views disqualify me from every organized religion I’ve ever come into contact with, and culturally, well, let’s just say not a lot of people get my jokes.
I don’t do issues, and so I’ve avoided writing this post for fear I might not edit appropriately, for fear I might speak too openly about an issue I know many women feel very strongly about. But really, that’s just an excuse. I’ve mostly avoided writing this post for fear I may actually now need to confront some experiences that I’d rather keep packed away in my attic.
I’m afraid of the hospital. I’m afraid of going into surgery, I’m afraid of overmedication, afraid of history repeating itself. The last time I checked into the hospital I spent eight days in a waking nightmare. I’ve spent the past four years trying to wash that time from my psyche and yet still the smell of that one particular brand of soap makes me nauseous anywhere I find it. The last place on earth I ever want to go again is into the labor and delivery ward of that hospital, and yet I am so comforted by the knowledge that once again that exact same labor and delivery ward will be a part of my experience.
When I was pregnant with my daughter I fell hard for the natural birth hard sell. I hired a doula and chose a recipe for my placenta. I wrote a five-page birth plan, approached my OB like the enemy, assumed every nurse I came into contact with was part of a conspiracy to clamp my cord early and cheat me out of skin-to-skin. I was convinced that the only way to bond with my child was to nurse within moments of birth, and that the first right action I could take as a parent would be to let her choose how and when she wanted to exit my body. Admitting to other mothers that I was planning a hospital birth was tantamount to saying I was planning to feed my child McDonald’s brand formula while sitting her in front of the television all day. Home birth was the way to go. Midwives knew babies better than anyone. The medical establishment wanted nothing more than your money and your soul.
It turns out, though, that homebirths carry a higher risk of infant death than births performed in the hospital. Not much higher, but enough. Enough to make me wonder why anyone would take that risk. There is self-selection, of course – most women choose to have home births only when they’re at low risk for complications. But even with this, there is danger. My pregnancy was perfect. I was a prime candidate for giving birth in a bathtub in the center of my living room. I saw the photos, I talked to the midwives, read the Ina May Gaskin. I really, honestly considered it.
My daughter would not be alive now if I had given in to all that hippie pressure and given birth at home. My daughter would have been dead within minutes of her birth if not for the nurses I had glared at, the doctors I had distrusted, and the miracles of modern medicine I thought my art degree qualified me to debunk as nothing more than capitalism run wild. I thank god every day that I caved instead to common sense.
Buried on a back page, a couple hundred words at most, that article struck a nerve. It took me right back to the feelings of inadequacy, to the feeling that I had failed as a mother because my daughter’s birth experience was not shrouded in the mystical fog of miracles that I was taught is the bare minimum requirement if you want your child to grow up happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. I didn’t nurse my daughter within moments of her birth, didn’t sleep those first twenty-four hours with her on my chest. I wasn’t even able to hold her until she was nearly a week old. This was all out of my control, and yet still, the natural birth movement had such a hold on my hopes that I suffered not only the trauma of my daughter’s near death experience, but also the false guilt that told me because of this her entire life would be ruined, because of this my whole relationship with her was doomed from the start.
I thank god every day for common sense, and for the passage of time. Common sense – and the mystical fog of medical miracles – saved my daughter’s life, and the passage of time has saved mine. Over time, I’ve come to understand that my love for my daughter is enough, that our relationship isn’t scarred permanently by her birth experience and that her life story hasn’t yet been written. Over time I’ve come to understand that the only opinions that matter in questions of life and death belong to the other people asleep in my house right now.
The little guy growing inside of me now (or not so little, as the case may be) may come early, or he may come late. Maybe I’ll have a natural birth in a hospital setting, or maybe he’ll be safer if we take a C-section shortcut. Maybe we’ll get to snuggle for hours on end during his first days, or maybe he’ll need to go to the nursery for one concern or another. Whatever happens, I’m going to listen to the experts and trust that they know more about this than I do. As long as he’s healthy, as long as he gets to come home with us in the end, I will be grateful.