My mom is a midwife. Throughout my childhood, she delivered babies in hospitals. She stroked my head to sleep while on the phone with women in early labor. Long before I learned how a baby is made, I understood that one isn’t in active labor until you can no longer walk and talk through contractions. I picked up on the meanings of “bloody show” and learned that babies come at all hours. While there were inconveniences, there was one big upside: insider knowledge. Friends’ moms disappeared, reemerging with squishy, pink siblings. How it all went down, nobody knew. Except me.
My mom’s career began as a scientist, running a laboratory. A data-driven, rational bent extends into her midwifery practice, which is to say that she is on the more medical end of the midwifery spectrum. But like all midwives, she believes in staying with women throughout labor, helping us birth our babies in our own ways. I also learned as a child that an obstetrician is not inherently better or worse than a midwife, but offers different services and sometimes a different philosophy.
When I became pregnant with my first child, I was a member of a health center without delivering midwives. A week past my due date, an obstetrician suggested medical induction. My mom suggested walking. I went into labor walking around a grocery store. My mom midwived me at home, helped me relax through contractions, liaised with the obstetrician on call. I dilated quickly. She told me she was impressed with my progress. I was impressed with my mom.
We transitioned to the hospital at the right time. I was nearly fully dilated. But at the hospital, labor’s steady progression stopped. Then, our baby’s heart rate began to decline. At this juncture, many women are told by obstetricians that a cesarean must be performed to save the life of the baby. But my mom, my glorious mom, surmised that the cord was around his neck and shifted my position slightly. His heart rate went back to normal. She did this over and over. And because of these small shifts made by my midwife, my mom, our son was born without scalpels.
But it wasn’t the perfect birth. We had a healthy baby and that is what matters most. Yet doesn’t the birth of a human being merit an even higher standard? A climate of celebration? A measure of reverence? When I became pregnant with my second child, I wanted easier access to these finer dimensions of my baby’s arrival. I wanted birth to be part of our happy, messy life, rather than an artificial departure from it. And while I was being picky, I wanted a labor with no plateaus or detours, just a quick hard climb right to the top of the mountain.
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, home birth is a terrible idea “associated with a twofold to threefold increased risk of neonatal death.” But a Dutch study shows that, among low-risk women, perinatal mortality and morbidity rates are similar to those having planned hospital births. The contradiction arises from insufficient data and differing circumstances between countries. A lot more Dutch women give birth at home and the medical system is set up to support them. My mom arrived at this conclusion: Home birth is not inherently safe, but can be safe with an experienced midwifery team and hospital backup. I had no risk factors. There’s a great local home birth midwifery practice. The hospital is a short drive away. We had all the elements to have our baby at home.
Again, my due date came and went. But this time, our midwives offered a plethora of suggestions for inducing labor. Things started quietly, early on a sunny Wednesday. My mom and sister brought over breakfast. Together with my husband and first baby, now 3 years old, we walked around the neighborhood, greeting neighbors between my contractions. My husband and sister played with our son at the playground while my mom timed the contractions. When we got home, our midwives were setting up. I sat on our floor, husband behind me, steadying me. My son stroked my face and told me that he loved me. A birth pool was filled; beds were made; a veritable hospital suite unfolded. I stayed in myself, in my labor, dreaming my baby down.
He was born around noon, with a splash of waters and barely a push. A nearly exact replica of my first baby three years ago. But everything else was different. My tribe—husband, son, mom, dad, sister, brother, sister-in-law, dogs—gathered round and passed our newbie around to meet his crew. It was a love fest. While we snuggled and studied him, the midwives cleaned, drained the pool, and recorded their data.
Because it had been a busy day with no nap, I tucked our boy into bed early while my husband snoozed with our baby. The rooms of our home would never feel quite the same. Yet other than this new layer of meaning and the bundle asleep on his papa’s chest, life was exactly as it had been the night before.
The next day, our 3-year-old explained to a friend at daycare, “Da vagina stretches and den da baby comes out.” If you have questions, he can elaborate. Yet I have the impression that many women don’t ask many questions. That they choose to deliver with an obstetrician because they don’t think there’s a difference or assume that doctors and hospitals offer better care. One of the many things my mom taught me is that sometimes we need to be given permission to do the things that we know are right for us and our kids. I don’t subscribe to philosophies about how other people should do anything, least of all give birth. But there are well-documented benefits to home birth for mother and child. If you are even a little bit interested, I give you permission to check them out.