by Julie Tilsner
I have to admit that by my eighth month of pregnancy, I couldn't tell what I dreaded more – remaining hugely pregnant until my due date in mid-July or launching early into labor – an un-medicated, all natural home birth – an experience that I'd signed eagerly up for just eight months before. Every night as I hauled myself out of bed nine or ten times to pee I would feel strange little contractions; little jabs of pain down low, as if my body were trying to remind me as gently as it could about what labor and childbirth really felt like. "Dear God," I'd whimper. "What was I thinking?"
Three and a half years ago, I had my daughter Anna in the hospital. But because I'm such a wimp about needles (I panic at blood tests), I forwent all pain medication until, I told them, "The pain is worse than that big scary epidural needle." Needless to say by the time I asked about the morphine drip, it was practically time to push. So I had a natural childbirth despite myself.
So it was this extreme aversion to medical procedures in mind that I went looking into a birthing center option when I learned I was pregnant with my second child. Strangely enough, however, there are no longer any birthing centers in San Francisco or Berkeley. So I went directly to the home birth alternative. Through referrals I found a midwife I loved on the first meeting: Jen Bauman, who came along with her effervescent apprentice, Rebecca Smith. Jen was my age (35), and exuded both a love for midwifery and a quiet confidence that assured me she could handle the job.
Over the course of my pregnancy, Jen and Rebecca came to my apartment more than 11 times for my pre-natal exams. We'd drink tea on the floor of my small student family apartment while they took my blood pressure, and checked my weight. They asked me what I was eating and how many glasses of water I drank each day. They gave me information on herbal alternatives to prenatal vitamins, such as nettle infusion and raspberry leaf tea. They wanted to know what my fears were, what my hopes were, how my daughter and husband were faring. Finally, we'd repair to the bedroom, where they measured my growing belly with squeals of delight, and listened for the fetal heartbeat with an old-fashioned, low-tech listening device. By the time my son was born months later, I could call both women good friends.
The contrast with my pre-natal appointments with my health care provider were glaring. It took weeks to sort through the complicated process for getting my initial blood work done, and yet each of my six meetings with a nurse practitioner lasted all of five minutes. I was a faceless number. But my midwives advised me to keep these appointments so that they'd have my details should some complication arise during the birth that necessitated my being "transported" to the hospital.
I wanted a home birth not only because I hate shots. I really do believe that pregnancy and birth are natural states for a woman, and that if there are no medical complications, then there's no reason to treat it as a condition to be "cured." This is the norm in many Western European countries (In Holland, I understand, you need a good medical reason to have your baby in the hospital, otherwise, it's home births for everyone!). I also felt that since I'd already experienced a natural childbirth, I was prepared for the pain of labor and was up to handling it at home.
Women who choose home birth are a self-selected lot, with a whole host of alternative views ranging from the merely "alternative" to the downright nutty. I fall firmly onto the more mainstream side of this group (which may still seem pretty far out to some folks). For example, I see nothing wrong with getting an ultrasound, which some home-birthers are firmly against. I will vaccinate. I will circumcise. I will use disposable diapers, and I won't nurse for more than a year. While I might plant my placenta under a new fig tree, cooking it up in a pie is definitely not something on my to-do list of life. Fortunately, Jen, my midwife, could be as crunchy – or not -- as I needed her to be. "How you decide to parent your child is your job," she told me. "My job is to keep you healthy during your pregnancy and help you deliver a healthy baby."