After writing this month’s feature story on birthing at home, I was inspired to continue the discussion here with my son’s birth story.
Almost 12 years ago, my son was born at our then home in Poughkeepsie, New York. Two midwives, both named Susan, were in attendance and our street was lined with snowbanks 4 feet high after a massive blizzard. I walked through my early contractions — outside, in the middle of the night, parka over pajamas, senses heightened. I smelled the snow and even smelled spring beneath.
It’s one of the clearest and dearest memories I possess.
My decision to birth at home actually came in the second trimester, 18 weeks along or so. It wasn’t a firm belief in the practice or reading an Ina May Gaskin book that inspired the choice. The idea kind of seeped into the back of my brain, and eventually my gut — something I initially shooed away and then, finally, could not ignore.
I had a great hospital birth with my daughter — natural and without complication — but it was fast. I woke with a start, two minutes from the hospital, and showed up about 8 centimeters dilated.
The second time around, fear of driving to my chosen birth center in New York, 40 minutes away, coupled with the knowledge that my body had done this well before, made home birth a reasonable choice.
And though I did love my hospital birth and the amazing labor and delivery nurse on duty, I met the doctor who delivered my daughter only about five minutes before meeting my daughter myself — and then never saw the doc again.
I didn’t sleep a wink in the hospital after birth — so many noises, tests and questions. Though initially a bit afraid, I pretty quickly cozied up to the idea of knowing my care providers well and sleeping well in my own bed, with Baby’s big sister nearby and welcome.
It’s without judgment of other birth choices that I tell you I’m intensely proud of my home birth. It still makes me feel like a badass, many years later.
Why? Because I took the road less traveled and followed my instincts, in spite of worried comments from neighbors and fear-mongering from relatives. More than that, the experience itself is one that allowed me to connect to my own biology in a way that was more difficult in the hospital. I trusted the safety net that my midwives had woven beneath me, knowing that they would be all over me in the event of even the littlest sign of abnormality.
Instead, they high-fived when I cursed at them and told them to stop telling jokes — because it meant that labor was progressing to transition.
During labor, I walked in and out of the shower, free to wear as little or as much clothing as I wanted. I played a little Yahtzee — I remember distinctly — while watching a middle-of-the-night airing of Oprah. She was on a road trip with her best friend, Gayle, in pigtails. Engraved on my brain, forever — a silly part of my son’s birth story — Oprah, in pigtails.
I drank tea and ate toast. We looked at our wedding album with the midwives.
I settled into the delivery in my daughter’s Hello Kitty-themed room. (She had fallen asleep in our bedroom watching a movie.) I decided, at that point, that I was afraid — not of home birth — but of having two kids. In that crazy, doubtful haze of late-stage labor, I told one of the Susans, “I don’t think I can handle two.”
Knowing me and birth and women so well, she replied, “You can’t walk away from your baby. You are pushing right now. Here — lean on my shoulders — bear down on me.”
When I became annoyed — insert expletives — with all the Hello Kitty in the room around me, I went downstairs and the midwives, of course, followed me.
Then, because it seemed like the right thing to do, I got down on my knees on the woven, sunset-colored rug on the hardwood floor, leaned my upper body on the oversized armchair and gave birth to my son, eyes pressed to the faded fabric. I didn’t look up once — didn’t wonder about the mess, didn’t worry who would catch him or if he would be OK.
The Susans had me. I had me. I had this. And it was extraordinary.
Jen Wittes is a marketing director, writer, certified postpartum doula and mom of two living in St. Paul.