Whether in a hospital or at home, the birth process does not have to be an event of craziness and confusion. The harsh reality is that in a hospital, it often tends to be just that. With the birth of my 4th baby just days away, I have been reflecting lately on how different my experience with each type of birth has been. My oldest baby was born at a hospital. The process of it was very scary. Before being transferred to the hospital, I was quietly laboring at a near-by birthing center. Once I got to the hospital, everything changed. I was given drugs I didn’t want, I was treated like a sheep being shuttled through the “process,” no care thrown my way of who I was or what I really needed. The next day, I ended up with a cesarean which could've been avoided, and I can only imagine what the event felt like for my daughter, as it was a traumatic experience for me.
But even deeper than these thoughts are the ones which have made me stand firmly on the side of not only a natural birth passage but a gentler one. In many hospitals, you are just a number, another customer paying big bucks to have “all-knowing” doctors tell you what to do and when while birthing your baby. Gone is the idea that birthing a baby is a natural process and that your body and your baby know what to do. Gone is the idea that the process should just be left to happen on its own, without charts and time frames and putting everyone in the same box with the same labels on how to “treat” this “medical condition.” Gone is the idea that that tiny little being inside of you needs to be cared for with gentle hands and patience. Delivering babies is just another part of the job description for a lot of doctors and that idea shows in the way they handle your delivery.
Part of what I don’t get about a hospital delivery is why they’re so quick to cut the cord, weigh him, scrub him clean of not only the blood and fluid of birth but the vernix which protects his skin, all in an attempt to make the baby “presentable.” In reality, a tired momma right after birthing her child, just because he is her child, could care less about how he looks or what he weighs at that exact second.
The following is something I wrote while thinking about one of the main reasons why I choose to have my babies at home with a midwife whom I trust to be there for me and my baby, for as long as it takes and with every ounce of her being – one who not only understands my desire for a gentle birth passage for my baby and the least stressful experience for me but desires it for me as well. I realize not everyone has the type of delivery encapsulated in the first scenario below but at the same time, I refuse to risk that I will have that scenario ever again. Of course, there are many good medically-grounded reasons to have a baby in the hospital. I just don’t have any.
Close your eyes and imagine that you are a tiny little being, floating around in the warm dark waters of a safe environment. You sense a distant light from the outside sometimes but you are otherwise free to enjoy the darkness, the quiet swooshing sounds of your surroundings and the warm water which brings you life. For much time you are like this, always comforted by the movements around you and the brilliance of your own existence.
Soon you sense that it is time to leave this place. You are a little afraid but you know it must be done and somehow you know that on the outside, there will be someone who will continue to keep you safe, and sustain your life. The passage is trying and often frightening but you know you can make it.
Suddenly, you’re surrounded by stark light and people in white coats, everyone talking loudly and rushing around. You’re quickly pulled from the entrance to what was once your little haven of warmth. You’re tethered to something, something which brought you everything you needed while swimming around in those waters. But you are hurriedly detached from this and whisked away to be scrubbed and washed, the warm waters and gentle movements quickly becoming a distant memory. Traces of your old home are cleaned from your body and you start to feel a little cold. You’re moved and flipped about so many times. They weigh you on a scale, the metal icy against your delicate skin. They suction you with a foreign object – everything is so scary to you.
You’re finally wrapped in cloth but it is nothing like what you’re used to. You’re desperately searching for that being who you know is there to keep you safe, but you can’t find her. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, you are placed in her arms. You feel sort of lost, like you don't know that you're home within those arms. She looks at you and cuddles you close as you snuggle against her, exhausted and hungry…..
Now imagine that instead of being greeted by stark light and frantic movements once you leave your safe haven, you are greeted with gentle hands and quiet whispers, encouraging you to make the last few efforts to come out. It is still dark in your surroundings except for maybe a few flickering lights which soothe you instead of frightening you. You are immediately placed with the one who keeps you safe, your mother, warm against her breasts and skin, her smell a comfort you knew you’d come to experience. You’re massaged gently and feel warmth penetrating from your mother’s body deep into your own. The cord which you have been tethered to inside your haven is still attached, still pulsing into you with vitality. You’re even given a chance to suckle, to gain strength after a trying passage.
Later, after the initial journey is over, you are gently wiped clean a little but left with a layer of beautiful vernix to help protect your delicate skin. The cord is finally cut after the pulsing process is over. The whole time, your mother is close, you can feel her and smell her and she is there, protecting you as you knew she would. The memories of your haven are slowly fading away but in their place is the comforting reality that you are definitely at home in her arms.
In a few days (who knows maybe even tomorrow) I will be giving birth to my 4th child. I am both scared of and excited for the labor and delivery process. And at the same time, I am anxious to give this baby a gentle passage into his new world. I could care less how much he weighs right when he comes out or how he looks…. I ache with every fiber of my being to hold him the second he is born – sticky blood, icky fluids and all.