a home birth, what are you crazy?
That was the general reaction when my sister explained why, no, her second child would not be born in a hospital like her first. No she would not be going back to her OB, and she wouldn't even use our local birthing center, where I delivered, the Hospital Alternative du jour around these parts.
During the first round of our pregnancies, I was the "out there" one — birthing Noah in a hospital-grade birthing tub, the kind with jets and filtration. I used midwives, yes, but it was certainly more hospital than living room. (I still had a remote-controlled bed and a bathroom with handrails, if that says anything.)
Despite my loving sisterly pressure to deliver there, too, she ended up birthing Ben at one of the best hospitals in the country for neonatal care. Tomatoes tomahtoes, we both ended up with healthy kids and a painful story to tell.
But then she got pregnant again, and wowza did she veer in the opposite direction. She went about as far as she could, stopping short of squatting and delivering alone. And she was so much happier.
Now that Faye Winter is here, safe and beautiful, I asked my sister a few questions about her experience:
1. I've known you for a very long time. Your entire existence. And I have to say, you surprised me with your home birth decision — especially because it was such a drastic change from your first pregnancy. Why the change in direction? What was that decision process like?
Well, this is a loaded question. There are quite a few reasons why I decided to have a home birth this time. First of all, I think one of the biggest differences is that I’ve already done it once, so I knew I physically could birth a child! The first time around, I was clueless. I thought that everything my OB did was normal, I thought that medical interventions were just part of the process.
Once I was in the hospital and delivered Ben, I quickly realized that being in the hospital was perhaps the worst part of the whole experience. The random nurses coming in and out, “shift” relationships as opposed to continuity of care. I had very little control over my own body, decisions and plan. I got the sense that the doctors didn’t trust the birthing process, or the mother’s ability to deliver a baby. It was very much about their time table and protocol.
That being said, I still had a relatively smooth first birth experience. Once I learned I was pregnant again, one of my first thoughts was, “I’m NOT doing it like that again.” It just didn’t feel right, or natural for me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but the thought of going to the hospital, delivering a baby, and leaving my son at home, wasn’t even something I wanted to entertain.
A big part of the decision centered around the fact that I have a two year old, also. The decision process was a bit scary. In all honesty, I was in denial for some time, and just let it ride for a bit. I didn’t make an early appointment with an OB, or even rush out for prenatal care in the first trimester. I let the reality sink in for a bit, I researched and networked with some other moms, and made an appointment to interview with the midwives. Right away, it was so different from the experience with my OB. And, even if I wasn’t 100% certain it would be a good idea per say, I knew it was going to be better than another hospital birth for me.
So... I went with it. I was very anxious, a bit uncertain, and knew what I didn’t want…so I basically did the opposite of my first birth. (And yes, I’m very glad that I did.) I had to trust my intuition, and I learned as I went.
Also, at the very beginning of the decision process, I watched a documentary called “The Business of Being Born," which was pretty much a game changer. I highly recommend it for anyone that’s curious. It gave me a foundation and a new perspective to consider that I really identified with.
2. She seems to have assimilated into the family really quickly. Does it feel less real in any way? There was no packing of bags, dramatically driving to the hospital in the snow. No novelty of a hospital room and caretaking nurses. It was just like, BOOM, labor, baby…and wasn’t she always here?
You’re right. It was pretty seamless from my perspective, too. The whole thing just kind of happened. I don’t think it had anything to do with my own preparedness though. To be honest, I didn’t feel very prepared. I kind of had no idea how it was going to play out…at all. Maybe that’s the very reason that it seemed so smooth though. I really didn’t have many expectations, but I had a lot of uncertainties. With a home birth, there are a lot of unknowns; you aren’t constantly monitored and checked. You have more freedom. It was quiet, relaxed, non-invasive. I could go wherever I wanted to go. I could be in any position I wanted to be in. I didn’t know what I would want, or how I would feel, and that was okay. There were no bright lights or stirrups. No gowns or wires. No one told me not to push, or threatened me that if the baby didn’t come in x amount of hours, they were going to “help” her come. It just happened as it was going to happen, and then suddenly, she was here and I had two babies in my arms. (Of course with lots of contractions, pain and pushing in between.)
I had doubts. I was scared. It was even more painful then I remembered it to be. I wanted to quit. I even wanted to perform my own C-section at one point…. and I thought there was no way I could physically do it. But usually when you think you can’t do it anymore, that’s when you do! And, I did because this labor and delivery wasn’t all about me. I had a little boy in the next room that could come in and see his mommy at any moment. He could see me being strong, or he could see me unraveling. He kept me strong.
And physically? It was me AND Faye, doing it together. When I couldn’t push another second, my body contracted and did it for me. When I wanted to quit, she moved down lower and lower, reminding me that she was coming regardless. I feel like there is a lot of up and down, a lot of give and take between mother and baby in labor. But during delivery, you synch. You do it together. It was me, her and my midwife. It’s humanizing, and empowering, yet the most humbling experience. And, like you said, “boom, labor, baby wasn’t she always here?” Yes — I knew that little girl inside me all along, more than I realized.
3. You were pretty freaked out about having to leave Ben to deliver Faye, but I know you were also worried about how Ben would react to you birthing a human in the next room. And I know there was some worry about how you’d recover with a brand-new baby and a sleep-challenged toddler. Some warned that you might want space away in the hospital, to heal and bond. Can you speak to that, now that you’re three days in?
Definitely. I was really worried about leaving Ben, going to the hospital for three or four days, and then coming back home with another baby. I know him, and I know that it would have elicited a completely different response. I even think it would have been a bit traumatic for him.
And yes, it certainly would have been more traumatic for me! I am absolutely positive that being stuck in a hospital room, away from Ben, would have made it difficult to adjust to this new dynamic and bond with the baby. Maybe that’s not even healthy, but it’s true. I am very attached to him, as he is to me. I wanted to make this an experience that he could be a part of. He had baby dolls and books about expecting new babies. He came to the ultrasounds with me, and met the midwives. Two weeks later, he’s still talking about it, using Legos on my belly to “do ultrasounds," and talks about the midwives daily.
In a nutshell, it was a great experience for him. It came with a lot of preparation though. At just two years old, he really did understand. I was prepared that I may have to leave him in the case of an emergency transport to the hospital. I had you and mom “on call” as the people that would come take Ben out of the house if he needed a break. That aspect of my home birth, though, went exactly as I hoped it would. Ben was involved, he was present as much as he wanted to be — in and out of the room freely — and was not scared by any of it, at all. In fact, when I was laboring in the birth tub, he kept bringing me his bath toys!
During some of the early contractions, he put his head to my head, and held my hand. He is a sensitive, smart and very loving little boy. Having him here was grounding for me.
He was napping while I pushed. Chris didn’t come in until she was almost completely out, and Ben woke up and walked in maybe three seconds after she was born. He was right there, kissing his new baby sister’s head, while she was still attached to me and laying on my chest. The smile on his face told me that I made the right decision. He was absolutely delighted.
He stayed by my side and stared at the baby while I delivered the placenta. He was in awe over all her tiny features, and seemed like he both expected and accepted what had just taken place!
With preparation and involvement, I think it’s very possible for young children to understand a lot more than we think they do. Many people were worried that it would be “scary” or “traumatic” for him. I completely disagree with that. Childbirth is natural. As long as everything is going smoothly and it’s a low-risk birth, it’s only scary and taboo if we make it that way. It really helped me more than he will ever know, to have him there too.
Sleep and recovery? I definitely didn’t rest like I would in a hospital. I was up and out of bed that evening. I didn’t stay in bed — I was taking care of both kids, but I was okay with that. I think it helped, actually. I didn’t feel limited and helpless, sitting in bed staring at this newborn, while my toddler missed me or begged me to play. He wanted to play, so I played. When he wanted me to hold him, I could so I did. I think it was a better experience for me to bond with my newborn, with my toddler there because I saw how much love he had for her the second they met. That made me feel like it was going to be okay. It made me feel less guilty, and more accepting of my new role as a mom of two. In a sense, it made me feel like it was okay and natural to share my love, because Ben so clearly loved her, too.
4. I know you have a different perspective on labor and pregnancy after working with your midwives and birthing at home. Can you recall any big realizations or changes?
In working with my midwives and receiving their care, I realized how natural pregnancy and childbirth is for a woman. Pregnancy is a natural state for a woman’s body to be in. We are made to do this. We CAN do this. We don’t always need medical interventions. Don’t get me wrong: I completely support doctors and modern medicine. I really do. It saves lives. It saved my mom's life! She would have died during childbirth. I know that modern medicine can provide miracles — that’s not what I’m speaking to.
In a “typical” low-risk pregnancy, I realized that there is no reason to invade the woman’s body. It’s now the baby’s home, and as long as everything is progressing as it should, my midwives believed and taught me that was enough to trust. Women have been doing this forever, and they will continue to do this forever. We are so much more capable than we realize. It’s pretty amazing, actually.
(I know you’re tired, the screen looks blurry, and your stitches are hurting from sitting in that chair. I’m almost done, I swear. )
4. If you were to do this again (RELAX! I KNOW! TOO SOON!), would you have another homebirth?
First of all — bite your tongue!! At this moment, I never want to do it again, period.
But yes. If I were ever to be pregnant again (gulp….) I would want to do another home birth.
THANK YOU Nikki for answering my questions so soon after giving birth, and thank you and Chris for taking such gorgeous photos (as always). We joke that she's pretty much the face of Early Mama (and all of my Babble/mom.me posts!).
Nikki has shared more here, too. Wanna see?:
If you want to chat about birth stories or talk to Nikki and I, we're both in the private Early Mama Facebook group. There's just about 350 of us in there, it's a nice space! If you want an invite, shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org or the contact form above) and I'll add you.