For my first child, I chose a midwife practice at a hospital in Philadelphia. Since it was my first child, I was especially anxious about any out-of-the-ordinary pregnancy symptoms. There was an answering service to call, but I never knew which midwife I was speaking to since it was a large practice of over 12 midwives. During my prenatal visits, I would sometimes feel even more unsettled when the midwives were unable to answer my questions about testing. They would simply say, "this is what test is done... we recommend you do it..." rather than helping me weigh the pros and cons. I was often seen much later than my scheduled appointment time, further compounding my feeling that they were in a rush to get me in and out.
When I was 42 weeks they told me they would have to induce, even though a stress test said that the baby was fine. Scared of an induction (I wanted to have my baby naturally) I gave myself an enema and my water broke the day I was told to come in. 24 hours after admission I didn't dilate, and for a total of 40 hours I was monitored by machines that were being monitored by midwives and doctors who took turns inserting tubes, fluids, and some drugs that didn't work or caused an adverse reaction. (I had Cervadil with no results, tetanic contractions from Pitocin, two failed epidurals, and a failed manual extraction of a retained placenta with no anesthetic before being wheeled off for a DNC.)
Somehow, and maybe it was just me, it felt like I was imposing by taking too long to dilate, or by complaining of the tetanic contractions, or the fact that the epidurals failed to work. (One midwife actually said, "nobody's epidurals are working tonight..." Not very comforting). I felt as if I was holding them up—like I should let them leave the Pitocin on, suffer from the tetanic contractions with no pain relief and endure them in bed, laying down on my back, unable to move to manage the pain in the ways I learned about in birthing class, or from my birthing books.
So there I was, confined to the bed, strapped to it with tubes, a fetal heart monitor, a noisy blood pressure cuff, and a catheter (because of the epidural that didn't work). After 36 hours I wanted it to end. I broke down and asked for a C-section, but since the baby was fine, and there was no doctor available, they wouldn't give me one. Exhausted, I asked everyone to leave, to let me rest, and I coincidentally went into active labor, pushed for two hours and felt I finally did everyone a favor by having my baby.
It was a dehumanizing and traumatic saga that made me scared to have another baby in the hospital. I know I was really unlucky to have some aspects of the labor, but there were other complications that I felt occurred because I was in a hospital setting.
When I met with Christy and Karen, I walked into Christy’s home and sat downstairs on her couch while she finished her appointment in her room upstairs. I took off my shoes. (There were other patients’ shoes in the waiting area and Christy came down with no shoes on.) When she came downstairs to greet me she hugged me. We went upstairs and I sat on another couch. We talked about what happened to me at the hospital and what kind of services they provided.
I called Christy several times during the first trimester. Let me be clear, I called Christy. Not a disinterested receptionist. Not an answering service. She picked up her phone or called me right back, she listened to and answered my questions, and never failed to demonstrate an enormous knowledge of all things pregnancy related. She educated me. And her availability and willingness to help me was incredibly reassuring. I was being cared for and attended to—as opposed to feeling that I was hassling someone or needed to be assessed immediately for testing. (Sometimes it seemed like the hospital midwives’ motivation was to figure out if there was liability on the line if they did not refer me for tests—there was an obvious protocol).
Christy helped us weigh the pros and cons; it was always our choice to make. We were allowed to be in control. And what is more awesome, is that she let us be in control and always believed we could have a natural, normal homebirth. Sometimes I had trouble believing I could, so we had all kinds of back-up plans. Eventually, I came to believe that, even if it was another long and difficult labor, Christy could handle it. She wouldn't get discouraged, but she would help me get through it.
When I was around 30 weeks pregnant I finally believed I could do it.
And around the time I was due, I did. I gave birth to my baby girl, Charlotte, at home. In the bathtub.
There is not much to say about the birth of my second child except that it was intimate, calm and simple. Oh wait, I was yelling quite loudly—but the environment was otherwise calm. There were no machines making noises or people I never met before walking in and out to look at machines.
It was hard work and it was painful, but I got to be in control of the pain. I rinsed off and climbed into bed with my husband and the baby latched right away. The postpartum care was phenomenal and the care of my brand new baby provided us with the most astounding contrast to that of the hospital. I was never separated, my baby was mine, not theirs to monitor, bathe and test. (Audrey, my first-born was perfectly healthy—just protocol to get tests done.) Charlotte was wrapped in blankets I had used for her sister. I was lying in a bed in my house, and we were eating and being cared for in my familiar surroundings. And the same woman who listened to Charlotte’s heartbeat for nine months in my belly, listened to it out of my belly.
During one of the postpartum visits, Christy climbed right into bed with me to do the blood test (heel prick) on Charlotte, while I nursed to make sure she was soothed during the test. I don't even know who tested my first baby in the hospital. I don't think I ever even saw his or her face.
Just writing about it makes me want to get pregnant again just to have another baby with Christy. It was beautifully simple, as I hoped it would be and as, I think, it should be. Best of all, Christy thinks it can and should be.
And so it went.