My wife, pregnant with our third child, had just dropped that three-ton sizzling bomb on the living room floor while I was in the middle of a cold beer and an episode of Wicked Tuna.
As in: “Give birth here? At HOME?? IN THE HOUSE?!”
Why? We had already done two hospital births and both of them had gone just fine. We had been on the receiving end of two happy, healthy babies born in the middle of a perfect storm of nurses and nurse’s aids and doctors, and doctor-nurses, and nurse-doctors, and pharmaceutical specialists and breathing coaches and ninjas and soldiers, and pro-baseball players, and even a guy who came in to empty the waste basket while my wife was dilated to about a 9.
I still remember the look on that poor guy’s face as he got an eyeful of big, beautiful birth.
But with all of that attention on us, with all of that medical expertise and then some, I asked myself–Why on Earth would we want to do things differently?
Why would we want to do something so old-fashioned as having a baby in our house? Wouldn’t our neighbors hear Monica groaning and all? And more importantly, why the hell would we want to do something as dangerous as to risk the life of our tiny, new child and his or her mama to boot?
I said nothing, though.
I didn’t even know what to say.
My wife was going off.
Not in a bad way, but in that sort of way people tend to go off when they are feverish with enlightenment and new found hunger for an idea that makes them giddy. It was a few days after she had announced that she was on this home birth kick that I finally got around to asking a simple question or two, probably because of where we were headed.
We were in the Honda driving to meet a midwife Monica had found through the modern grapevine, so I guess it made sense for me to start trying to feel this thing out.
As we drove up the winding mountain road on our way to another valley in another town, I turned down the Howard Stern and dove in, gracelessly, as usual.
“Ummm,” I started, “So, what happens if you stop breathing during the birth?”
Monica turned her head toward me and smiled, and in that precise moment I watched as the cracked dam that she had been swimming behind just broke wide open right there in the freaking car.
“Do you know how many women have perfectly normal births at home?” she asked me. Before I could even answer though, she was off to the races, telling me facts and figures about hospitals and home births and I just sat there looking out the window, hoping that no deer popped out in front of me.
I wasn’t sure where I stood on any of this. I mean, yeah, this is her body and all but c’mon, this is my baby too, right?
And this was my wife. I couldn’t afford to lose her, especially now with 3 kids. Oh hell no. No other woman would ever want to date me with all of that baggage.
Ugh. It started to dawn on me what my big hang up here was. To me, uninformed, like so many Americans on the long glorious history of home birthing and midwifery all over the world, the whole thing was a tragedy just waiting to happen. It had to be. Having a baby somewhere other than in a nice, sanitized hospital room was flat out crazy talk! No one could possibly want to do that. That was for poor women caught in a taxi on the way to the maternity ward, no?
I’ll admit it now. Whenever I heard the term “home birth” I just couldn’t get past that image of my Monica laying there in the deep dark night in our house, except in my vision our house wasn’t even our house! Instead, it was this old musty log cabin with salted hams and dried corn hanging from the ceiling, and wicked winds slashing at the rattling panes, and just this one God-awful flickering candle burning on the nightstand by my wife’s bedside as this old midwife/witch, with a huge goiter covering one whole eye, pulled out a bloody mass of crying baby and cackled crazily, just as my wife looked me in my panicked eyes and said, “Husband, my work here is done. Take care of the children…”
She croaked! My wife! She croaked!
Monica kept going on and on about the things she had learned and her feelings about giving birth in our home, but I wasn’t really listening.
I was standing outside of our Little House On The Prairie in a night blizzard, trying to dig a grave in the frozen dirt.
The guy in the waiting room at the midwife’s office looked twenty-something, so when he told Monica and me that this was he and his wife’s EIGHTH kid, I felt puny in his eyes.
“And this’ll be the sixth one we’ve done with her,” he added, referring to the midwife. “She’s so great,” he said. “She makes it easy.”
I looked over at Monica and I could tell she was gulping down this sweet honey butter out of a Big Gulp cup. Her eyes were lit up with electric life and there wasn’t even a smidge of Victorian birth tragedy in them at all. She was excited. She was, I dare say, ecstatic.
Things happen for a reason, I guess, although it’s tough to understand what the reasons are until later on. Still, we ran into this guy and he did more for both of us in a few minutes of casual conversation than weeks of internet research could have ever done for us. At his feet, one of his sons played quietly with a cool set of plastic animals. He was a perfectly normal looking kid, happy to have a bucket of toys laid out before him.
A half-hour later, as we laughed with the midwife and she put my fears to rest, answering every question we had with the kind of grace and informed wisdom that didn’t feel like it had a doctor’s busy appointment schedule shooing us out the door. She never made us feel like uninformed dorks when we asked things that seemed obvious but were mysteries to us.
How many women suffer immense pain? Why did you want to become a midwife? What’s the deal with this water birthing? Does the whole situation ever feel so informal that the pregnant lady doesn’t push hard enough?
Do little kids ever watch the birth? Is there an assistant midwife? Is the midwife at our house for the whole labor? Should we have a buffet?! (I joke!… sort of.)
She answered everything carefully and happily. She told us in detail why midwifery was her life’s calling. She assured us that home births were safe and very common around the world; she looked in our eyes and said that we would be glad we chose this experience, and, to be honest, I believed her.
When we ran out of questions before she ran out of answers, she passed Monica a small bag of her homemade tea to deal with the morning sickness that had gripped her once again.
Boom. We were sold.
I was sold.
Then, out of nowhere, Monica said something.
“You know,” she said, smiling. “I’ve given birth twice now, but I’ve never gone into labor on my own since I was induced both times. Plus, I have no idea what going into labor and giving birth really actually feels like and this is probably my last chance at that.”
I stared at her, so did the midwife. A long slow moment went by.
“I’m a mom,” she sighed. “I don’t want to miss out on knowing those things no matter what.”
Then I understood.
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