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Last week, my niece was born. She was born at home, in a birthing tub, surrounded by midwives, doulas and family. When we heard she was here we were quiet more than jubilant. Somehow, knowing our niece had been born, and knowing--as we now know--what childbirth and childrearing entail, we weren’t in cigar-smoking, champagne-popping mode. Happy, yes. Delighted to have a new niece, relieved and happy and proud to know the home birth had gone well. And….pensive.
It’s strange to be far from something so big. “Her water broke,” you find out in the morning. “The baby was born an hour ago, all’s well,” you find out in the evening. In between, there’s going to work, riding the subway, making dinner for your kid, forgetting and remembering that something enormous is happening somewhere else.
I can’t imagine what it was like for the family members who were there, literally sitting in the living room watching as my sister-in-law delivered the baby. And I cannot imagine being in my sister-in-law’s position, going through something so powerful in my living room, surrounded by family. But you know, the idea of it makes a lot more sense to me than the idea of giving birth in a hospital bed, surrounded by overworked health professionals who make aside comments to each other as your body is wracked by intense contractions. That I’ve experienced, and it did not make sense at the time, or in hindsight.
My sister-in-law was profoundly affected by the birth of her first daughter, and as her maternity leave drew to an end, she decided not to go back to work. Instead, she stayed home with her daughter and began studying to become a doula. Now, two and a half years later, she was able to orchestrate the kind of birth she wanted. The first time, in the hospital birthing center, she remembers feeling unable to regain her equilibrium after she had to get out of the birthing tub (no pushing in the tub, according to birthing center rules). This time, she reached down and caught the baby herself, in the tub that she now owns, and will offer for rent to her doula clients.
The birth was extremely well-planned in terms of support people, and well-documented. And it went well. My older niece was around for much of the early labor, then she went off to a grandparent’s house. My other sister-in-law, who’s studying to be a midwife, hopped on a bus and made it for much of the labor. And, as the breathtaking photos show, my sister-in-law did beautifully, even singing during active labor, which she says really upstaged the pain.
The part that really makes sense, as I look through those photos, is the close of that day: images of mom, dad and big sister at home in bed with the new baby. Warm, comfortable, where they should be. No beeping machines, blue hospital robe or clear plastic bassinet, just a family at home, ready to get down to the business of figuring out how to live together with one more tiny person in the mix.
I’m not planning another pregnancy right now, and I’m not sure that I’ll want a home birth if and when we do have another child. I think a non-hospital birthing center might be right for me next. I can’t imagine wanting that many people around while I labored, and I can imagine worrying about how to clean the house even while pushing—I’m like that. To each their own. But I’m so proud of my sister-in-law, so excited that she had the birth she wanted, so excited to meet this beautiful new niece, and so glad to be reminded of how huge and life-altering the birth of a child should be. Somehow, with their labor & delivery floors and rows of bassinets, it’s easy to forget that every birth in a hospital is HUGE. It’s just so amazing to think that our entire species rests upon the heroic act of carrying and giving birth to a child. Welcome Frida.