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In July 1990, I delivered my second son at home with the help of a midwife, a dear woman named G.B. who ran the mothers’ support group I belonged to, one devoted to breastfeeding, cotton diapers and homemade baby food. A mother of four herself, G.B. had the boyish figure and waist-length blond hair of a teenager, combined with the gentleness and insight of a tribal elder. I wanted to have a home birth partly to hang out with G.B. for 24 hours.
Most of the women in this earth-mother enclave in Austin, Texas, had already had home births, while I had delivered twice in the hospital. The first was a tragedy—a full-term stillbirth. The second was the blissful relief of my son Hayes’ arrival a year later. My obstetrician, with whom I’d become close, was uncomfortable with my decision to have this baby at home. But after attending the home birth of a friend, I was determined to experience this most natural of natural childbirths myself. My doctor agreed to help with my prenatal care and to back me up at the hospital if needed.
The stars were on my side this time. Vince was born at home right on his due date.
The experience of giving birth in our very own house, in our very own bed, without the hospital superstructure on top of us was a revelation. No rules, no paperwork, no Big Nurse. The alternative birth suite where Hayes was born was lovely, but it couldn’t match hanging on to a painted pink pole in my carport through the contractions, breathing my own free air.
We actually strolled over to the neighborhood 7-Eleven just before dawn for a carton of orange juice.
I’m in labor, I told the clerk giddily. What? Get outta here, she said. Don’t you have somewhere you need to be?
It was after 2 p.m. when Vince finally showed up, all slimy and beautiful. I had been hollering and cursing at the top of my lungs for several hours. I guess no one was home in the neighborhood or surely somebody would have called the police.
Thirteen years later, I think of my home birth as one of the rare times in my life when I’ve been “off the grid,” free from the control of the institutions and customs that regulate everything from the way we eat and dress to the way we raise and teach our children to the way we die.
People don’t always have the conviction, the energy and the courage to buck the system, whether it means home schooling their children or growing their own food or marrying a person of the same gender or dying when they are ready rather than being kept alive by technology. For me, my home birth will always be a reminder that it is possible to navigate life’s passages in a way that is personal, right and real.