Birth is truly empowering. My first two children were born at home. Both were incredible experiences, and unique in their own right. There is always the option to give birth in a hospital, and it’s something I have been mulling over since I found out that I was pregnant with baby number three. When we were showing our first house, Dane would tell people on our house tour that, “Lincoln was born right here in this bathroom...” Probably TMI when showing a house, but it was pretty incredible. Dane is proud to tell people about this emotional and transformative experience. He thinks I am strong, and capable for having delivered at home. I feel that way too. Modern birth has been medicalized beyond recognition, and the natural birth experience is foreign to most Americans. While I am passionate about natural birth, I am also realistically aware of complications that arise during birth. Both of my births were not, “normal” according to medical standards. My first baby suffered a fairly common complication prior to birth and required hospitalization within hours of being born. My second birth went smoothly, but I suffered a hemorrhage a few hours afters after the delivery. This was a scary experience and complicated my recovery during the weeks that followed. Despite some difficulty, I would not have changed anything about these two birth experiences. Being at home did not cause either of these complications, but being in a hospital would have changed some of the subsequent events.
The First Touch
In the event of my first birth, I would not have had the opportunity to hold and bond with my child following his birth. My son would have been whisked away, placed immediately on oxygen, and taken to the NICU. Instead, I was able to hold and cuddle my son and make a few attempts at nursing prior to the delivery of the placenta. My son was put on oxygen while at home, something that midwives are very familiar with using when the patient’s condition requires it. The oxygen made it apparent that transportation to the hospital was in my son’s best interest. Dane hustled to install a carseat (a small miracle considering Dane's ability to deal with menial tasks while under stress), and we smoothly transferred baby into the car and to the hospital. The midwife practice has a strong relationship with our local hospital. They had called ahead to the hospital to let them know we would be arriving and the intake process was seamless. After some tests were administered, we were able to see and hold our son again. At this point I was able to get a few hours of sleep in a small room within the hospital NICU. After 24 hours of labor I was barely functioning. Dane took over daddy duties for a few hours while our son cried for the food that he was not getting.
Immediate Love and Connection
Many parents describe the love they feel for their child as strong and immediate. My emotions were quite different when my first child entered the world. It felt strange and confusing. I had this strong desire to protect and defend my son, but the love and emotional connection grew and developed in the weeks that followed. I think those first few moments after birth of holding and bonding with my child were so important because I needed him to feel connected to him. It made me feel more in control of my own experiences, and my desire to protect him. The birth experience was so empowering that it made it possible to stand up for my beliefs in the days and weeks that followed instead of succumbing to every request and requirement in a hospital setting.
I Learned to Be My Child’s Advocate
When I woke up after a few hours my son was still on oxygen via a nasal cannula and had a feeding tube, so nursing was not an option. I was instructed on how to use the hospital breast pump, and worked to get a few precious ounces of colostrum for my hungry child. The hospital has guidelines for how much milk a child should be taking in during the first days and weeks of its life. According to the nurses I was not making enough “milk” and they would need to supplement with formula, something I was strongly against at this point. They also do not allow for a feed-on-demand policy meaning they had certain time intervals for feeding which I was instructed to follow. I begged and pleaded over the next 3 days to not supplement with formula. I felt that if my son was nursing there would be no one tracking his consumption quantities, and my colostrum falling short of their required number of ounces was not a problem if my son was otherwise doing well. On day 3, I was given an ultimatum by one of the doctors, if I did not have x number of ounces by the end of the day then they would need to supplement. Luckily, my milk came in and I had more than enough to supply. This is one of several examples of how hospitals add stress to a situation that did not otherwise need to be stressful. I understand why these rules need to be in place, and I am so grateful for the care my child received while in the hospital, but as a new mom I was intently focused on my child’s needs. I felt like the nurses were so focused on the required numbers that they failed to see the patient, who was otherwise happy and slowly returning to birth weight.
We Were Placed in Isolation
When we arrived in the hospital on the night our son was born he was placed in a private room within the hospital NICU. Since my son was born, “out of hospital” we were required to be in isolation to protect the other fragile lives in intensive care. This was a pretty wonderful coincidence, since my son was born in an environment that the hospital considers not sterile, we received a private room with extra space within a tight NICU. There were many times that Dane and I felt judged by doctors and nurses for having delivered at home. Home birth (on purpose) is seen by many in the hospital environment as unsafe and irresponsible. This is something I vehemently disagree with. While I do not think that a home delivery is the right choice for everyone, I do not feel that it was unsafe or irresponsible on my part or the part of my healthcare providers.
During my second delivery, my son had no complications. My water broke spontaneously, and the contractions progressed very quickly. I was mentally prepared for a long and arduous labor, but my son was born within three short hours. (More on this crazy fast birth experience in a later blog).
After the delivery, everything settled down and we were happy to enjoy the company of this small new life in the comfort of home. My son latched right away and nursing went smoothly. Everything seemed to be perfect, and the midwives packed up and went home. Then I started bleeding. It’s normal to bleed for a few weeks after birth, but this was too much. This was not normal. We called the midwives and 911. A midwife hurried back to our home to administer a shot of Pitocin. This helped my uterus contract again to stopped the bleeding. We did not have to be transferred to the hospital, but the loss in blood volume was extensive. I was anemic for several weeks as my body worked to restore the blood volume needed to function normally. A short walk would leave me out of breath, something I was not used to as an athlete. I returned to the gym about 6 weeks after the delivery, but it was not as easy as it was after my first delivery.
Had I Been in the Hospital
If I had been in the hospital for my second birth, I still would have hemorrhaged. However, the precious minutes when we waited for the midwife to return to administer medicine could have been significantly shorter. This could have meant less blood loss and there is a possibility that a blood transfusion would have been recommended. These could have contributed to an easier and less stressful recovery period.
So what now
We have not made a commitment on a birth location yet for our third child. I am waiting to get the results back from some regular scans before making a final decision. There are some people in my life with strong feelings on this point (hi Mom!), but ultimately I need to decide what is best for me and for our unborn child.
I truly can't imagine being hooked to a monitor for my entire labor (most hospitals require this to some extent). And I would love to have another waterbirth, not possible in most US hospitals. After birthing in a very natural position, I can’t understand how delivering in a bed with legs in stirrups makes any sense for mom or baby. Although it does make the delivery convenient for a doctor. I am still drawn towards a hospital birth however because the possibility of another hemorrhage is a scary reality. And there are countless other complications where hospital intervention could become helpful or much needed. The longer you are a parent, the more worrisome you become. Have you had a positive birth experience in a hospital setting? Please share your experiences!