I wasn’t always like this.
Five years ago, I gave birth to my first son prematurely by caesarean. It was an emergency – at eight months, the placenta partly abrupted from my uterus. It’s not the fact of the caesarean that bothers me, for I am forever indebted to the medical world for that surgery and the safe delivery of my baby. But it’s the way in which I half expected to have a ceasarean that’s troubling, my own lack of confidence and professed disinterest in my body to carry a child to term. I even requested general anaesthesia for the caesarean rather than regional because I didn’t want to be awake during the surgery. (This request was refused.) And when I overheard that a colleague at work was planning a natural (unmedicated) birth process to see whether she could do it, I responded with (and I quote), “Who cares?”.
Fast forward five years. I have my heart set on a home birth. What changed? So very much.
Somewhere in between I had a second son. In my eighth month of pregnancy, a friend recommended an inspiring book by a remarkable woman. It was filled with stories of women who had had positive natural birth experiences. I hadn’t heard anything like them in real life (just the opposite, actually), but I was moved. I committed more firmly to having a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC), in spite of my OB’s nervousness. And I hired a doula, and laboured with her for a long time at home. Here is an excerpt of my thank you letter to her:
As you may remember, my birth experience wasn’t perfect. I was and remain horrified at how things unraveled at triage at Mt. Sinai [the hospital]. This process, this birth, that had been so carefully and lovingly nurtured until then was so quickly taken out of our hands, and taken over, that I was stunned with sadness. But I also have the memory of labouring at home with you until then, which is one of challenging satisfaction and accomplishment to me. And to have been awake, wide awake, to watch Nathaniel come into the world and then take him to my chest – the memory of this can still leave me breathless. It is the only birthing I have ever seen.
So I carry a basket of great things: the labour at home; the vaginal birth; a process largely unmedicated; your companionship and guidance; the big, beautiful baby; my intact body; the ease and pleasure of breastfeeding. I have joy. These early experiences with Nathaniel cut such a sharp contrast against those with Sam, and only now do I understand how much I lost that first time.
Now I know the [caesarean] scar will hold. If I ever have another baby, I will seriously consider labouring at home, with midwives and with you, if you are still doing this work by then. I’m 37, and more importantly, Ben seems to think two is enough (“If you want to have another baby, Carol, you’ll have to find another husband.”). But for me, I wouldn’t rule it out, and often feel like I would love to have another baby. This is such a far cry from what I felt equipped to do only a few years ago, it’s hard to express.
I imagine your work to be very challenging, especially because of the generally unreceptive climate in which you do it. I guess that you see a lot of unfulfilled potential, of women, of their bodies, of the babies within. So I wanted you to know that you have helped to reveal, one contraction at a time, my body’s potential – for me to want to birth at home, naturally, is a far distance to have come, and I want to claim it with you for its entire worth.
Somewhere in the last couple of years, my husband’s stance on a third child cracked, and here I am, with a belly full of baby and over the moon with gratitude. And part of that gratitude is being gifted with the chance to have a baby intentionally, governed by my own values and experiences, rather than fear. Part of the blessing of growing this child is the excitement I feel about being able to experience labour again.
I’m not foolish; I know there are no guarantees. If I need medical intervention, I will accept it and be thankful. But I’d basically be denying my own life experience if I were to fail to try to have a home birth this time around. Plus I’m a researcher by trade and I’ve done my homework, so I know that the statistics repeatedly demonstrate that home birth for low-risk women cared for by midwives is at least as safe as hospital birth. (More pragmatically, the data on this point would have to be rock solid in order for the government to fully fund home births attended by midwives in Ontario, which it does).
If you’d told me five years ago that I would be a home birth enthusiast, I would have said you were crazy. But then again, if you’d told me back then, when I had the unbridled freedom to go for a walk without telling a soul, that I’d find my greatest happiness tethered to two tykes wrapped around my knees, only partly visible under my watermelon tum, I’d not have believed you either. So maybe stranger things have happened.