Monday, August 6, 2012
When you’re married with children, Brie and crackers, 80s pop, and a lively game of Uno can make a pretty awesome party. In my case, this party’s guest of honor was my newborn son. After an unpleasant hospital experience with our first child, my husband and I decided to create the ultimate birth experience, the second time around, in the place where we felt most comfortable: our living room.
Expecting my first child should have been one of the happiest times in my life. But instead of blissful prenatal yoga sessions, I spent more than half of my pregnancy on bed rest, due to an “incompetent cervix.” Our obstetrician warned that I wouldn’t be able to carry my little girl to term, and I lived in fear that the slightest movement would have dangerous consequences for my baby.
After months of tests and confusing “doctor talk,” I underwent a painful labor induction at 37 weeks due to low amniotic fluid (probably because of all of my crying!). If that weren’t enough, my parents and OB missed out on the whole thing. In the end, I was left with a bunch of half-finished knitting projects and a resolution that my daughter would be an only child.
Needless to say, when I learned that number two was on the way, I was everything but excited. I was insecure about my ability to manage two little ones in diapers. I was even a little depressed about the possibility of never fitting into my favorite skinny jeans again. But most of all, I was terrified of another labor. The pain of my first pregnancy was still extremely raw. I didn’t want to relive that experience, but I had no idea how I could avoid it. Once an incompetent cervix, always an incompetent cervix, right?
After watching a documentary about home birth, my husband and I decided to consider it as an alternative to revisiting the hospital. This time, we wanted more control over our birth experience. He didn’t want to be confined to visiting hours and hospital policies. I wanted the freedom to eat, move and dress as I pleased. For us, home was the best place to make all of that happen.
As excited as we were, we had a hard time finding others who shared our enthusiasm. We reassured our parents that women had been having babies at home for centuries and that midwives were more than capable of handling emergencies. But there was a little part of me that was uneasy as well. Could the girl who can barely tolerate a paper cut handle natural childbirth?
It didn’t take long for us to find a pair of local midwives who made us instantly comfortable. Their cozy office walls were lined with photos of women and their beautiful healthy babies – all born at home. The pair reviewed my medical records and were skeptical of my incompetent cervix. They gave me the green light to keep my routine, and encouraged me to allow my body to be in control of the pregnancy along the way. After all, I’d already proven I could carry a baby to term.
I looked forward to my monthly appointments, which were more like therapy sessions than medical check-ups. I used the hour to vent about everything from piles of dirty laundry to painful hemorrhoids. Their encouraging words left me with enough motivation to get through (at least until my next appointment). They even helped me find a pair of doulas who worked with me on natural pain management techniques.
With our team in place, there was nothing left for us to do but wait – and wait. Much to my dismay, my due date came and went with little more than a flutter in my belly. I grew increasingly frustrated as friends and family made daily calls to see if they’d missed the big announcement. I was annoyed with my midwives who monitored me closely for issues, but resolved to rely on my body to decide when the baby should be born. “The baby will come on his birthday,” one of them joked when I complained that at 42 weeks, my baby bump felt more like a boulder. I live by my calendar. How could I relinquish control to Mother Nature? I tried every natural labor-inducing tactic out there – spicy food, long walks and acupuncture, but my little guy chose to stay inside and cook.
At the end of week 42, the big day finally arrived – with a little help from a castor oil and orange juice cocktail. We eagerly transformed our one-bedroom apartment into a first-class birthing center. We filled the pool, sliced fruit, brewed coffee and cranked up the music. As my midwives monitored the baby’s heart rate, my doula coached me through each contraction, encouraging me to move towards the pain rather than away from it. I clutched the side of my birth pool and envisioned myself climbing a mountain. My concentrated breath and counting did the work that Pitocin could not with #1. I was surprisingly calm in the face of excruciating pain. I was encouraged to change positions often, until I found comfort (and the undeniable urge to push) in the shower. In true dramatic fashion, Baby Aiden made his debut moments later, in the middle of my favorite quiet place.
My team hung around to clean up all of the evidence and help my son and I enjoy our first meal together. By the time my little guy had been cleaned and weighed, I was chowing down on a delicious homemade breakfast and a long-awaited cup of coffee. His big sister, who slept peacefully though most of the excitement, managed to tear herself away from Sesame Street long enough to meet her new baby brother.
I never imagined I’d give birth in my one-bedroom apartment on purpose, but I’m so proud of my family for having the courage to make Aiden’s birth what we wanted. We now have two healthy children who are as unique as the conditions under which they came into the world. Now if only I could get them to sleep at the same time!