Exponent II Classics: Birth at Home
As someone who chooses medicated hospital births, I appreciate this author’s sentiment at the end of this piece that advocates choice for all women when it comes to this important decision.
Mary Ellen Sullivan
Vol. 5, No. 2 (Winter 1979)
Gently, she was lifted on to me. After the nine months of being with her, the months of feeling her little movements, the times we heard her heart beat, to see her sweet new body and to touch her with my hand filled me with such joy.
She gave a little cough, a sneeze, and even a yawn. She was looking at her father’s face close by her as he spoke to her. The room was quiet and warm that June evening—we were home. No one would yank her away, weigh her, wrap her, and carry her off. The doctor would leave as would all the birth attendants, after they had finished helping me and straightening up.
When my husband Douglas and I found out that a baby was coming to us, we were so thrilled and wanted to know all about what would happen. To wait for seven months and then take a few classes at the hospital was just not enough. Trying to figure out how to best learn more, I found the name of Homebirth, Inc., a Boston-based group. If they teach people about having their children at home, I reasoned, I could learn what I wanted to know about pregnancy and birth. I contacted them, found out about classes, and in the meantime, I read a book recommended by them, Immaculate Deception by Suzanne Arms. Reading of the experiences of women giving birth in the hospital chilled me. I realized then that only one of the births I had ever heard about first-hand had been what could be called a good experience. And yet I was not willing to accept the idea of our trying to have a child at home.
A few more weeks of classes, of meeting and talking with women who had given birth at home, and a visit to one of the obstetricians who had worked with Homebirth and would come to the home, encouraged us to consider a home birth ourselves. We continues to read and study, especially Sheila Kitzinger’s The Experience of Childbirth. The course of my pregnancy had been smooth. My physical well-being seemed at a peak. No complications were indicated. As the due date drew nearer, we purchased the supplies needed; we sterilized the sheets, towels, little clothes, we arranged to have a car and emergency back-up. The four birth attendants we had chosen to help us came and spent an evening during which we went over what would and could happen and where the supplies were kept.
In the last weeks and after the due date passed, we became more and more eager for the baby to come. We certainly weren’t taking a natural birth at home for granted, but I hoped that we could be at home. For years I had practiced deep breathing, and during the pregnancy, I had exercised and taken care of myself.
The morning of that warm day in June, I woke to find the “bloody show.” The time had come. Douglas had an appointment that morning, and I can only remember being excited and thinking about the baby. At 2:00 in the afternoon, I was lying down when my water broke. An hour later, the first contraction took me by surprise. The strength of it was overwhelming. “I can’t do it,” I told Douglas. He held me and said he knew that I could.
I showered. We phoned the birth attendants. One of them had arrived by 4:00 when the next strong contraction came. They prepared the bed and I lay down, beginning to breathe deeply. The contractions started coming, but not the respite I expected between each of them. The labor was no longer painful, just powerful and so completely engrossing that I could no longer have dealt with anything else. I wanted Douglas close by me constantly. The other birth attendants arrived. The primary attendant checked the fetal heartbeat and my dilation. The doctor was reached, and when he arrived about 7:00, I was completely dilated and the pushing urge had begun. The two attendants who stayed close by Douglas and me helped me with my breathing and relaxing. The doctor wanted to do an episiotomy, but the attendants interceded for me and massaged the pelvic floor. I could feel the baby’s head. Another push by my body, and a little cry was heard. The head was out.
Emotion welled up in me as I heard that little voice. Though my body was pushing effectively, I pressed hard too, and there was a tear. Another brief push. 8:45. A girl. I could see her. This new person was with us. No one spoke. She was so beautiful and well.
In a little while, Douglas cut the umbilical cord. I sat up a little and held her close. She locked on to my breast. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Later, we shifted a bit. I pushed again a few times, and the placenta slipped out. The attendants washed me, then the doctor gave me a shot so I wouldn’t feel the stitches as he repaired the tear. I rested with the baby in my arms. Her eyes were wide open and calm. The doctor sat and talked to me, and then he went home.
Too excited to rest, I got up and walked around a little, talking with the attendants. They had some food, including real birth-day cake, and cleaned up. The bed was made up and the baby’s bed and little clothes were ready, though she had already fallen asleep in my arms. The attendants each said goodbye and they also left. How much I appreciated all they had done.
Almost every account I hear of a birth is not like this. The stories are of rude experiences better forgotten and/or physically debilitation for both mother and child. What I would like more than anything to say to a woman who wants to have a natural birth is that “you can do it.” A woman should have the birth situation be as she wants it to be, whether in the hospital or at home, whether she must have a Caesarian or wants pain relief or monitoring or music. Douglas and I recognize how blessed we were that as we took the responsibility for the birth of our child into our own hands, we were able to fulfill that responsibility—that our child did come to us in such a beautiful and peaceful way, and that we had each other for support always.
Less than three hours after our daughter Mary Eleanor (Molly) Cannon was born, we also came to recognize the unexpected. In our twenty-third floor apartment, we sat and talked at the kitchen table when the first alarm rang. Fire, the only emergency that would place all of us in danger, had been my most dreaded fear when we decided to have a home birth. Douglas’ brother had come up, and he helped us as we hurried to take the stairs to the ground. We all walked down and out into the warm night air past first engines. It was a small fire, as it turned out, but we decided to spend the night at his brother’s home. We knew that birth begins a great adventure.