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The Home Birth Experience: A Dad's Perspective
By Ajay Mehta
In the early hours of a mid-August morning this year, we welcomed our second child - a boy - into this world. While his older brother's arrival had been greeted by masked strangers, all armed and ready to conduct "Operation Childbirth", his younger brother only had his mother, myself, our midwife and her assistant to greet him as he gently slipped out with a surprised cry into the waiting arms of his father. Both births have been so fundamentally different that a chronicle of our journey from a hospital birth towards a home birth cannot be described in its entirety in this newsletter. What follows, however, are some quick impressions that I would like to share with you.
At the outset I would like to be clear that there is no "right" way to birth. Where and how you choose to give birth is a personal decision. I do, however, believe that informed understanding is a powerful tool that can guide you towards the best decision for your family.
Before the birth of our first child, I had always equated childbirth with hospitals. It was comforting to know that an army of doctors, nurses and specialists would be in attendance, taking care of problems both major and minor. I was vaguely aware of home births, for a friend of ours had had one, but it was a scary proposition to me, one that was fraught with danger and unnecessary risk. I must even confess to thinking that folks who gave birth at home were eccentric, even foolish, not to avail themselves of all that modern science had to offer. While my wife was much more aware and open-minded about the possibilities of a homebirth, at the time a hospital birth seemed like the most natural thing for us to do.
My wife and I are not "difficult" people, but the rules of the medical establishment soon became apparent. The doctor knew best and questions or concerns were met with either a patronizing response or mild irritation. We waited for hours in the brightly lit office, humbly aware of our place on the assembly line of anxious parents-to-be, waiting for deliverance (pun not intended) from the Almighty doctors. But wasn't that the way it was SUPPOSED to be?
Our experience at the hospital was a disaster. Once we'd checked into the hospital, we had no control over what was done to my wife. She was confined to bed, attached to an IV and fetal monitor (or was it the other way round?), denied access to food and administered an assortment of drugs. Could we have prevented some of this by being more assertive? Could a doula have helped? Perhaps. Our emotions at the time, however, were those of shock and helplessness. The interventions forced upon us, it seemed, were not for the benefit of mother and child but to facilitate business requirements and protect the hospital from possible litigation. Following an epidural and episiotomy to "get the baby out", we retired exhausted to our room. The scars - both mental and physical - from the trauma of the birth left a deep impression on my wife and took the better part of two years to heal.
By the time we were ready to have our second baby, my wife had no doubt that this time she would do it on her terms. We were fortunate to find a wonderful midwife who shared our convictions and who encouraged and challenged us to think clearly about what we wanted. Still, I remained uncomfortable with the thought of a homebirth. Even after we had met her, I wanted to do it at a birthing center where I believed we would have access to emergency care if needed. Soon all that began to change. We were encouraged to think for ourselves. "What are your fears?" she asked, "What do you think could go wrong?" It was abundantly clear that homebirth came with responsibilities that could not be assumed lightly. The experience was quite unlike the assembly line "processing" of patients at the ob/gyn office and we soon began to look forward to our monthly visits, knowing that we could discuss our concerns candidly and at length.
Birthing classes at the hospital had lulled us into complacence. Everything would be wonderful, the instructors had assured us. My role would be largely to whisper gentle encouragements to my wife during labor and the medical staff would take care of everything else. With our midwife, it was different. Reminding us that birth was not pain-free, she encouraged us to learn as much as possible about the process - and there were plenty of books and articles to read - in order to be able to make choices that were right for us. Then, there was always the possibility that labor would not go as planned and we had to prepare for that. This was extremely refreshing for we had grown weary of the all-knowing omnipotence and outsized egos of the medical establishment.
The birth of our son was everything we had hoped for and more. It was by no means easy for my wife, who was very brave and resolute through it all. Seeing her in pain was difficult for me, especially as the frequency and strength of her contractions increased. When she finally crawled into the birthing tub in our bedroom, she was ready to push the baby out. I can only describe her screams as primal as she began to push with all her strength. With the fourth contraction, a beautiful little head slipped out. Catching our baby as he tumbled out into this world was the most magical, mystical, intimate and surreal moment of my life. As I sat with my wife on our bed and cut his umbilical cord, I knew this was an experience I would treasure forever.
Our experience of natural childbirth went a long way towards healing the scars of the hospital birth and we are especially grateful that things worked as well as they did. So, for all you parents-to-be, good luck on your birthing journey. Do what works best for you but don't be afraid to explore the amazing strength within you. Life is too beautiful and too fleeting for you to be otherwise.
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