When my wife wanted to have our first child at home, I thought she was crazy.
Actually, I had thought she was crazy way before that, and that this homebirth thing was another manifestation of that. But she was having the baby, not me. I think the person having the baby should get to choose how she wants to have it.
Now my wife’s parents were concerned that, should some dire emergency occur, we wouldn’t have access to that unspecified life-saving device at our immediate disposal. So I did some research. I work as a medical writer and have access to the latest articles on the safety and efficacy of any scientific subject out there. In the field of science, no subject is cut-and-dried, and I expected to find the usual inconclusive and conflicting evidence on the safety and efficacy of homebirth, but instead I found out something very unusual. The scientific literature is very clear: Homebirth is as safe as, if not more safe than, hospital birth. This made no impression on my wife’s parents, who stood on the sidelines and wrung their hands for nine months anyway.
We had our first child at home in Chicago in 2006. My wife has a family history of fast births, and this one was fast: four hours from first contraction to baby. It was a wonderful, low-key experience. Her water broke at home at about 9 pm, just when we were going to cozy up with some TV and a game of Scrabble. No Scrabble that night! The midwife lived around the corner, showed up around midnight and delivered our baby girl at about 2. It was just me, my wife, and our midwife. My wife had the baby while kneeling on the floor in front of the couch, with me pushing her hips inward, and the midwife below ready to catch. Immediately afterwards, our midwife cleaned up a bit and made us all some egg sandwiches in our own kitchen before leaving this new family together.
When my wife was pregnant with our second child, we were in the process of relocating. I had already moved out to the east coast to find (a) a house and (b) a midwife. Most people were surprised that my wife was OK with me selecting both things without her having seen either one beforehand. Happily, we were both surprised that other people were surprised by this. We were so glad to meet Valeriana, who seemed to be just the right combination of crunchy granola, freethinking hippieness and hard headed, left-brained training and practicality. Because we knew that we could have this baby even more quickly than the first one, we had a Plan B and a Plan C for Valeriana to get to our house before the baby did.
For the second birth, the water broke at 9 am. This was considerate of the baby. Labor lasted three hours, so we didn’t have to worry about the Plan B’s and C’s. Valeriana came in, unobtrusively set up a little office out of the way, and let nature take its course. I stayed with my wife up in the bedroom, and Valeriana always knew when she was needed, usually before we did. We had let our first child (now 3) decide if she wanted to see any or all of the birth. She decided she did not want to see it, and played downstairs with friends and family.
My favorite moment was early in the birth. My wife had an exercise ball that she was moving around on, and sometimes she would sway back and forth on her hands and knees. When the contractions began to come, I took up my old job of pressing her hips inward. When the contractions were still pretty far apart, we were in the bedroom, looking out the window on this cool, sunny, day where the autumn air was breezing in through the window. (Autumn in our favorite season.) One of the first heavy contractions came and went, and then I said “Maybe that was the last one.” We both had a nice laugh then. A couple of hours later, our second daughter was born, with my wife on her knees, in our bedroom. Our family and friends were downstairs, and our daughter had been invited into the room to meet her sister and to help cut the cord. I can’t tell you what a happy, healthy, nurturing moment that was for me on that pleasant autumn day. And for all of us. Then we went downstairs to share the good news.
One of my favorite things about home birth is how regular it all seemed. I could take a walk in the neighborhood later that day and say “We had a baby today” almost as casually as you might say, “We had a birthday party today.” There was no pressure. No loud or panicked voices, ever. No emergencies. There was laughter downstairs and in the backyard. We had just gone apple picking and had made an apple pie the day before, and we enjoyed the last of it that afternoon, in our own kitchen, on our own plates.
I have a lot of friends who have had hospital births, and they can tell me now that they wished they hadn’t done it that way, even the people who went “halvsies”, where they had a midwife AND a doctor or some type of hospital involvement. The birth never went the way they wanted, they always had procedures done that they didn’t want but were told were needed, and they always had regrets. I have the deep satisfaction of having no regrets. I love the days my kids were born, both home births, and I love telling people about them.