I’m a city dweller and, unless something unexpected happens (like I lose my mind or a world war), I always will be. I believe that plastic was an excellent invention, that Excedrin is the right answer to a headache, that a shower at least every other day is not too much to expect in a civilized society, and that wearing hemp has nothing to do with saving the planet. I think vaccines are a good idea, that modern medicine is the reason I can expect to live to 100 and that where a baby was conceived or the details of how it emerged into the world are not topics for a Christmas newsletter.
Here’s where all this started. A few close friends have just had or are just about to have babies, so I’ve been party to a number of conversations about birth plans. Then last night I read a profile of Cara Muhlhahn, a midwife in Brooklyn who was featured in Ricki Lake‘s pro-home-birth documentary The Business of Being Born and this morning I watched that movie through the miracle of Netflix. The onslaught of info on how to have a baby has gotten me thinking about my take on the subject.
I will be having my (at this point theoretical) baby in a hospital.
I’m glad you asked.
First, because I have an abnormal pain threshhold. And by “abnormal” I mean “too high.”Case in point: I trained on the trapeze on a dislocated rib for six months. Hooray common sense! Needless to say, that didn’t end well and I would not want little Murgatroyd to come into this world sideways because his mother couldn’t distinguish between “OK pain” and “not OK pain.”
Related, I’m prone to injury. I have, on occasion, walked directly into a wall. I cracked my clavical on a doorframe I misjudged, I bruise like a peach, I’ve have been hit by a car twice, I’ve been hospitalized a handful of times for illness, and the list goes on. Hospitals do not disturb me the way that they do most people. I’ve spent a lot of time in them and it’s always been a better choice than staying home and toughing out what has, without exception, turned out to be a significant injury or illness.
(I know a lot of people, doctors included, feel that you should stay out of hospitals if at all possible, and I’ve tried. When I have gone though, it’s been the right choice, so I’m going with instinct and experience on this one.)
Maybe because of those reasons, I am impervious to a couple of the other common arguments for home birth. One is that I will be most comfortable at home, more in control of my environment and more attuned to what’s going on during labor than I would be in a sterile hospital room surrounded by equipment. For the record, I like my sunny apartment. I do. A lot. But there’s a time and place for all things, and in the same way I’m not going to bring in a mirrored bar, DJ tables, and brightly colored liquors when I want to get a cocktail with the girls, I’m not going to bring in a kiddie pool and give birth in my living room. I don’t need to feel that particular connection with my coffee table.
Along similar “own your experience” lines, there’s a lot of talk about how empowering it is to give birth naturally, how feeling every moment of the unadulterated intensity of labor yields a sense of profound achievement for the mother. This argument is lost on me completely and I won’t deny that I have a chip on my shoulder about people who make it. Anyone who thinks that suffering immense pain is the path to empowerment has clearly not been seriously injured before. Yes, being badly hurt or very sick does force moments of clarity. It does teach you where your limits are and how strong you can be when pushed. I’m glad I know those things about myself. But the corollary argument that I would therefore recommend the pain experience as a path to empowerment is nutty.
This reminds me of my undergraduate career at a women’s college – Bryn Mawr – where there was a lot of talk about same-sex education empowering young women. Since I never had any problems speaking up in class and never considered myself inferior to male classmates, that approach felt coddling and oppressive, not to mention condescending and an excuse for softball academic policies and standards. Of course, I was privileged by birth and personality to not need those things from my alma mater and I acknowledge that there are girls and women do need more of that kind of support than I did. As with women seeking their empowerment through natural childbirth, I wonder if the same objective might not be achieved through other means. Like putting all kids in smaller classrooms before they head to college or providing more opportunities for women to control their experience before and after childbirth through early sex ed, small business loans, pay equity and reasonably priced, high quality childcare alternatives.
The word “natural” in itself is tricky. Nature is full of happy miracles, like crocuses and baby turtles and the Patrick Dempsey’s hair. Nature is also full of awful disasters, like tsunamis and smallpox and Bob Saget. What I’m looking for in my life is as much of the miracle and as little of the disaster as possible. Like non-salmonella-laced eclairs. Thank you milk and thank you pasteurization. When it comes to natural childbirth, I’m for the nature part up to a point (e.g. don’t induce labor unless necessary) and no further. Use the tools opposable thumbs and modern medicine have given us. (Or at least have my baby down the hall from them.)
I can hear the home birth advocates keening in the background (some of them anyway) that modern medicine in America is a corporate machine that a mother in labor will be unable to resist. Here’s where I come down on that. Modern medicine is a double-edged sword in the same way that most advances are. Yes, Oreos rule, but if you’re pulling them off the shelf at Costco from your mobility scooter, you’ve taken a good thing too far. Moderation in all things. Sure, start labor at home. Get a doula, someone to advocate for you and your birth plan who’s not your overwrought husband/partner/car service guy driving you to the hospital. Acupuncture is awesome and weird and effective. Go for it. Get a yoga ball. Do your thing. I’m going to. But I’m going to do it in a carefully chosen urban hospital under the additional care of my carefully chosen, soothing doctor.