From Hospital to Home Birth – And One In-between

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Home birth

“Mom was crazy,” was the first thought to fly through my mind as I gave the final push and my baby entered the world. Well, first thought after “when do I tell Tony that I’m never doing that again?”

My mother had four children, and three of us had been born at home. Growing up, the little thought I gave to that didn’t foster much reaction in me. Mom also taught childbirth classes and it wasn’t uncommon to walk into a room with friends and find a Bradley method instruction book open to a very detailed 1970’s style photograph of a baby’s head crowning. That happened in every home, right?

I grew up surrounded by birth – expectant mothers at the house for evening classes with their nervous spouses, friends’ mothers frequently pregnant, and my own mother who seemed to be at varying points of gestation or giving birth herself during much of my childhood. I even wrote and illustrated (oh, the illustrations!) my own book on childbirth – well, conception to childbirth actually – when I was about five years old. I believe it’s still out there somewhere, but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, birth was always present and yet because it was such a constant it didn’t seem to demand much thought. Like breathing.

My Turn
Fast forward about twenty years. As the sun rose on July 30, 2007, my husband and I welcomed our first child, a beautiful baby girl, into the world and a glaringly white, immaculately scrubbed hospital room. By the time I held Isabella in my arms and felt her tiny fingers tighten around my still trembling pointer finger, I was hooked. If clouds are numbered I was way above 9. The joy and elation I felt completely erased my thoughts of never doing “this” again and my physical discomforts fast became battle scars I wore with pride.

The idea that my mother was crazy for her home births lingered a little longer. When I returned home from the hospital I asked my mother what she’d been thinking when she planned to have her babies at home. The hospital birth I’d experienced (although entirely intervention free and with a midwife) had felt comfortingly normal and very textbook. I had found much satisfaction at being admitted immediately and heading from triage to hospital hot tub, to birthing room and table. The nurses that helped by keeping the fetal monitor on my belly the entire birth were very kind and although I didn’t answer him, the nurse who came in during transition to ask about what and when I’d last eaten  hadn’t really bothered me either. I just let my husband Tony speak for me. After Bella was born I felt comforted that nurses kept looking at her and examining me to make sure everything was as it should be. Even the interrupted sleep at the hospital I found a sign of protection, as if I had my own crew of vigilantes who wouldn’t let any of the ever-present and somewhat likely dangers harm me or my baby.

Because I was completely over the moon about my baby, being a mom, and life in general, by the time Bella was 9 months old my husband and I decided that we missed having a baby in the house and it was time to go for number two. A month later I was pregnant and we hoped for as identical a birthing experience as possible. Same midwife, same hospital, hopefully all would go as planned. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

Second Go Round
To this day we are not entirely certain why I was able to sleep through most of my labor with Nico, but I woke up in transition (although we were not aware that’s how far along I was at the time). I gave birth to him 40 minutes later in the front seat of our mini-van about 2 minutes away from the hospital. Everything had moved so quickly that my husband hadn’t believed my cries of “the baby’s coming out now!” and “there’s actually a baby’s head in my underwear!” until I tried to grab the steering wheel out of his hands so we could pull over (in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot) and he could help me take off my pants. Being about 2 minutes from the hospital and seeing that the head was just starting to crown (pushing alone had taken a solid hour with my first birth) my husband jumped back in the driver’s seat, willing the baby to stay put for two more minutes. Moments later, despite performing the world’s strongest kegel, I caught my own baby as he effortlessly slid into my arms.

We were fortunate that he came out crying and clearly breathing easily on his own. The fact that all of my labor and work was finished before I’d reached the hospital made me giddy and I remember laughing and exclaiming to my traumatized husband, “This is the way to do it! This is the way to have a baby!”

Third Times the Charm
If my first birth had been empowering, my second – the intimacy, the independence, the privacy – was the paradigm shift from “I can do this” to “I can do this.” Subtle, but perspective changing nonetheless.

During this same year, our midwife had her own life-changing experience. She had successfully (and in accordance with the mother’s wishes) vaginally delivered a baby that the hospital felt should have been an emergency C-section. The hospital believed she could not be trusted and did not renew her privileges. My trust for her increased, as I saw that she would do what she felt was best and safest for mother and baby despite the possible career outcome for herself. Instead of no longer practicing, she decided to simply do only home births from that time forward. The timing coincided with our growing family.

Had I not independently given birth to my second, I’m not sure I would have felt competent and capable enough to try a birth sans hospital. Possibly, if my midwife was still at the hospital, I would not have considered a home birth. Yet the two simultaneous events unfolded like a math equation. Totally empowered mama + home birth-only midwife = baby number three would be a home birth. And he was!

My Journey Home
What I love about our birthing journey is that we hadn’t learned through suffering or mistakes. We hadn’t gone through a bad experience to finally find a good one. We were fortunate to go from good to better. I believe that there are varying yet equal places, styles, and methods for women to birth. I’ve personally experienced hospital, car and home births (now twice!) and each has been different from the last. While there are advantages to each, and obviously it is crucial to know yourself, your limits and whether or not your pregnancy is in a low risk category, home birth is certainly a viable option.

What I hadn’t fully grasped with my first birth were 1) perhaps there weren’t dangers lurking around every corner and 2) the care my baby and I did require could all be provided by the midwife. In a low risk pregnancy and birth, having a midwife and spouse or doula present can be enough support without the necessity of nursing staff and equipment. There is always a transfer-to-hospital plan should the need arise and my midwife had explained that most emergencies came with warning signs and allowed for transfer time. The hospital is always a wonderful safety net. With our third and fourth births we embraced the quiet, control and intimacy that home births bring (and the added bonus for my husband of not having to drive a laboring woman to the hospital!).

So that’s how my life came full circle and I went from a being a baby born at home to being a mother of babies born at home. Maybe my mom wasn’t crazy after all. Or at least not for that reason.

Sara Massa
Sara Massa is a stay-at-home mother of four little ones. She taught high school English before having children and currently enjoys teaching prenatal yoga classes. She lives in Bethlehem, PA with her husband, children and grandmother.

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