When people first hear that I had an unassisted home-birth (three of them, actually) they always say things like “Wow, that was really brave,” or “That must have taken a lot of courage.” I can see their point, as doing something so outside the norm of our culturally accepted practices can seem very scary. But to me, having unassisted home-birth wasn’t brave or courageous, it was just something I HAD to do. It wasn’t a choice…because when I really thought about all the other alternative ways of giving birth nothing else fit into my heart or made my soul sing. Unassisted home-birth was my only option and bravery had nothing to do with (stubbornness or pig-headedness perhaps, if you ask my husband, but not bravery).
My act of courage around birth actually came toward the end of my third pregnancy. I’d already had two successful unassisted home-births that were beautiful peak experiences and I’d planned on having the third in the same way. Until week 38 that is. One evening after a full day at the beach with my boys I came home to the sudden onset of a migraine. There was a moment when the pain just radiated from my neck to my head and I remember standing there gripping the sink wondering what the hell was going on. When the pain didn’t go away after an hour or so and after the onset of nausea, I feared for the baby in my belly so off to the emergency clinic we went.
When it was clear that the baby was okay and there was nothing that could be done for my headache short of a CAT scan and an MRI (which they honestly told me would probably reveal nothing), I went home with a bottle of Tylenol. I’d hoped to wake up the next morning with my headache gone. Having had a history of monthly menstrual migraines, I knew this was usually the case. But not this time. I woke up to the migraine and went to bed with it. Same with the next day. And the next. This went on for close to three weeks.
I tried acupuncture, chiropractic care, cranial-sacral therapy, a “pregnancy-safe” medication that left me wired and restless, as well as journaling, and taking care of any unfinished personal business (both within myself and my relationships). Anything to give me relief from the pain. Nothing worked.
Being in constant chronic pain…well, there’s no way to describe it. There would be nights I would be up in the wee hours pacing around my house silently screaming from the pain. During the day I would lay in a darkened room with my foot jiggling endlessly as I attempted to release energy (my husband always knows when I’m in a bad state when he’s seeing my foot absently jiggling). My pain was all consuming. And it was also exhausting. Being in constant pain gives you energy for nothing else. As my 40th week of pregnancy drew nearer I knew I had to face the fact that I might not have the energy or stamina to give birth all by myself. It was time to look at other options besides unassisted home-birth.
My first instinct was to go to the midwife group I’d used for the newborn exams for my first two sons. They were helpful, offering support and comfort and counsel, but due to liability reasons they weren’t willing or able to attend a birth where they’d given no prenatal care.
This is where my courage had to kick in. It was time to look into the hospital route. And knowing what I know about hospital procedures (having learned all the ins and outs while researching unassisted home-birth years before) I knew I’d also have to prepare for the fact that a cesarean birth may be a distinct possibility if I didn’t have the strength or stamina to deliver on my own. I have to be honest here: when I was researching unassisted home-birth when pregnant with my first son, I learned to become quite judgmental of birth choices that involved hospitals or cesarean births. To accentuate the benefits of unassisted home-birth many authors talk about how birth that is out of our control (aka “highjacked” by medical authorities) can cause unnecessary medical procedures, interrupt newborn bonding, give babies a stressful start to their lives, and thus rob us of our first empowerment opportunities as Mothers. And yet knowing and believing all this here I was, willingly going to visit a doctor in my 40th week of pregnancy, stating my case, and admitting I might need help.
After hearing me out, and taking into account my previous birth choices and my current birth requests of as little intervention as possible, she agreed to help me out if I truly needed it. I think I was relieved to hear this, but then I had to grapple with the reality that my birth experience this time around may be very different than I was used to. Truly, I was scared shitless.
But then I started to get used to the idea. Maybe I was SUPPOSED to have a different birth experience. Maybe I was SUPPOSED to show myself that any kind of birth experience can be beautiful and empowering, if we simply consciously decide that it will be. Maybe a hospital birth CAN be wonderful. Maybe a cesarean CAN be empowering! And maybe hospital births and cesarean births (though still not the best and only options for everyone, in my humble opinion) have their own rightful place. This was all a revelation to me.
Perhaps people can take away certain choices, push their agendas, and try to convince of things we don’t necessarily believe in, but NO ONE can take away or even TOUCH that certain small burning essence inside of us…the essence that allows us to see the magic in every single moment and every experience…no matter what.
The night before I gave birth for the third time, my headache receded by half. That provided me enough relief to feel blissful and even excited for my baby ~ an emotion I hadn’t even had the energy to feel the last three weeks. I will never forget lying in bed that night, feeling my baby move inside me, and feeling bubbles of happiness spill over me.
The next morning, on a SUNDAY may I add, the doctor who agreed to help me called me at home (neither one of us having any idea I’d be going into labor that very evening) and said “Honestly, Kate, if you can, just stay home to give birth. You’ll just have a power struggle here.” I laughed as we got off the home ~ partly from her frankness but largely because I knew this was a sign from the Universe and my baby. I’d done the work, I’d shown my courage and my bravery, and now it was time to give birth. On my own terms. At home and unassisted.