My second “baby” turned two years old the other day. At this point in my parenting adventures, as I get further away from the last time I gave birth, I’m getting fewer questions about my homebirth experiences. But every so often, the topic does come up. I recently had bloodwork done, which I absolutely hate doing because I will fall on the floor as soon as I stand up from the chair. In fact, I’m getting sick right now just thinking about it. Ugh.
So like a big baby, I now ask to be reclined every time I have blood taken from me, and then I lie there for a minute until the queasiness has passed and I can stand up and walk out of the lab. It never stops being embarrassing, but at least the phlebotomists deal with people like me all the time and don’t seem to have a problem with it.
The last time I had blood taken, I had the misfortune of checking my phone on my way into the lab to find an email about something going wrong at work. As a result, my stress level was elevated even more than it usually is right before I go in for bloodwork. I went through the usual request to lie down during the process. The nice lady who was going to do the job tried to make me feel better about it by asking if I had children. She was trying to tell me that having a tiny needle in your arm is nothing compared to the labor and delivery process.
So that’s how it came up: “Yeah, you have a point. I should know because I didn’t have any drugs for pain during my births. Both my kids were born at home.”
Yeah, I am pretty much used to that reaction. It had been a while since I had discussed my birth experiences, so I was a little rusty. But I think during our conversation we hit upon most of these common misconceptions about women who give birth at home:
1. That we have extremely high pain thresholds.
As I mentioned above, I am a big baby when it comes to pain or discomfort. I considered going to the emergency room the other day for a steam burn on my finger that I received from lifting the plastic wrap off of a bowl I had just microwaved. I ended up just running cold water over my hand for 15 minutes. But that hurt. I also whine when I get a paper cut.
You may have heard us say that contractions are “pain with a purpose,” and I would agree with that. It doesn’t really make the pain go away, although I hear for some women that visualizations and positive thinking has this effect. Good for them, but it wasn’t true for me. What did help me during the “rushes” was to remember that this was what my body was supposed to be doing, and that the feelings were natural and healthy—much different from the “OH MY GOD SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG” kind of pain you get from breaking your leg, slicing your hand while chopping vegetables, or a particularly bad microwave steam burn.
2. That we hate doctors, and modern medicine in general.
As you might have guessed from the first item on this list, I love medical advancements, particularly anything that takes away pain! I don’t like sitting in a waiting room for a half hour or longer for a scheduled appointment, and there are bad doctors as well as good ones, but I love that medical treatment is a thing. I am thankful that a doctor was finally able to diagnose with specificity my autoimmune issues. I am grateful that the children’s emergency room was there for us when my older daughter was struggling to breathe in her infant days. And for what it’s worth, I vaccinate my kids, too.
Having a homebirth is not an inconsistent position for me. Childbirth is a physiological process that a healthy and normally functioning woman can do without medical intervention. Midwives are specifically trained to oversee the natural childbirth process and provide assistance where helpful; obstetricians are trained to treat childbirth as a pathology. I would be forever grateful to the skilled surgeon who would perform a c-section on me if I ever needed one—but I knew that my chances of having an “un-necessarian” would increase dramatically just by virtue of my presence in a hospital during labor.
3. That we are religious.
The phlebotomist actually asked me this question, apparently still struggling to understand exactly which brand of crazy would drive me to give birth in the absence of pain medication. Nope, you’re talking to a semi-atheist, “spiritual but not religious” type of person who lives a predominantly secular lifestyle and did not baptize her kids, not even “for the grandparents,” which I understand is a thing.
Some women do give birth at home for religious reasons, but many of us, if not most, do not. We really feel that strongly that our bodies were meant to do this, that we can do it, and that the hospital is just not a great place to have a baby, contrary to what most of us assume.
Cautiously, the phlebotomist asked how many children I have . . . I laughed and told her I had two. But I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell her if I had, oh, six. People are going to think whatever it is they are going to think. Which brings me to the next misconception . . .
4. That we domineer our partners.
This isn’t something you hear voiced out loud very often, if at all, but I believe it to be fairly common. The stereotype (and ok, maybe the reality in most cases) of homebirthing women is that we have strong personalities and strong opinions on just about everything, let alone our feelings about natural childbirth, and that we’re not afraid to let everyone know, including our partners. It’s fair to assume in most cases that it’s the mother who came up with the idea to give birth at home—it’s her body doing the work, after all. But that doesn’t mean the father or birth partner isn’t part of game plan as well, or that he’ll be hiding in the corner panicking, waiting for the signal to make the call to the hospital.
For those of us moms fortunate enough to have a caring and involved partner during pregnancy and the birth process, we make decisions together about pre and post natal care and the birth itself. I didn’t have to browbeat my husband into accepting a homebirth, when all I had to do was present him with my research on the subject and let him form a well-reasoned conclusion that it was safe, healthy, and a good choice for us. He’s an intelligent guy, after all.
5. That we look down on other moms who had hospital births, or (gasp!) an epidural.
This is probably one of the biggest misconceptions, and the most important one to eradicate. It’s a very touchy subject, because I do believe that when a new mom-to-be gets caught up in the fervor surrounding the topics of homebirth specifically and natural childbirth in general, it’s like a sudden flash of insight that you want to share with everyone around you. “Do you know what they do to women in hospitals?! Did you know that pitocin can actually stall labor and increase your risk of needing a c-section? Why would any woman in their right mind choose a hospital birth?”
But when all that subsides, most of us come to understand that, at the end of the day, the key to having a birth that is as positive and safe an experience as possible is to give birth in whatever setting, with whatever aids and assistance may be available, that makes the woman feel as comfortable and confident as possible. Some people do their research, gather advice and opinions, and do a bit of soul-searching, and still come to the conclusion that the labor and delivery wing makes sense for them—and that’s ok. It’s true that, when I hear that a mom-to-be has not really done much research and just assumes that the hospital is going to work out just fine, I get a little twitchy and feel the urge to say something about it—particularly when the woman tells me she is hoping for a natural childbirth. But I’m not going to be pushy if the topic doesn’t come up at all, or if someone makes it clear that it’s none of my business.
And if you anticipate that those contractions will be painful beyond belief, and tell me that you can’t wait to feel the sweet, soothing bliss of pain relief that I hear an epidural brings, then I won’t tell you you’re wrong to feel that way. I sure as hell felt that way when I was suffering from back labor due to my munchkin’s forehead being caught on the lip of my cervix. But I will also tell you this: oddly, when that long and arduous back labor was over and I was lying on my own blood-soaked bed, nursing a healthy, alert, and completely awesome baby girl, the feeling was freaking incredible. So I repeated the experience again almost two years later, this time with a little help with baby’s positioning in the days leading up to my due date, and had an even more incredible experience. I’m not sure I would have been able to have the same positive and healthy experience, for me and each of my babies, had I been in the hospital. It is very good to have choices.
Image via the Keep Calm-O-Matic