Yes, we had a home birth

January 15, 2011

Nearly four weeks after Jace was born, people we haven’t seen in the meantime still ask, incredulously, “You had a baby at home? Intentionally?”

Well, yeah, we did. In fact, people have been having babies that exact way for thousands of years, minus the past 70 or so.

So, in hindsight, I don’t really see what the big deal is. Babies are meant to come out a certain way, and a woman’s body is designed to make that possible. At least, that’s how it looks from the sidelines.

But I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical when The Boss first floated the idea of a home birth this past summer, early in her pregnancy. Having just moved back home and not loving the new family doctor she met shortly after discovering she was pregnant, she decided to explore her inner-hippie (which is always bubbling near the surface) and shun conventional medicine for the more holistic approach of midwifery.

Although part of Ontario’s health plan since the early-1990s, I’ve discovered through casual conversations that there’s still a misconception about midwives being cult-bound flower-children, living in communes and delivering babies in an unsafe manner. The anti-doctor, if you will.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our midwife Sarah, who is in her mid-20s,  completed 120 births (with a prerequisite of at least 10 at home) during her four years of university. Doctors spend mere hours on childbirth during their extensive training. She was prepared with all the necessary equipment should a problem arise, and promised she would take extreme caution with both Amy’s and the baby’s health and not hesitate to call the ambulance to get us to Walkerton if things were looking dicey.

So, I got over my nerves about the home birth fairly quickly, and was excited when Amy had that first contraction in the early morning hours of Dec. 21.

Without getting into too many gory details – I don’t know what The Boss would approve of me making public, to be honest, so I’ll err on the side of none – the contractions hit high gear at 3 p.m. and, after just four minutes of pushing, Jace Ashlee arrived at 6 p.m. that night. The midwife – and her colleague, who came for the last hour to assist with the delivery – was awesome. Very laid back. She pretty much left us alone, allowing Amy to get into a zone, focus on each contraction and work through it in any way she felt comfortable – pacing the floor, in the tub, on the toilet, anywhere.

Without drugs, it was mind over matter, and being in the comforts of her own home and not tied to a hospital bed, Amy used everything at her disposal to do it in the way that suited her best, not what fit the hospital’s criteria.

Me? I provided comfort when asked, rocked with her, talked her through rough spots, relaxed and read my book while she was in another galaxy, and took pictures as Jace was making her triumphant entrance. And no, I won’t be showing you those pictures, because then I’d lose at least half my shit and be sleeping in a tent, if she let me take it with me.

The best part was immediately after Jace was born. At the hospital, babies are quickly put under a bright light, have gunk sucked out of their throats, are poked and prodded to make sure everything is in working order, and cleaned up, before being presented to Mom, probably at least five minutes later.

At home, Jace went directly onto her relieved mother’s chest, the baby’s eyes wide with shock. In fact, Sarah didn’t even do the ‘weiner-yes-or-no’ check before throwing her towards Amy. I guess she figured we’d find out sooner or later, and presenting her to Mom was more important. I managed to catch a glimpse and let Amy know through a brief spurt of tears, which could have been related to the joy of the moment or the realization I’m faced with another 18 years of Barbies, boys and Bieber.

And then we were left alone. Literally. We laid on the bed, staring at this wrinkly little miracle wrapped in a blanket, who looked exactly like her older sister did at birth. As Jace scanned the room, searching for our faces and voices, we cuddled her for the longest time. We forgot the midwives were still in the room, but they were there, sitting on the floor, out of sight, at the end of the bed. They did some paperwork, popped up the odd time to listen to her lungs and heartbeat, and check her temperature, and then disappear again while Jace gave eating a try for the first time.

They were like wallpaper, there but unnoticed, springing up only when necessary, and then fading into the background again. I couldn’t have imagined a better first hour with my new daughter and unbelievable wife, and hope other people get to experience that intimacy in a child’s first moments at least once. We certainly didn’t have the same experience in the hospital with The Hurricane.

And then, naturally, I went to get pizza for the four of us.

I had a beer too (hey, I earned it), although the midwives took a pass on a celebratory pint, while Mom and babe rested.

After three hours, they bid their goodnights and headed back for Owen Sound, leaving a happy but exhausted family to sleep comfortably in their own bed. After getting next to no sleep in the hospital after Layne’s birth, it was a fitting end to a perfect day.

But a midwife was back the next day, and Day 3, and Day 10 for follow-ups for Mom and Jace, and now, weeks later, with the novelty of having the first baby that we know of in decades to have ‘Ripley, Ontario’ on their birth certificate, and having answered numerous questions from friends and acquaintances about the home birth, we’ve made a pact not to get preachy about midwifery or home births. I’m told women have different comfort levels with pain, conventional medicine and drugs. Some think there’s no way they could do it without drugs or doctors (although they’re probably not giving themselves enough credit), and that’s fine. It’s their vagina, not mine.

So the only preachy thing I’ll say is that expecting women need to get on Amazon and buy (or lend from the Bruce County library, which we did after Jace was born because, well, the system is a bit slow) the documentary The Business of Being Born by Ricki Lake, the former TV talk show host. Here’s the documentary’s summary. Do it early in your pregnancy and then give it to your friends if you buy it, because it has some startling statistics that, while American, surely relate to Canada as well. In fact, did you know that America has one of the highest death rates of mothers and the second highest infant mortality rate during delivery in the developed world?

Seriously. The country – where only a few per cent of people use midwives – is nearly third world, while some European countries see a third of expectant mothers use midwives and have babies at home, with very few deaths.

So educate yourself about midwifery. Don’t just do what your friends, Mom or doctor says is right, and then make the choice that is best for you and your family.

We’re certainly glad we took the opportunity.