I promised details about Rachel’s birth for those who want to read them. WARNING: this essay contains a description of natural childbirth, so if you can’t handle it, don’t read it.
Rachel is two weeks old today, and the most pleasant baby we’ve had. I don’t know how much truth there is to the theory that the kind of birth experience a baby has affects his or her personality for life (it certainly affects the mother's willingness to have more children), but Rachel would support the theory that the more peaceful the birth, the more peaceful the baby. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we’ve done this four times before, and we’re more relaxed. I am certain that the mother’s feelings during pregnancy and after birth are reflected in the baby’s disposition. All I can say about that is, “Poor Eli.” No wonder our first kid is so keyed-up.
The previous four children were born without drugs and with minimal intervention, under the care of a midwife, but in a hospital setting. There is a time and place for medical attention, for medication, and for “meddling.” Natural, uncomplicated birth is not it. It took me a few babies to realize I do not need to be in a hospital, just relatively near one in case of emergency. I have a history of late babies and long, slow labors. Once I figured out that it takes my body a really long time to prepare itself for the last phase of labor, I just stayed at home until it was time, or, in a couple of cases, allowed the midwife to start an induction using Cervidil (to ripen the cervix), but I never actually needed a Pitocin (IV) induction. I’ve also condoned various interventions to speed things up: stripping membranes, breaking my water, enemas—you name it and we’ve tried it. But I’ve never had an epidural (no needles in my spine, thank you very much) and don’t mind suffering a little to bring a child into the world. In fact, I would say that the suffering is proportionate to the elation one feels afterward.
But this time, I wanted something different. Having a baby in the hospital is like going to McDonald’s at lunch time. A hospital is a place of busy-ness—people running around in scrubs, officiously doing their duties and following protocols. The L&D room is needed for the next customer, so taking 24 hours to have a baby makes one a nuisance. Also, the nurses are used to 90% of women wanting to be drugged immediately, and then they rest comfortably hooked up to a monitor that can be seen remotely at the nurse’s station down the hall. These moms require very little. The mom going natural is always asking for things or refusing things, and some nurses feel rather put out. And when it’s time to actually have the baby, the busy-ness increases: a team of strangers in green swarm into your room and turn on bright lights and start unpacking mysterious packages. The end of the bed breaks away and when that wee thing comes into the world, it is a shock of lights, noise and air conditioning. They are whisked away to a corner of the room to be poked and cleaned and checked. No wonder they scream their little heads off.
As we have gotten more organic and natural in everything we do, it makes sense that this assembly-line approach to birthing babies would become less acceptable to me. When I found Rosemary Birthing Home (www.rosemarybirthing.com) in Sarasota, I knew that aside from having a birth on the boat with an island midwife—we’re not quite there yet—this would be the best option for a peaceful, natural birth for our fifth child. I mean, my midwife’s name is Harmony for heaven’s sake! We were right. There was no rush, no sense that we were a burden, no unnecessary meddling. Instead of McDonald’s at lunch time, it was like going to a friend’s for a home-cooked dinner and staying to open another bottle of wine. The birth was no shorter than normal, but aside from my water having broken (which starts a 24-hour intervention clock ticking) the experience was so much more relaxing. Labor in the courtyard, in the tub, in the shower, in the rocking chair, in the kitchen, in the garden, on the boardwalk along Sarasota Bay—no one was telling me what to do or how to do it. Not that we didn’t try to speed things up a bit—I went to the acupuncturist, tried herbs and homeopathy, even drank a Castor oil smoothie. The difference for Jay was marked, too. He hates hospitals, and was a little wigged out after Sarah's arrival (at 9 1/2 lbs. she was hard to get out). He bowed out of Sam’s arrival, leaving it to a team of girlfriends instead. But he was more comfortable in the homey atmosphere at Rosemary and was on hand when Rachel arrived, just outside the door. Even Sarah, at seven, felt comfortable and was there to see her sister’s birth.
In the end, Harmony gave me the extra time I needed to have the kind of birth I wanted to have (we were close to having to transfer to Sarasota Memorial), and when Rachel finally decided to show up, she came fast. So fast, in fact, that I didn’t even make it to the birthing tub and had her in the shower, where I had been laboring for the pain relief of pressurized hot water. When I picked her up for the first time, she wasn’t crying. She was quiet and alert, looking around and wondering where she was. We spent the first couple of hours of her life just looking at each other, holding her in the warm water of my (undefiled) birthing tub, nursing, and generally basking in the post-childbirth glow. (Man, those hormones are like a really good drug.) We had Rachel the night of May 2nd, and at midnight, we broke out the chocolate cake and candles and celebrated Sarah’s 7th birthday on May 3rd! I had plenty of time to rest and recover (Harmony herself made my breakfast the next morning after Jay had gone with Sarah to pick up the boys) before heading out to my mother-in-law’s. It was, aside from the part of childbirth I’m already forgetting about, a totally pleasant experience. I will never have another McBaby again (if I have another at all). I never cease to feel amazed at the miracle of new life—thanks be to God for answering all our prayers for a smooth delivery and a healthy baby!
Pictured (l-r) Priscilla, the apprentice midwife, Tarin, friend and birth coach, me and Rachel, and Harmony, midwife