June 23rd, 2017, was not only the birth a baby girl, but also the birth of a mother: Me!
I had always envisioned pregnancy to be such a joy, just like in the movies. Although I felt happy to be a mother, my first trimester was extremely difficult. Let’s just say “morning sickness” was an under-exaggeration. It forced me to drop everything: all with zero support from my OBGYN. In fact, a direct quote from her was “everyone gets morning sickness.” I soon found myself completely disconnected and disgusted by the medical system.
I started to toy around with the idea of going to a well-developed city in Mexico to give birth to my child, all to avoid being here. After weeks of research I realized that was too far-fetched. Plus, nobody understood or supported that idea. So back to square one I went, trying to do research on a new doctor that would accept me at 22 weeks pregnant. I found myself feeling helpless because either I couldn't find someone to accept me and or they wouldn't take my insurance. So one day I decided to tell everyone to go to hell. I started doing research on midwives in the Oakland area. I have to admit that even then, I didn’t really know what I was doing. All I knew is that I needed someone who cared!
I found Marea through Yelp. At first I felt attracted to her because I read that she spoke Spanish and that she had done a lot of her work in Latin American Countries. Immediately after doing a phone chat, I knew this was the way to go.
I have to say I was not opposed to medication and or an epidural in any way. However, after meeting my midwife I suddenly found myself doing way more research around birth than I could have ever imagined. I was determined to work hard to make my birthing experience MY experience. Marea has always given me amazing bedside manner. I always felt like she legitimately cared about me, my unborn child, cared about meeting my husband, my step-kids and my closest friends. I was always free to ask as many questions at our hour+ appointments.
I always talked about how excited I was to give birth. I felt like it would be the only time I would feel fully in my body and my experience. Although I knew it was going to hurt, I was not scared one bit! I looked forward to it very much. My midwife gave me confidence and reassurance. I felt like: "I can do this! I will do this! Everything will be fine! ...and if we have to go to hospital, we will just get in the car and go.”
So the morning of my birth day I went to whole foods and ate a terrible breakfast, yet I remember the day being so perfect. It was beautiful and sunny. Around noon Marea came over and she gave me an amazing castor oil massage on my belly. She told me to watch a funny/happy movie to release the oxytocin. I started a movie, and about half-way through I started feeling some activity. I was home alone, so I reminded myself of all the tools I had to prepare myself for the big experience that was building. Within a few hours I was completely in labor. With my team by my side, I stayed focused. In fact it's like I went into a different world. I barely remember anyone being around. When I think back I just see myself, my labor, my breathing, my baby.
When I started pushing, my midwife was concerned that the baby’s heart rate was dropping with the contractions. She monitored for a while, and had me try some different positions to see if that helped the baby. After a while, she very calmly looked at me and told me she was going to call an ambulance to transfer me to hospital. Although for a second I felt like I failed, I knew she was doing the right thing. Yes of course I envisioned my perfect water birth, the flower petals and the essential oils, the perfect playlist and the birth of my baby on video. But at the moment the best I could do was take the words of affirmation I had previously taped in my bathroom along the ride with me.
Being inside an ambulance going so fast down the hill can be nerve racking, but I remember constantly looking into my midwife's eyes to find reassurance once again. Never once did she worry me. Once we arrived at Highland Hospital everything happened so fast. It felt pre-meditated. Within a couple of hours I held Colette in my arms. I did it. I really did it!
When asked I always say I couldn't have asked for a better birth story. I still don't think it was bad at all. My midwife gave me positivity, she prepared me fully for this day. I most definitely could not have done it without her. I would have been just another number, numbed from the waist down. I thank her and my support team very much. I encourage everyone to “feel” what its truly like to give birth. Feel it!!! I did and I have zero regrets.
Part of me was hiding.
Not all of me; Jemima’s birth was amazing, and I only came away from it strengthened and empowered and fuller – more myself than I’d ever been before. But there were still those niggling doubts and flutters of nervousness that are always present when something difficult looms.
Birth is transforming. And being transformed requires undergoing enough depth of experience to be forever changed. Change is hard, and so is birth.
So part of me hid.
But you can’t hide forever.
On Saturday I told my mom that I thought tomorrow (Sunday) would be the day it all happened. I knew I was stalling, and had mentally held it off as long as I could, but on Saturday I felt like it was time to allow my baby to come and my body to work beautifully with her to make it happen. I went to bed on Saturday night, and things started Sunday morning. It came a lot like it did last time. Birthing waves woke me periodically in the night, but this time I decided to ignore them. “If I’m going to give birth, I’m going to do it tomorrow when I’m awake!” I told myself. And then I’d go back to sleep. My attitude about this birth felt different. I was trying to accept what the birthing process would bring me, but I wanted some things to be different this time, and I felt like to some extent making changes would be up to me.
Chase came in to kiss me goodbye and head off to his meetings, and I told him briefly that I’d been having waves for a while. He seemed surprised, asked me if I wanted him to stay, and I said no. “We’ll see how things progress, and what happens,” I said. He agreed, told me he was proud of me for being calm, asked me to keep in touch, and left. Mom and I got breakfast for Jemima, and started the day normally. Sometimes I would pause for a wave, sometimes I would go lay down and turn off, and things stayed about 15 minutes apart. Mom and I straightened a little, thinking that if this was the day, it would be better if the house was clean, and decided that we would still go to church. Chase came home and I told him that things had stayed consistent, but we were still going to church. He was a little surprised, but totally supportive. I think I was in denial a little bit that this could really be happening, and pretending it wasn’t happening was the first way I decided to cope.
My waves felt manageable, and I continued to pretend that everything was normal. We got to church and I had waves consistently through sacrament meeting. I would turn off for each wave and close my eyes and relax into my oblivion. Every time this happened I could feel the intensity of Chase’s gaze from the stand. After the wave would pass, I would open my eyes to find his boring into mine. Even from across the room I could feel his support and strength. He is always there every step of the way.
About halfway through the meeting it hit me like a train. I realized that I was literally going to have this baby today. I just knew.
And then I panicked.
A thousand thoughts streamed through my mind, twisting and twining – colors and smells and plans and doubts and second guesses…flashes of moments and memories and excitement and fear. The emotional culmination of nine months of waiting is hard to process. It’s the beginning of the end and the beginning of the real beginning. That moment of realization holds more emotions than I feel like my body can process or contain without bursting. Once my mental storm cleared a little, I realized that my foremost feeling was an almost maniacal need to sleep. I knew the time when sleep was possible would be limited, and that no matter how long this went, I would surely need it. So I started watching the clock.
That was seriously the longest meeting of my life.
Chase raced to my side the minute it was over. I’m sure my eyes had already told him everything he needed to know, but I quietly informed him I was leaving to rest because this was really happening. The excitement and anticipation between us was palpable. He asked me more detailed questions about what I was feeling, and agreed that rest was the best choice right now. Then he walked me home, tucked me in, and left. I got two blissful hours of sleep, and it felt like heaven.
Everyone came home, and we decided it was time to evaluate: my waves were still consistent, they were getting stronger, but weren’t super close yet. Ok. So we decided to keep going about our day and make dinner. I helped, but would head out to the couch and turn off whenever a wave came. Dinner was good, and we were eating and laughing when I suddenly had a few waves fairly close together. The tone changed a little, and we decided it was time to call Renee and chat about what was going on. I didn’t want to talk on the phone, so Chase and Mom talked. Mom came back and told me that Renee wanted to come and observe me and check in. For some reason that made me feel really nervous. I felt stupid saying no, and I couldn’t actually pinpoint a reason why that wouldn’t be ok, (except that maybe it made things feel more real) so I said that was fine.
At this point it all broke over me, and I became emotional. I was kneeling by the couch having a wave, and Jemima came over and gently started rubbing my back. I looked at her sweet little face and realized that it was the last night I would be only HER mommy. From now on and forever, I would always be shared. I started to cry. I needed to mourn that loss like I never had before. Welcoming our sweet Lavinia would be so joyous, but with change always comes the loss of how things were, and would never be again. Jemima, my firstborn, my sweet, tender girl, the baby that made me a mother – our time alone together was going to be over in just a few hours. How had it ended so quickly? Where had the time gone? I held on to her, and that moment, and cried.
I asked Chase to call Mel. She would be photographing our birth, and although things weren’t really serious yet, it was getting close to Jemima’s bedtime and I wanted her in some of the pictures, since I was sure she would be sleeping when the time came.
I decided to change. It felt like time to accept more of what was coming, to shed my normal clothes and don something more suited to this time. A uniform, a suit of armor – to become who and what I needed to be during birthing time: instinctual, primal, strong, grounded…ready to fight and win and pass through to the other side of this experience. I put on a super comfy sports bra I had purchased just for this occasion, and my favorite yoga pants. I still remember that my mom came in just after I had changed and said with a catch in her voice, “Honey, you look so beautiful.” I was surprised; with that huge belly and those swollen feet it had been so long since I’d felt pretty. But on this night it wasn’t the beauty of makeup and perfectly fitting clothes and curled hair that mattered, it was the beauty of stretch marks and pulled back hair, an enormous belly and yoga pants, and the amazing, volcanic miracle my body was about to perform as I brought forth life. And that is beautiful.
The midwives arrived and for some reason I couldn’t pinpoint my feelings. I was a jumble of nervousness and shyness and…I don’t know…confusion? Maybe torn between how I thought I should feel and how I actually DID feel. I knew this was how it would be, but it was like I didn’t know how to proceed ahead while I was being watched.
Renee brought and exuded the calming presence I so adore about her. She asked how I was doing, and we talked things over while I sat on the ball. She listened to Lavinia’s heart and they started filling the tub. I felt a fearful fascination as I watched. The tub drew my eyes again and again, but for some reason I skirted around it when I walked, and tried to avoid looking at it. It represented the climax, the culmination of all of this, and even though giving birth in the tub was exactly what I wanted, for some reason it was the elephant in the room. It was the reminder that this was really really going to happen, and that I was still not ready.
I looked around the living room with the filled tub and the midwives busily setting up their stuff, and it felt too real, so I retreated. I ran away to my room.
Mel came and took pictures of us on the bed. Jemima was so sweet, rubbing my back with Chase and quietly taking it all in. I was trying to relax deeply, and loved being surrounded by my little family. But when it was bedtime, I got up. I wanted to put Mima to bed myself on this last night before everything changed.
I rocked Jemima and read her books and cried the whole time. I ignored my waves and tried to give everything of myself to Jemima this one last time. She was tender and sweet and would wipe my tears and snuggle closer. I held on to every moment. Change was coming so fast and all of the sudden I didn’t know anymore: were we ready?
After a hundred tears, and even more hugs and kisses, I left her room to let Chase finish. I stepped out into the living room and Esther asked me, “Are you ready now? I feel like that’s what you were waiting for.” In a wave of realization I knew she was partially right. “Yes,” I said.
I needed to love and snuggle and give everything to Jemima one more time, and then let go of the life we had. But now that I had done that, I could give everything for Lavinia, and accept the new family we would be.
The scene that waited for me in the living room still felt overwhelming. I remember Renee asking me if I felt like a watched pot. I laughed it off and said I didn’t think so, but I should have been honest. I was trying so hard to act like none of this was fazing me, hoping that by projecting confidence my fears would disappear. But my fears won out, and I ran away to my room again. I told everyone I wanted to be alone with Chase, and they agreed that I should sleep if I could.
The next few hours are a blur of hypnosis CDs, gentle check-ins by the midwives, Chase’s support, and strong birthing waves in the darkness. It was getting harder and harder to run away in the face of the ever-increasing wave intensity, so I started mentally running away. After every wave I would tell myself, “That was strong, but it’s not happening yet, so I am going to sleep.” I would doze off between each wave and repeat the process the next time. At one point Renee came in to check how things were going, and she stayed for a while, asking me to let her know every time a wave came. They were getting stronger, but she was checking length between waves, which was staying fairly consistent, and I think she was trying to gauge whether or not this was going anywhere.
Chase, as always, was my rock. Every wave he was there; strong, supportive, touching me in whatever way was helpful, talking me through this, and laying next to me while I dozed between waves. After a few hours, I stopped sleeping between waves, and started thinking. I thought about my fears, my worries, my deepest secret concerns that I was hiding…and hiding from. I went round and round in mental circles until I knew that something had to change. Something had to happen to free me from my mind game. I needed help. I sat straight up in the darkness and asked Chase to go get my mom.
She quietly came in and knelt next to me. The words started gushing out. “I...I think I’m scared. Or nervous? Or…I haven’t let go of my fears, and they’re keeping me from letting this go anywhere. I’m stopping it! I don’t know how to release, to let go.” I cried and tried to explain what I still didn’t quite understand myself.
My mom is amazing. Always. And just like she always does, she knew what to say. She told me it was ok. All of it. She comforted me and talked to me for a while, but what I remember most was when she suggested Chase and I go for a walk. I latched on to the idea and nothing has ever sounded so heavenly. “Yes,” I said, “I want to go for a walk.” It felt like a lifeline, an escape. I wanted to run away from this bed that had been changed to have the birthing sheets on it, and the midwives waiting for me to give birth in the living room, and the birthing tub that simultaneously fascinated and terrified me. I had arranged everything to be exactly the way I wanted it, but because I hadn’t faced my fears yet, I wasn’t ready for any of it.
I threw on a shirt and Chase and I left. I knew I was running away, but I didn’t care.
It was midnight, and I’ve never seen such a beautiful night. Chase and I both agreed it felt like that night was made for us. It was balmy and still and some delicious temperature that made it feel like my skin was being caressed, but it was never cool or warm. It was perfect. I’ve never felt air like that before.
Suddenly I felt lighthearted. We strolled hand in hand and laughed. We chatted about random things, and heard people snoring through their windows, which made us laugh. I had to stop and work through a few waves while Chase leaned over and supported me, but they were infrequent, about 15 minutes apart. It felt so freeing to escape for a while. Maybe I’ll always need to run away for a bit during my births. We walked and talked and soaked in the beauty of that night, until I started to feel the weight of what was waiting for me back at the apartment begin to press down on me again. I had another wave, slightly stronger, and told Chase I wanted to walk a little bit more. My waves were getting farther apart, and I knew it was time to decide.
We slowed by a tree that faces the balcony of our apartment. I could see inside. My heart started racing. I asked Chase to give me a minute alone, but stay where I could see him. Always supportive and sweet, he told me he would do whatever I needed, squeezed my hand and moved a little ways up the path. I stood there and looked up at that tree, and cried.
“How do I do this?” I asked myself. “How do I let go?” I suddenly felt an urge to do something symbolic, anything that could help me process these feelings and release them. My thoughts jumped from one thing to another: “I could improv right here…I could try and dance it out.” Movement was always so cathartic, but with my body feeling so big and awkward, and a little sore because of birthing waves, I discarded that idea pretty quickly. I cast about for other ideas and then I knew exactly what I needed to do. I looked around me, and saw a bunch of pine needles on the ground. I carefully selected a few, and held them in my hand. Tears ran down my face as I picked one and whispered, “This one represents how scared I am that this birth could go as long as my last one did.” I grabbed another one. “This one,” I said, “is my fear about the pain of birth.” I held up the last one. “And this one,” I whispered, “is my fears about how hard it is to care for a newborn and never sleep.” I held the needles tightly in my hand and trembled and cried in the shadow of that tree. I knew what I had to do but I still wasn’t sure I could do it.
I walked to Chase and reached for his hand. I held up my pine needles, and sobbed, “These are my fears.” He searched my face and nodded. “And…I need you to watch me let them go.” He gripped my hand. "Ok honey." I could feel his support, tangibly strengthening me at this crossroad. I cried harder than ever, clutching my needles tighter and tighter.
It’s terrifying to let go of fear. Fears are comfortable in a way. They give us something to hide behind. Our fears keep us from doing the only things that are more terrifying than fear: the things that could show us how powerful we are. I knew that I had to really, REALLY mean it when I let those needles go. I truly had to let my fears evaporate, because something else was more important than hiding. I had to strip my soul of all the fear I harbored so I could move forward.
I stood there for a while, crying, holding onto Chase, and gripping my pine needles. A battle was being waged inside of me; my fears grappled with my hopes – my hope that this birth could be different, shorter. My weakness attacked my strength – the strength that told me that I had done this before and could do it again. My desire for control sought to overpower the necessity of letting go and stepping into the unknown. While my mind screamed all of the reasons why it was logical to want to run from this, something deeper tugged at my heart, begging me to accept that I could not control how long this labor went, or the pain involved, or how much this baby would sleep, and that that could be ok. And that I could be strong enough and brave enough to embrace and face it.
I waffled back and forth, back and forth. I felt everything within me reach a climax of so much emotion I thought I would burst, and I let go.
I still vividly remember the feeling as I uncurled my fingers and let those pine needles fall to the ground in front of me.
I had done it. It was over.
I leaned into Chase and he held me and whispered words of encouragement and love while I cried. It felt like a sacred moment; my experience had hallowed the spot where something so cleansing had taken place. After a bit I eased away and felt profound peace and strength fill me. “Ok.” I said. “I’m ready.” He wiped away my last tears, told me he loved me, and we walked away hand in hand.
I didn’t look back.
As we walked I felt lighter, and at the same time fuller. Ready and aware of what was coming, but not scared anymore. I could do this. I WOULD do this. We walked up the stairs and opened the door. The first thing I saw was my mom’s face. She and Renee were sitting at the table and my mom’s eyes found mine immediately. Of course, I started crying again. We walked towards each other and I’ll never forget what she asked me: “How are you? Do you feel…whole?”
Whole. It was such a perfect way to put it. Yes, I finally did feel whole, not broken into pieces and sections anymore. No more confidence cracked by fear, or a calm visage hiding a circular gauntlet of questions and control issues. I was one. Whole. Ready. And not just ready to accept this, but to grab this with both hands and DO it.
I smiled through my tears. “Yes,” I said. We hugged while Renee checked in with Chase about how my waves were progressing. Still pretty far apart, farther than they had been, actually. She asked how I felt about her leaving. I felt great about it. I wanted to be alone with mom and Chase and this heady, newfound feeling of strength that made me feel powerful.
Renee suggested I eat something and left. It was one in the morning. I grabbed some cereal and we all went to my room and I ate while we talked. We told mom what had happened outside, and I couldn’t believe how lighthearted and relaxed I felt. We were laughing and joking and then a wave came. I decided to change how I was approaching this. No more laying on the bed trying to relax, or breathing through them on the ball. I had truly and honestly released all my fears relating to this birth, and this feeling of fearlessness gave me this desire to push through and finish this on my terms. I turned to my instincts. I hopped off the bed and knelt really low on the ground. I told Chase to lay on the bed and hold my hands. I pulled on him through the wave, and made whatever sounds felt natural and good.
When it was over, I stood up, and sat back down on the bed. I resumed my cereal eating, and within a couple minutes was back down in my kneeling position. I was pulling on Chase and mom was at my back. This happened a few times in succession, and happened so quickly that I was about two-thirds of the way through my cereal when I told Chase I didn’t want any more. I remember Mom saying that the fact that I didn’t want to finish my food told its own story. About two quick, STRONG waves later my mom said, “I hate to sound like a broken record, but do you think we should call the midwife?” I agreed. I didn’t feel nervous about her being here anymore. I was ready to do this, and she should definitely be here when it all reached the crescendo.
Things were going fast. My waves were speeding up, just a couple minutes apart, and were back-breakingly strong. Every wave was stronger than the last. But I didn’t shrink from them. This was what I wanted, to take charge and change things. I didn’t want to have a 36-hour birth again. I was conquering my first fear.
I love ocean imagery when it comes to birth. I feel like during Jemima’s birth I was calm, accepting, waiting. I envisioned myself sitting on the beach and letting the tide gradually come in, cover me, and take me out with it to the deep waters of birth.
With Lavinia’s birth, I feel like I was naked and running head-first into a tidal wave. I had mentally ripped off everything that could come between me and this experience, and although this time I knew how deep and turbulent the water would be, I was unwilling to wait for it to carry me away.
I would run out to meet it.
With this image in my head, I pushed mentally and physically into my waves. They came faster and faster and I welcomed them and worked with them. I was moving a lot and my feet were going crazy! I was pulling on Chase and slapping my feet against the floor. For some reason having every bit of me reacting to the pressure felt good. At one point I rocked back on my heels and panting, asked my mom, “Does this look like transition to you?” She said it looked like very active birthing time, and was maybe even close to transition. I was glad. I was throwing myself at this, racing for the finish.
Every wave I pulled on Chase – his shirt, his neck, his hands. It was so intense and so all-encompassing and I was being pulled and thrashed by this tidal wave of birth, but I kept pushing back.
Renee showed up, she said she had gotten home and just crawled into bed when we called. She couldn’t believe how quickly things had changed. She started getting everything prepped for birth.
It felt like a huge step, but I told her I wanted to get in the tub. It had been waiting for me and now I was ready.
I was surprised at how warm the water felt, and how good it felt on that summer night. But it did. The warmth did wonders on my back, and helped me relax. Like I had in the bedroom, I had Chase stay up by my head. I was pulling and yanking on him like crazy, but the movement was what I needed and he didn’t complain. My hands were fisted on the front of his shirt, and I would pull him towards me, and push him away, again and again and again. The sliver of my brain that was still functioning normally registered how hilarious it was to see him being throttled while trying to comfort and support me. Back and forth back and forth - but the intensity was crazy; even with all that Jemima’s birth had been, I had never felt intensity like this. I needed the movement.
I continued to push back, to rush into it all, instead of shrinking away. The intensity was consuming me as things progressed rapidly, and I began being very vocal. Chase asked if I wanted Mel there. I must have agreed because she came soon after. Mom poured water on my back, and I felt like I was going to die whenever she had to stop and refill. Mel came, I heard her voice, and I registered her movement around me. My eyes were clamped shut, and I started saying, “It’s so hard! It’s SO hard!” Over and over and over again. Everyone validated me repeatedly. But none of it really reached me until I heard Mel say quietly to my right, “It is hard. It is so hard.” For some reason that helped. I appreciated everyone’s support, but for some reason Mel’s words penetrated my thoughts like no one else’s had. Her words brought calm.
I continued to pummel Chase over the edge of the tub, when things reached a peak. I started pushing. “I’m pushing!” I yelled through gritted teeth, “I’m pushing! Is that ok?!” “Do whatever your body tells you to do.” Renee said calmly. Sometimes amidst the vulnerability of birth, I think I am looking for affirmation that taking the next step is ok, and that was all I needed to hear. I pushed. And just like last time, I felt like I would explode into a million pieces from the pressure. But I didn’t hide. I didn’t stop. All of the sudden I felt like I lost control as my body took over and ran away from me, faster than I could go. Waves were crashing upon waves with no room to breathe in between. I was vocalizing and pushing and my noises would go on forever, and I heard mom say, “Breathe -BREATHE!” When I finally caught my breath I said, “I can’t! It’s not me! I can’t control it!” I had run far enough into my tidal wave that it swept my feet out from under me and took control. My body was pushing without my help, and I felt like I was just bobbing in the water trying to find my footing. I screamed and was so loud that in the back of my mind I thought, “Wow. That is really loud. I think the screen door is still open. Hm.” I felt Lavinia move down, crown, and her head start to come out, and it was a climax of pressure and feeling and opening that is awe-inspiring and unbelievable. I thrashed and trembled and pushed and pushed. Her head came out. I thought I would burst…one last push and her body was born.
I collapsed against the side of the tub panting, crying – it was over. Time stopped for a moment. Sudden relief from such extreme pressure is hard to process. It’s like waking up in the middle of a dream – it’s jarring, disorienting. I took a breath as everyone helped me turn over, and Renee placed Lavinia on my chest. The turbulence had subsided, and we were surrounded by calm water. I held her, and felt her slippery warmth as we breathed together. New life had been born, and a mother reborn. I had experienced power and cleansing in that tub - a baptism of fire and water and spirit - and I was changed forever. Transformed and made new. I had given everything, including my fears, and I made it. I conquered. We had crossed over to the other side and she was in my arms.
We were together.
And it was beautiful.
*Note: The mind/body connection is amazing, and I think Lavinia’s birth demonstrates the power of that connection. Things stayed fairly consistent for 18-20 hours, but after I released my pine needles and my fears, things escalated quickly and she was born four hours later. We don’t do vaginal checks, but if I had to guess I would say I was at about 3-4 centimeters when that happened, and that I traveled through the rest of dilation, transition, and pushing in that small time span. It’s incredible how interconnected our bodies and emotions and minds are!
By Marea Goodman, Licensed Midwife
We are in a time when our goodness as humanity is being questioned. Borders are militarized and becoming stronger, refugees are denied access to needed resources, and hate crimes are on the rise.
In this country, we are unquestionably seeing the results of generations of trauma and segregation.
For about a hundred years, humans have routinely birthed our babies in hospitals. During this time, the medical community, as an oppressive institution, has been interfering with many of the physiological process of birth, performing often unnecessary, misogynistic interventions and separating babies from their parents.
These practices have laid the foundation for many generations of traumatized and isolated human beings.
Fortunately, midwifery care offers a much-needed contradiction.
Imagine: dim lighting, the familiarity of your own home, and care providers who you trust medically and emotionally and who have spent your entire pregnancy getting to know you and what you want for your birth.
Consider a world where all pregnant people are treated with the utmost autonomy and respect and the bond between children and parents is passionately supported. Where babies are born with trust, connection, and safety.
Of course, not everyone has access to homebirthing. Many factors – including disability, income and access to health care, and even cultural acceptability – affect a person’s access to and desire for homebirth. And we would never want to suggest that this is the only, or even the best, option. The best option is always the one that makes sense for you.
We do want to make space to talk about how midwifery can be a radical choice that rebels against an oppressive institution, especially in a world where more and more, we’re realizing that our day-to-day choices make a difference.
The way we’re born is one thing that can be considered in our movements of resistance. As we fight against the inhumane policies of the current administration, our work to reclaim our humanity is both personal and political.
So here are seven reasons why homebirth with midwives is one human(e) and anti-oppressive way to give birth.
1. Homebirth Is a Contradiction to Oppression
In today’s world, the forces of capitalism, racism, sexism, and classism work to isolate us. Oppression functions by disconnecting us from our bodies, each other, and the natural world.
When we are fully in touch with our own humanity, it is easy for us to see the humanity in others. Homebirth is a contradiction to oppression because it supports our humanity above all else in a way that the medical industrial complex often doesn’t.
Homebirth can be a safe haven. It offers the opportunity for pregnant people and families to craft the experience of pregnancy and birth that they most want and deserve, where consent is the highest priority and safety is not only physical, but emotional and spiritual as well.
Homebirth offers an opportunity to experience birth outside of the institutions of society that all too often cannot see or respect us in all of our human complexities.
And for those who want to choose this option, it can be incredibly powerful.
When a cis woman chooses midwifery care, she can opt out of the culture of patriarchy that insists that her body should be manipulated and controlled.
When a person of color chooses to birth with a trusted provider in their own home, they can carve a space for themselves outside of the racist institutions that have never cared about the wellbeing of their bodies or their babies.
When a trans or gender non-conforming person chooses a midwife who is a true ally, they might feel free to experience their bodies and babies as they are, outside of pervasive expectations of sex and gender.
2. The Way We’re Born Affects Us for the Rest of Our Lives
There is substantial evidence that the way we’re born affects us – mentally, physically, and emotionally.
In the US, medical interventions have taken over our evolved physiological process of birth. In some ways, we can argue, this is a good thing: After all, we’ve seen a huge dip in childbirth mortality rates.
But with one in three babies born through cesarean section, 60-80% of pregnant people birthing with epidurals, and astronomically high rates of use of synthetic oxytocin, it’s worth questioning whether or not all of these procedures are always necessary.
Many studies are now proving that the way we are born correlates with our physical health later in life. There is some evidence linking cesarean birth with health conditions such as asthma, type 1 diabetes, and other chronic health problems.
The concerns are not only physical.
Babies need caregivers, physically and emotionally, to transition into extra-uterine life, so the immediate separation following a cesarean birth can have profound effects on babies’ nervous systems.
Research shows that our early imprints of attachment have lasting emotional and psychological effects in later years.
The important question to ask ourselves as a society is: What are the results of all of this meddling with the physiological process of birth?
Are the interventions common in the birth industrial complex inhibiting our own production of bonding hormones and affecting our capacity to love and bond with future generations?
These questions are necessary now, more than ever, while our president enacts policies that promote separation and isolation in the name of “safety,” building walls and anti-immigration policies that are inhumane and ineffective.
3. Isolation Is the Main Foundation of Oppression
Human beings have an innate physiological need for connection. Compared to other mammals, human babies are born remarkably premature, and we remain extremely dependent on our caregivers for years (physically and emotionally).
When we interfere with the vitally important process of connection between babies and caregivers, we are denying each baby’s innate need for connection and negatively affecting their normal growth process.
The way the institution of medicine manages birth in this country can reflect be isolating to our children. And this matters now more than ever because totalitarianism itself is a result of isolation.
Despotic, divisive leaders are elected when anger and disconnection abound and anything “other” is seen as a threat and an enemy. A sense of isolation causes people to feel hopeless about their lives and the world, allowing power-hungry dictators to capitalize on their vulnerability and gain control.
People in the US have become deeply disconnected, from ourselves and from each other, and the result is an epidemic of xenophobia, racism, and fear.
The result is a president whose entire campaign was based on slander, fear-mongering, and verbal abuse.
There are many different interwoven threads of history that have brought us to this political moment. One of them, I think, and arguably one of the most important and the most often overlooked, is birth.
Because being born is the most fundamental experience that we all have in common.
And in this culture so prone to mistrust, fear, and disconnection, we rarely acknowledge the systemic issues around the birth industrial complex that perpetuate these dynamics.
4. Rates of Morbidity and Mortality in the US Are Distressing – And Racialized
Although we are the wealthiest country in the world, we are not, in general, taking good care of our pregnant populations and our future generations.
The statistics are extremely racialized as well. Pregnant people of color (specifically Black populations) suffer the poorest outcomes.
According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, Black babies are twice as likely as white babies to die within the first year of life. They are twice as likely as white babies to be born with low birth weight and three times as likely as white babies to be born very premature.
This discrepancy still holds when we control for differences in class and access to healthcare.
It is clear from the research – and, of course, people of color’s experiences – that racism and white supremacy play a major role.
Too many people are coming away from birthing in the hospital feeling disempowered and disappointed by their birth experiences – and then dismissed for those feelings.
Too many parent/baby dyads are being separated at birth, and too many major surgeries are being performed unnecessarily.
Too many people’s desires and needs around their birth experiences are being systematically ignored, which can result in disappointed or traumatized new parents and families.
The institution of medicine could learn a lot from midwifery, in terms of how to create a system more respectful of people’s needs. Because even when folks (and especially marginalized folks) choose hospital birth, shouldn’t they leave that experience feeling safe?
5. Western Obstetrics Arose From a Violent History
It’s not that hospitals are inherently bad places or that medicine is malintentioned: It’s that the system was never built to treat birthing people as self-directed individuals.
Modern obstetrics has a harrowing history.
James Marion Sims, considered the “father of modern gynecology,” gained his knowledge by conducting experiments on slaves, often without anesthesia.
In the mid 1800s, ether-based anesthesia was introduced into the delivery ward, resulting in unconscious birthing people, lethargic babies, and the implementation of forceps to pull babies out when their parents were unable to push.
People giving birth were often strapped to a bed and partners were denied entry into the delivery rooms; all the while, in the public sphere, the Association of Obstetricians conducted a very successful slander campaign against midwives and nurses, effectively orienting the future of birth towards hospitals.
This history matters.
This lack of humanity that was the history of modern obstetrics continues into hospitals today and is connected to the thread guiding our current political moment.
Today, there is a myth that having babies outside of the hospital is unsafe. Actually, research shows that for low-risk women (which is an important distinction), homebirth with a trained provider is as safe or safer than birthing in the hospital.
6. The Statistical Differences Between Hospital Birth and Homebirth Are Striking
While a direct comparison between homebirth and hospital birth statistics is not entirely accurate – because homebirth clients are, by definition, healthy and low risk – the disparate trends are significant.
- Babies born at home receive all of their needed blood due to delayed cord clamping, a practice which is not routinely performed in the hospitals
- Homebirth parents report high rates of satisfaction from their care, while in the hospital, 25-34% of birthing parents report experiencing birth trauma
- In the hospital, one in eight birthing parents experiences postpartum depression; the proportion decreases exponentially at home
For babies, immediate and constant skin-to-skin contact and a calm environment help them transition into this world with a more relaxed nervous system and, potentially, an unbroken sense of trust in their connection with their birth parent.
As midwives, our primary goal is to guard the health and safety of the pregnant person and baby while protecting the physiological intimacy that occurs between parent and child at the moment of birth and immediately after.
Our aim is to do as little as possible to disturb this bonding process.
In the midwifery model of care, we see the birth process as an everyday – albeit miraculous – part of life.
7. Homebirth Offers an Opportunity for Liberation and Healing
For the low-risk pregnant people for whom out-of-hospital, midwifery care is appropriate, homebirth can offer an opportunity to birth their families with fierce and loving self-determination.
Homebirth is a potential alternate option for people who are marginalized by this country’s major institutions and for anyone who wants personalized and intimate care.
When people have a trusted midwife with them as they go through the intensely transformative processes of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, they may feel better equipped to lay the foundations for healthy, connected, and radical relationships with their children and with themselves.
Assata Shakur said, “Love is contraband in Hell, because love is an acid that eats away bars.”
We need to break the bars that keep us isolated from one another and cultivate trust and intimacy as our first step in our movements of liberation.
While there is much to do in the next four years to protect ourselves from – and thrive in spite of – the hungry forces of oppression, we must weave trust and connection into the foundations of our work.
Where better to start than at the moment of birth, if we have the option and the desire?
Homebirth is not just a trend. It is not a chic movement or a badge that proves how naturally minded or alternative one is.
Homebirth is, and has always been, part of our nature. It is so much more than the location where a baby is born, or the credentials of their birth attendant.
It is, in fact, the expression of our deepest humanity, allowing for early imprints of intimacy and connection – which are not only our birthrights, but our greatest hopes for change.
Marea Goodman is a homebirth midwife practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area. She strongly believes in the liberatory power of homebirth and midwifery care, and imagines a world where each person gets complete choice over every aspect of their reproductive experiences.