Over 30 years ago, when my mother became pregnant with me, her physicians told her to "cut down" on cigarettes, drink less coffee, go easy on cocktails, and gain thirty pounds or more. Prenatal care was limited to giant vitamins that mom called "horse-pills". Daddies were not allowed in the delivery room, mothers were separated from newborns after being flung high by their feet and spanked into their first screams for breath. Pain medications referred to as "saddle blocks" and "spinals" were de-rigeur. The result was: I was born two weeks late, a mere seven pounds and change, blue, fevered, and stayed in intensive care for many days. Dad stayed in the waiting room, then gave out cigars at the garage where he worked. Mom vomited so much in her first trimester and continued her smoking so she weighed in lighter post-partum than she did in pre-pregnancy. Otherwise, she ate anything and everything she felt like eating. She had back aches and migraines from her "spinal", and did the same baby-making routine three more times in the next five years, with successively smaller babies each time. My mother's doctor didn't instruct her on how to have her baby, instead he ordered a nurse to find someone to put the top up on his convertible sports car because it was raining.
My gorgeous baby girl was born after hours of pushing, no pain medications, no episiotomy or tearing, with my husband at one side, and my midwife embracing my upper body and squeezing my hubby's hand with her free fist. Our little girl was a big eight pounds, and even though I wasn't at my ideal weight pre-pregnancy, I gained appropriate pounds in a judicious time frame because my midwife guided me through everything that was affecting my diet for the entire nine months. She even listened to me cry because I hate almost every vegetable. I quit smoking the second I found out I was pregnant. I didn't touch alcohol for my pregnancy's term even though no one knows exactly the "bad amounts" to avoid, and I abstained from all over-the-counter symptomatic relievers even though I had horrendous allergies, fatigue, nausea, and other maladies that a pill would easily fix in any other situation. I resorted to natural and homeopathic tinctures, teas, and remedies for everything from sinus inflammation to softening of the cervix in readiness for labor.
Contrary to popular misconception, a midwife is not Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman. A midwife doesn't show up at your house with a cauldron of boiling water, a towel, and a ball of twine. A midwife is a highly trained technician who is hopefully as well versed in basic anatomy as she is literate in the art of herbal healing. My baby was watched for growth spurts via ultra-sounds and when my midwife wanted to make sure we were safe, she sent me to a perinatologist who confirmed that everything was progressing safely enough to have a natural childbirth. My midwife had oxygen and hydration IV's ready when I began to suffer in labor. My midwife had a deep knowledge of human physiology which allowed her to diagnose a big connection between my pregnancy depression and my inability to process sugars and proteins efficiently. My midwife actually preferred my not having an underwater birth because she believes that babies want to and should breathe as soon as they hit the outer-utero world. I ultimately agreed with her. She reinforced the positive and underlined my abilities to reset any negatives that my attitude, body, or baby were creating. My midwife and her staff embraced my husband and helped him to define his role in this whole, new mysterious event and occupation of fatherhood. After all, it's easy to feel useless, helpless, forgotten, or unimportant when your wife is doing all the work and getting all the attention.
As my due date came close, our "team" was concerned about a few potential road blocks to the routine natural, vaginal birth we desired. I was referred to a superb perinatologist who reinforced everything my midwife said and assured us all would be normal. As anxious as any first-time parent, I wanted my baby to come sooner than later. After making sure my body was ready in every possible way, natural and homeopathic remedies for labor-inducement preparation were prescribed. Sure enough, a few days before my due date, labor was imminent.
I arrived at the Birth Center when my contractions were five minutes apart (which took from 7am - 6pm). Pain relief came in the form of a lovely hot shower and tub and hours flew by until I was ready to push. Our baby got "stuck" and after very professional and measured consultations as well as every effort to try at the Birth Center, we decided to transport to our hospital of choice. Once there, my midwife doubled her duties as midwife-coach-protector. I wanted to avoid a hospital birth because of the vastly increased chance of a Cesarean section or other forms of technical intervention I knew to be unnecessary. Not a chance with my midwife, our special perinatologist, and support team from the Natural Birth & Women's Center. They pushed me to deliver when I thought myself incapable of another contraction or push-session. They told me "Your baby's almost born!" when I thought the night would never end. They comforted my husband when he panicked over my discomfort and pain. The refused to let me quit when I just wanted to go home and be done with the whole thing, baby or no baby. Childbirth is hard, and no one can tell you how hard it is until they've been there. I really didn't think my body was capable of delivering a baby naturally. But somehow, after two hours of purple-faced pushing, my daughter was handed to me, eyes open and ready to cry. The team from the Birth Center watched over my darling sweet infant along with my husband while routine hospital procedures were being done to her and to me. Miracuously I had no episiotomy, no pain-relief drugs, and no natural tearing. I couldn't have asked for more. The moment that I saw my baby for the first time was the most stellar, phenomenal future-affirming moment in my entire life. I replay the labor and deliver experience in my head every single day as if it were my favorite TV show or film. I know that none of these memories would be possible if not for the intensive education and exceedingly humane and uncommon sensitivity and support of the entire staff at the Natural Birth & Women's Center.
What I got from the Birth Center was a "web" of care that began the minute I signed on for childbirth classes via the Association for Childbirth at Home, International, at the Natural Birth & Women's Center - and ended when my spectacular infant was plopped onto my stomach nine months later - not to mention the post-partum preparation and care.
I was frustrated early in my pregnancy to discover that it's actually more difficult to go the "natural childbirth" rout in this day and age of medical-techno intervention than it is to schedule Cesarean-section surgery. The Birth Center was one of two "natural childbirth" facilities in my local Yellow Pages - the first being a Bradley Center; the Bradley folks offered to send literature and left it at that. At the Natural Birth & Women's Center, the center's director picked up the line and allowed me to sell her on my dreams for our baby's birth. I wanted a low-key, non-hospital setting. No drugs, no episiotomy, no surgery, no IV's, no doctors acting out of malpractice fear, preferably a water birth. All was possible, I was told. "Sometimes we women have to drag the men out of the dark ages..." we agreed. It is, after all, the women who carry and have the babies of the world.
I signed up for classes a week later and it solidified my pregnancy plans. The ACHI classes I attended at the Birth Center were intensive, overwhelming, consciousness-altering, and empowering. There was always more to know, there was always misinformation to disseminate, there were birth videos from all over the world worth watching, there were notes to take and only nine months to get it all right.
There is no way to thank everyone who helped my perfect Polly arrive into the world. There is no way I can fully communicate the authority one assumes when having your baby the way you want to with total back-up from beginning to end. There is no place to get this type of care, attention, and education except at the Natural Birth & Women's Center.
Sincerely, with much love, numerous hugs, and endless thanks!
V.L., D.L, and Polly
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