Surprising Leif: Giving Birth at Home

Leif is surprising everyone.

He came much later than expected–by thirteen days. He was much bigger than expected–by nearly a pound. He came in a labor that was much longer than expected; and catalyzed a recovery that was quicker than expected. He is much calmer than expected–given his energetic action in the womb; and he has nursed, peed, pooped, and cracked a grin much earlier than expected. The last remnants of his umbilical cord have been smellier than expected.

Yet what seems to surprise people most is that he was born at home. I caught him myself. Not many babies in the U.S. are born at home. Why at home?

For us, the decision was a carefully pondered answer to a simple question: what conditions will make the best birth outcome the most likely?

As for the best outcome, experts across the board agree. Where possible, for the health of baby and mother, a vaginal birth without drugs is best. A mom’s body works with the infant to choose an optimal birth time, making a delectable soup of hormones to ease the way. The hug of the birth canal stimulates a baby’s internal organs; its flora prime a nascent immune system. Medical procedures, while sometimes necessary, interrupt a complex dance of physiological and chemical changes that science is only beginning to comprehend, not to mention emulate. If possible, it is best to go without.

What then would make the best outcome the most likely? The answer is not obvious, for in our current culture of fear, we tend to reason in reverse. We ask: what could go wrong? We tabulate the possible tragedies and seek to minimize our risks. From this perspective, giving birth in a hospital seems safer for the technological monitoring and emergency rescues it makes possible.

However, when learning to drive, we are taught that focusing on the tree we don’t want our car to hit makes a crash more likely. Or as Jessica knows, looking down while urging a horse over a jump makes it more likely that the horse will miss it. The same can be said for birth: if we are focused on what could go wrong (while looking to hospital machines and personnel to tell us), then we are not attending fully to what will help the birth go right. Giving birth, like any significant human act, benefits from our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual as well as physical presence.

In my case, the answer was further complicated by the fact that my first birth was a C-section. Since 2003, administrators of small hospitals around the country have decided not to allow women to have Vaginal Births after a C-section (VBAC). The reason: the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that hospitals offering VBACs have an anesthesiologist on the premises at all times–a difficult feat for a small operation. As a result, many local hospitals are not allowing women with a previous C-section the option of a vaginal birth, fearing that, if anything goes wrong, they might be sued. So it was for me. All that our neighboring hospitals would provide me was a C-section. Otherwise, I could drive an hour plus in labor to a medical center in Albany.

The pieces fell into place. What environment would support me best in being present to the birth process of my own bodily self? Home. We decided to give birth on the farm, under the supervision of a skilled, licensed midwife and her assistant, free to focus fully on the birthing process.

Knowing what we know now about Leif’s birth, we are so glad we did. For given his surprises, it is clear to us: we needed to be home to succeed with this birth. If we had been anywhere else, Geoff and I could not have been as together; I could not have gone as deep into a meditative space. Using the cycle of breaths, I became the earth mother, feeling the plates of my pelvis shift open to release new life. I could attune to the process, listening and enabling, aware of the baby moving and of myself transforming, enroute to a beautiful birth.

Yes we were lucky, as anyone who gives birth is. But we were not just lucky. We created the conditions that would make the best outcome the most likely. It is how we want to live.

In the end, at his beginning, Leif surprised us too: he gave us exactly what we wanted. And more.

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