DawningLife Midwifery

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Seths Homebirth: The View from a Squeamish Grandmother

by Susan H. Stempel

The Birth of Seth Edward

The phone rang early that morning. It was Alix. She was in the early stages of her third pregnancy and we were all a little on edge because she miscarried a year ago. Her first pregnancy produced our now eight year-old Noah.

“Mom, I’m thinking about having a home birth this time. You know, using a midwife. But I would only do it if every thing is okay.”

by Susan H. Stempel

The Birth of Seth Edward

The phone rang early that morning. It was Alix. She was in the early stages of her third pregnancy and we were all a little on edge because she miscarried a year ago. Her first pregnancy produced our now eight year-old Noah.

“Mom, I’m thinking about having a home birth this time. You know, using a midwife. But I would only do it if every thing is okay.”

Oh my, I think. What I say though is, “Oh really? I didn’t realize you were interested in that.”

Alix is an independent thinker and I respect that and have a lot of confidence in her but this is my daughter and my future grandchild she is talking about. Would it be safe? Why would she want to do something that “earthy?” And this “water birth” thing she is talking about. Ewwww.

But this is my love, Alix, and so I try to open my heart and mind and listen to her as she discusses this off and on for several weeks.

When Noah was born in 1998, Alix took the traditional path and went to an obstetrician. Everything went well until it was time for the delivery. When she went into labor, she went to the hospital and after an hour or so they suggested she go home. She immediately vomited and labor began even more intensely. They allowed that she did seem to be having the baby. The doctor did not arrive for several hours and when she did, she performed an episiotomy before Alix was anesthetized. It was painful. There was also a lot of intervention because they didn’t feel Noah was arriving quickly enough, although it had been just a few hours. Alix had an epidural but was still in a lot of pain. When the doctor arrived and did the episiotomy, she used a vacuum to extract Noah, by the head. Noah arrived—groggy and listless from the interventions and drugs Alix had received, but healthy.

When the family and I went to see Noah in the hospital nursery, a nurse was scrubbing his head and his body very hard. He was crying as hard as his little lungs could. Noah was not happy and neither was his grandmother. Now I know that the hospital feels it’s necessary to disinfect a baby. Rubbish. If anything the baby needs to be protected from all of the germs in the hospital.

Her first appointments with an obstetrician for this new pregnancy did not go well. It was suggested that she take a number of tests (Alex is 37 so considered a high risk by current medical thought) to determine if the baby was healthy or had any of a number of conditions/diseases. Alix declined as she explained that whatever the baby’s condition, she would not want to abort it. In addition, she did not want to intrude on the baby at this critical time in its development. They asked her to sign a waiver and she did. Her next appointment, she was again asked to take the tests and, again, explained that she wanted to have the baby, regardless, and that she had already signed a waiver. They were not pleased. She wasn’t either.

In the meantime, Alix was investigating home birth and midwives. She located a midwife and called her. The two seemed to connect early on and this was the beginning of Claudia Conn’s entry into our lives.

Alix and Claudia met frequently and Claudia and her team, Debbie Schneider and Nichole Johnston, were open to her and empathetic with what Alix wanted—to deliver this child safely, with minimum trauma to the baby and with the least intervention possible. Claudia gave Alix and Joe videos and literature on home births so that they could begin to prepare themselves for this journey. Joe wasn’t gung-ho on the idea of a home birth but he adores Alix and he was going to support her if that was what she determined was best for her and the baby.

Noah was also a little concerned and wasn’t sure why his Mom wanted to have the baby at home since all his friends’ mothers had their babies at hospitals. When she explained to him the problems with his birth and that they had used an internal fetal monitor on him, which required them screwing a bolt onto his head to monitor his status, he said, “Now I know why I have a headache on my birthday every year!”

Alix and I live several hundred miles from one another so we call each other each day. I was hearing a lot about home birth videos, Claudia, Debbie, different birth stories, and how they had gotten a birthing pool to use. The pregnancy was progressing well and it seemed as though a home delivery would be safe.

The plan was for me to be there for the birth to help with Noah so there would be someone watching out for him during the actual birth. Alix knows I’m squeamish and she was comfortable with my not really wanting to see the birth, although I would be happy to be in the next room with Noah. In fact, I haven’t ever wanted to see any birth. A little too much of nature for me.

You might think I should be a little more comfortable with the process since I have given birth. However, that was a long ago chapter in my life when I had a husband who was ambivalent about having a child and didn’t like pregnant women. (Who knew?) Alix was a week late so the doctor told me to mix up a concoction of castor oil, chocolate and Seven-Up and drink it to induce labor. What it induced was heavy bleeding and I went to the hospital. After hours in the hospital, still bleeding, and no labor, another physician was called in and we learned that I had placenta previa and would need a cesarean section.

I had a spinal so that I would be awake when my baby was delivered. I was too naïve to realize that I would also be witnessing them cutting me open. Alix was born healthy and perfect but the c-section was rough and difficult to heal.

So, I am a 61 year-old woman who has never had labor or, really, any control over the way she gave birth. But in the late 1960s, that wasn’t too unusual. Perhaps this explain my not wanting to be in the “thick of it” when Alix gave birth. I am a product of my generation and haven’t been able to undo some of that early socialization. While I have been a feminist and women’s advocate for years, I still wanted to be in another room when Alix’s baby was born. Definitely. Alix understood.

I went to stay with Alix and her family about six days before the baby was due because it seemed like this little fellow (yes, it was confirmed it was a boy) really was ready to arrive. Even if he didn’t come early, it would give me some time to be with Alix, Joe and Noah before his birth.

Alix was having weekly meetings with Claudia since she was nearing the birth date and I went with her to the meeting. Having heard Alix talk about Claudia and Debbie, I had already developed a respect for them. These are women who are going against what has become the “norm” for birth and they are putting themselves on the line to do so since midwifery is not recognized in Georgia. These are also women who are offering other women the opportunity to have a birth in their own homes, with little to no intervention, surrounded by their loved ones and the ability to bring their baby into the world in a serene, peaceful environment.

But I knew that they had their limits—they did not want Alix to have a home birth if the baby was breech or if any of several other risks were present. It was a relief to realize how very carefully, responsibly and respectfully they approached each birth. Claudia arranged early on for Alix to meet with an obstetrician so that if there were complications, Alix could be readily admitted to a hospital. Thankfully, it seemed Alix was in great shape and would have a simple delivery.

At our meeting the week before Alix’s due date, all three of the women were present—Claudia, Debbie and Nicole. We sat and chatted and they let me ask questions and they wanted to hear Alix’s thoughts, feelings and concerns. We spent an hour talking to them—it was lovely and it helped me understand why Alix had made the decision to have a home birth. These women were on Alix’s wavelength and Alix was on theirs.

The next afternoon Alix and I watched one of the home birth videos. I was beginning to get a sense of the importance that everyone be calm and supportive of Alix during labor and the birth. I wanted to be sure to be able to do that for her. But I still wanted to be in a different room when she gave birth.

Noah had watched some of the videos with Alix and Joe and so had some idea of what was going to happen, although he usually got bored during the labor part of the video. Alix said that she wanted Noah to be there with her for the birth if he wanted to, but if he wasn’t comfortable, that would be fine and I would take over and stay with him. Now we were in the final wait.

Early one morning, Joe awoke me to say Alix had been in light labor since 1:30 AM. It was 7 AM. I rushed in to see her and she was pretty uncomfortable but managing. Joe called Claudia and she said they would be on their way. Noah wanted to stay home from school and was tremendously excited.

It had begun.

Claudia and Nicole arrived, carrying some equipment and years of experience. I was relieved to have them with us. As Alix’s labor progressed, she got into the pool and Joe sat behind her on the floor, rubbing her shoulders and being a support for her. Noah couldn’t stay away. He was fascinated. So was I. My grandson was being born and my daughter was overwhelming me with her strength and courage. And, I was in the room.

Her labor was blessedly quick. Claudia gave Alix what she needed in terms of encouragement and suggestions on adjustments in her body position. Nicole was there, also offering support and being sure that everything was ready for the baby’s arrival. Joe was a rock for Alix—he was in my mind what every woman hopes for in that situation. He wasn’t directing or telling her what to do—he was just loving her and supporting her.

Alix was in the most intense part of the labor and in some serious pain. Claudia took her hand and let Alix feel the crown of the baby’s head, which had already appeared. It was just what Alix needed—to realize how close she was to delivery. Moments later Seth Edward Parson arrived. Claudia lifted him up from the water and put him on Alix’s chest. We were all crying. No one yanked Seth up and smacked his bottom; instead he started breathing while lying on his mother, seconds after being brought out of the water. Alix got into bed with Seth already nursing (yes, he nursed immediately) and Noah proceeded to read Seth a story from Captain Underpants. His role as big brother had begun. Seth had arrived at 11:05 AM. We were joyous that it was a short and uncomplicated delivery.

After the placenta was delivered, Noah ran in to see that too. I didn’t. Later Alix told me that the placenta had veins on it shaped like a tree and that is where the term “tree of life” originated.

Soon Claudia and Nicole were weighing the little guy and checking him out. No episiotomy for Alix this time, yet Seth weighed two pounds more than Noah had.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to have your little baby right there with you from the moment of birth. Seth arrived peacefully and he has been that way ever since. He is an avid nurser and at his first appointment with the pediatrician five days after the birth, he had already gained two ounces and grown 1/4”. He seems to realize his needs are going to be met and that Mom and Dad and big brother are right there for him. He doesn’t have to scream in a nursery or have his head and body scrubbed to “disinfect” him.

Alix is so much more peaceful with this baby too. She has her little family right with her and she has confidence in her strength and the knowledge that she did the best she could possibly do to get this little guy off to a good start. And because he is a non-stop nurser, she has lost 24 lbs in 7 days. She’s five lbs away from her pre-pregnancy weight.

For me, the squeamish grandmother, this event was a revelation. It was birth, as I had not realized it could be. For one huge thing, it was woman- centered. It was women, i.e. the mother, who made the decisions and wise, gentle women who understood the process of birth and surrounded her with their knowledge and care. They were there to help Alix experience Seth’s birth on Seth’s timeline—not theirs or anyone else’s.

The process of birth is not neat; it is not painless; it’s earthy; and it’s the beginning of life in our world. And with that process comes a bonding among women and between the mother and child that is priceless. It is such an empowering miracle. Some babies need to be born in hospitals and I’m grateful that hospitals and the medical expertise are there to help with those births. But I also think we have lost a lot by turning over so much of the control of our pregnancies and births to the medical profession. Pregnancy and childbirth are not a disease, they are natural a process and, if at all possible, women who choose to should be able to have their babies at home and the midwives who help them in this journey should be able to practice their gift. Many women today cringe at the idea of a natural birth without pain medication and medical intervention. That’s okay and a choice—it is a personal choice, just as home birth is.

Chef Julia Child once talked about how far removed we are from the food we eat. She then promptly threw down a whole dead chicken on her cutting board. Her point was that our food comes from nature and we have gotten very far removed from its origin. As she had so dramatically pointed out, often it’s not pleasant to deal with the reality of where our food comes from but nature isn’t usually all neat and wrapped up in cellophane and displayed in the grocery case. By letting ourselves become so removed from the origin of our food, however, we have allowed it to be injected with hormones, dyes and all manner of things that are not healthy for us but make the product more “presentable” to us. In my mind, the birth process has been similarly removed from what it is. Today it is controlled and systemized in a way that doesn’t lend itself to the best situation for either the woman or the baby. It is certainly no longer the norm for it to be woman-centered. No one needs to feel less because of the decision she made about how she delivers her baby but she does need to be very aware of her options and their consequences—both positive and negative on her and her child.

Alix’s choice of the type of birth she wanted for Seth was based on her experiences. She wanted her baby to be safe and for it to come into the world in the best way possible. She was blessed that there were no complications and that she had a wonderful husband to support her and a talented, experienced midwife team to guide her. I so admire Alix for the courage she demonstrated from the beginning to the end. By the sharing of Seth’s birth, she gave me through her experience with Seth all the things I wished for when I was pregnant with her and wasn’t able to have. What an amazing gift from your child.

The home birth worked for the Parson family. Seth’s birth deepened an already strong love between Alix and Joe. They created this child together and they brought him into the world together. His big brother witnessed one of life’s greatest miracles and he could touch his brother, hold him and love on him from the first moment of his birth. What a treasure.  What a blessing. I’m so glad I decided to be in the room.

To see pictures of Seth’s birth: click here