I didn't want Erika to deliver in a hospital right from the start. Erika, however, was understandably uncomfortable with the idea. She had never had a baby before. She didn't know if her asthma would complicate matters or not. She just wasn't at ease with a home birth. "Besides," she said, "hospital births are covered by my health insurance." We started pre-natal visits at our HMO.
We scheduled those prenatal visits on my day off so that I could go with her. I had never had a baby before either, and although I knew that this was going to be primarily Erika's show, I did want to be a part of everything that I could. There were three doctors. One Erika sortof liked, one she tolerated, and one she could barely stand. A visit often consisted of listening to the fetal heartbeat, measuring Erika's slowly protruding belly, "any questions?" and bye. Five minutes, if that. Erika was full of questions. "Will I be able to have people present at the delivery?" ("Well, you may have your husband there if he's taken Lamaze.") "Do you have to use a fetal monitor at all times?" ("We'd like to. Internal is best.") "How can I be assured of getting one of the labor delivery rooms so that I won't have to be moved?" ("You can't.") "Am I going to be allowed to eat during labor?" ("Ice chips.") "I don't want my baby whisked away immediately, and I don't want it fed anything but my milk. No bottles. And no silver nitrate. And I want it to sleep in my room with me." ("Those aren't our usual procedures, but those things can be arranged.") "I really only like one of the three staff obstetricians. Can I be assured he'll attend the delivery? Might I get the one I really dislike?" ("Whoever's on call at the moment.")
In her seventh month, Erika started looking elsewhere. She wanted the birth to be as she wanted, not as the doctor wanted.
Money was a concern. Other options weren't going to be paid for by our insurance company, and we had kept this insurance specifically because pregnancy was covered. Erika said that she could no longer be comfortable at a hospital after seeing what the birth could be like. We had just spent a million dollars on our wedding. Wasn't this more important? I decided that Erika's happiness was primary in this situation. Besides, you can always make more money, but a birth is a singular event.
We took a tour of the birth center. They had the responses Erika was looking for: "You may have as many people present as you want; Try not to invite any fainters." "Fetal monitors are not automatic, but we do use an external one if we think the situation warrants it." "We only have all-in-one room setups." "Of course you may eat. You may not want to, but the decision is yours." "We'll weigh your baby when you're ready to let it go for a moment." "Why would we want to feed your baby anything but your milk?" "Silver nitrate stings. We use other stuff, and only with your permission." "You can usually have the nurse-midwife of your choice."
On our first "official" visit to the birth center, we knew that we had found someplace special. Rather than simply weighing Erika, checking the fetal heartbeat, and rushing us through, the midwife, Linda, reviewed Erika's complete medical history, did a fairly thorough physical exam, nutritional counseling, and actually took the time to talk to us. In addition to having the right answers to Erika's many questions, she even asked us questions: How is the pregnancy going so far? How Erika was feeling both physically and emotionally? When we left, 2 1/2 hours later, we knew that this was a perfect compromise between a home birth and a hospital. Most importantly, Erika, (at last) felt comfortable and well taken care of.
Erika asked our friend, Ada, who is a massage therapist, to be present at the birth (she would be honored) and also asked her parents (who would be thrilled).
pril 19th, around 11pm, Erika said she was feeling some pretty bad cramps, I said, "This is it. I'm going to cut up the Jello(R). (It was my job to cut the Jello(R) into fun shapes.) Erika didn't believe that it was finally happening and said not to bother. About 15 minutes later she felt the cramps again, and again in another 15 minutes or so. Long after the Jello(R) was cut up, she finally accepted the fact that she was IN LABOR! She told me to go to sleep; she'd want me fresh for tomorrow. The next morning, she told me that she had slept on and off throughout the night and that the cramps had intensified. She held out until 7am and then called Linda, whom she had really grown to like a lot. I began my role, meager as it seemed to me, as supporter. At 10:00am, at Linda's signal, off we went. When we arrived, we had to walk by one of the classes that was in session. Everyone looked at us and cheered.
The delivery room seemed more like a bedroom. It had very soft lighting and a soft bed. We set up "camp" in the corner: cooler of drinks (juice), extra clothes, baby clothes, a camera and film, the all important Jello(R) (Which Erika ended up not eating anyway.) Labor progressed well, and Erika, despite a period of bugging out of the eyes, kept her spirits up. Ada arrived and began some much appreciated massage. Then Diana, the neo-natal specialist, arrived. When Erika's parents arrived, the midwife asked if her father was going to be okay with all of this. The midwife had to laugh when we told her that he taught sex-ed at a college.
Everything was geared towards Erika. This was her moment. Erika continued her labor, I continued my support. Ada continued her much-appreciated massage, Mom and Dad kept on taking pictures and being moved and awed. I ended up on the bed with Erika leaning against me. I felt cramped, stiff, uncomfortable, and parts of me were going numb, but it was nothing, I figured, compared to what Erika was going through. The midwife gently guided the whole situation, making suggestions, never demands. She closely monitored both Erika and the baby, who's heart rate had dropped a little. As the climax approached, contractions were coming fast and furious, giving Erika almost no rest between them. Suddenly, Linda said, "On the next push, we're probably going to see a little head popping out. Remember that this little baby has heard nothing but muffled voices all its life, and we want its first experience on the outside to be as atraumatic as possible. So please don't shout out 'Congratulations!' or 'It's a boy!' OK? Here it comes!" She took Erika's hand and placed it on the baby's head. Erika's elated smile altered slightly for that final push, and she reached down and helped deliver her own baby! He was immediately placed on Erika's stomach and he opened his eyes widely and looked up at her. He was alert and curious, right from the beginning.
As Erika rested and Diana helped her give our new son his first meal. Ada went out for sandwiches. Upon her return, we all had a picnic right there on the bed. Erika's mother said rather wistfully, "Gee, I wish all my deliveries had been like that. That's how they're supposed to be."
That evening, as we were leaving the comfort and familiarity of sleeping in our own bed, Erika said, "You know, that wasn't that bad. It was tolerable. I'd even do it again... maybe not tomorrow... but I'd do it again."
Our little family had just grown. Now to choose a name...