"Salt Lake, something hit us.
There's no one left to fly the plane. Help us!"
The baby was and is perfect: ten fingers, ten toes and—wait for it—one penis. HELL-oh!. Yes, “Pinkie” is a beautiful, nine-and-a-half-pound, twenty-one-inch-long boy-child, much to his older brother’s consternation. Beyond the loss of the lone condition under which he was willing to accept siblinghood, we’re left in a bit of quandary: we had a great short list of girl’s names and had even settled on one we really liked. But we never gave any thought at all to what we’d name a boy. Not that it’s not big problem, all things considered. Friday the 13th will now and for all time be the day I had the extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime good fortune to catch my child at the moment he came into the world.
Over the last few weeks, whenever I’ve told this story, the assumption, almost to a person, is that labor came on so fast that we didn’t even have time to get to the hospital. When I explain that we’d actually planned to have the baby at home, the reaction turns to some variation on bemusement and suspicion: Oh, you’re one of those couples. If by that you mean people who don’t take as gospel every bit of wisdom and insight that comes from somebody with an M.D. after his name, then, yes, that’s who we are.
Pretty much since the day after our first son was born (in a hospital, attended by a truly excellent and extremely supportive OB) my wife has vowed, if only to herself, that if she had it to over again, she’d have a home birth, attended by a midwife. About halfway into this pregnancy, she showed me “The Business of Being Born,” produced by and featuring Riki Lake. Yes, that Riki Lake. The film really throws back the curtain on the myth that has grown out of the “modern” approach to child-birth, namely, that the only responsible choice is to march in lockstep with the conventional wisdom and have your baby in a hospital, with an epidural, pictosin, if not an “emergency” C-section.
The movie presents some pretty alarming statistics about the kinds of problems that have grown out of this uniquely American concept of birth as some kind of medical malady requiring lots of high-tech expertise and intervention rather than a natural process that works out best for the mother and the baby when facilitated by a midwife in comfortable, familiar surroundings. After watching it, and weighing all the other factors, I was on board with the idea of a home birth. Now that I’ve actually gone through it, much more first-hand than I ever would have expected, I’m actually a zealous convert to the belief that babies, absent some kind of extenuating circumstances, should be born at home. Or more correctly, wherever and however mothers are the most comfortable giving birth.
This is not to sell short the role and the value of OBs, “birth centers” and the expensive machines that go "bing!" when employed under the appropriate circumstances. I’m not dissing women who go this route, and neither, do I think, is the TBoBB, despite a lot of criticism that's been leveled at the film. What I find the most troubling—what the movie pointed out, and our experiences validated—was how irretrievably mainstream this attitude has become, such that now, anyone who questions it is branded as fringe or heretical: “Who dares to challenge the great and powerful OB?!” Granted, as an episode of Mad Men all too aptly demonstrated, the hospital births of today have come a long way from what it was when I was born. But I still think there’s a serious, polar imbalance in play there. Especially when mothers and fathers don’t exercise the same degree of conscientious inquiry about the birth of their children as they do in deciding which kind of TV to buy.
Having been there and done that both ways--in the hospital and at home--I'm here to tell you the latter is so vastly superior. Consider this comparison of our experiences between the first birth and this one: Labor started about the same time--around 6:00 in the morning, maybe earlier the first time, but she didn’t deliver until almost 4:00 in the afternoon, after something like four hours of pushing. (This is where I have to credit our OB with really advocating on our behalf by letting my wife push and not pressuring her into a C-section.) Truly, the day was like a siege; so much so that I was kind of dreading this birth. This time around, though, it was maybe two hours from first contractions to cutting the cord. In my wife’s estimation the difference this time, aside from the general tendency for second/subsequent children to come quicker, was that there was no hopping into the car and driving to the hospital, being admitted, etc.—while she was in transition—to put the brakes on labor. She also was able to birth in a way that was much more, well, instinctual. And I guess that's my point. I'm not trying to tell anybody how they should have their baby. I'm just saying that it's worthwhile to recognize the range of options and consider which ones really will be the best for you and your baby.