In general, when we hear of babies being born at home, the immediate inquires would be “is it safe?” and “is it hygienic?”. I used to believe that only my grandmother’s generation practised that sort of thing. A contemporary female should do it in the environment of a medically and technically competent hospital. However, my outlook became different after reading “Reclaiming Our Health” (by John Robin). The book describes how hospital delivery has stripped native affliction from this experience by the application of medical technology thus rendering the ‘production procedure’ a symptom of illness in the hospital environment. The course of pregnancy is to be directed by a doctor, reducing the role of the expectant mother to that of a patient and stripping her of her natural capacity and ability to reproduce. In addition, the book also touched on the discrimination of midwives (viewed as direct business competitors) by mainstream doctors in America. Thus, when I had my second pregnancy, I naturally opted for home delivery and engaged the service of the mid-wife.
My delivery help is a group of three licensed midwives, Mary, Anna and Alice. The complete course of service includes pre-natal examination, helping with the delivery at home, examination of the new-born, post-natal home visits, post-natal care and review of the mother’s condition, etc. At the time of delivery, two of the three midwives would be on hand to assist. The total charge is US$2,700.
Pre-natal check-ups were done at the homes of the individual midwives whom I visited in-turns. Urine-test, measurement of blood pressure and body weight as well as foetus heartbeat and size were among the items examined during each check-up session. This is in line with general hospital practices for pre-natal care. More complicated examination procedures such as ultra-sound scanning, blood examination and amniocentesis are optional. After hearing their explanation on the pros and cons of each examination procedure, I opted for only the blood test. Being an “old” mother, I might not have this freedom of choice if I were to take the pre-natal care program in a hospital. Each examination takes up to one hour to complete. Other than the normal ‘necessities’, most of the time is spent talking with them. Topics covered include my first pregnancy, family ties, my husband’s work-related pressure (he had just changed job), feelings about the current pregnancy, etc; as well as all matters small and tiny. This is necessary because a mother’s emotions have profound effects on her pregnancy and such information would come in handy when the delivery runs into difficulties as mid-wives in assistance has to calm her anxiety. Such sessions of small talks also allow the mother to build up trust and confidence in them. As a result, I was able to build up a friendly relationship with them; one that is cordial and dependable.
In my case, home delivery required one more consideration; that is, how to handle the elder child during delivery. The four-year-old has clearly indicated that he did not want to be present. I arranged for a good friend to take care of him. This is very important for me because I certainly did not want to have to pacify a possibly frightened child when I’m in labour.
As the expected date of delivery drew nearer, I started getting the necessities prepared. I had to mail order a package that comes with sterilized gloves, disposable protector sheets (made of paper) for the bed or floor, gauze, strings for tying the umbilical cord, baby’s hat, etc. On top of that I had to prepare a sterilized bed sheet, rags for cleaning, hydrogen peroxide (for removal of bloodstains from the carpet), baby’s clothes, etc. At the beginning, it was very confusing but as the items got assembled one by one, I became calmer. One month before delivery, the three of them took turns to visit me at home. They got themselves familiar with the route to my home and the layout of the room used for delivery. They also familiarized themselves with the layout of my kitchen and where the utensils were kept (to cook herbal brew that help to stop blood bleeding and warm up massaging oil, etc.) and to make last minute recommendations if necessary, so that they could work smoothly on the day.
The much-anticipated day finally arrived one week ahead of time. That morning, I discovered some bleeding as I awoke. I was able to recognise the symptom, as it was the same as when I delivered my first baby. Excitedly, I called my mid-wife counsellors. Alice (being on duty that day) answered the telephone. As my labour pain had not started, they need not come immediately but we maintained constant contact. I then called my friend to take my elder child away. Since the delivery was to take place at home and I need not rush to the hospital, I started to cook herbal soup. My husband did some house cleaning in preparation for the arrival of our new baby. By 3pm, there was still no sign of labour pain, so I started to chant Chenrizig mantra. My husband also chanted Diamond-Cutter Sutra asking for a smooth delivery. By 7pm, there was still no indication of further progress, and I was a little disappointed. I recalled that when I had my elder child, I also had some bleeding in the morning and the baby arrived at 6.30pm. I thought that it should be faster the second time. I told myself perhaps the baby might not arrive until the next day, so I had my friend brought the elder child back and we had a sumptuous dinner.
At 9pm, as I was putting my elder boy into bed, I felt uneasy. I told my son that I was about to deliver and told him to sleep with daddy. He nodded knowingly. I laid in bed for a while to verify that my baby was indeed due. I started preparing the bed according to instructions; one layer of clean bed sheet, followed by one layer of plastic sheet, then the sterilized bed sheet. Before I could finish, the pains were unbearable, and I had to rest. When the pain stopped, I made the emergency call to the mid-wife service and also woke my husband up. Soon my friend also arrived to take care of my son. The pain got more intense but Alice, the midwife had not returned my call. At 11pm I made another emergency call and this time Anna answered. She arrived 10 minutes later followed shortly by Mary and Moer (an apprentice mid-wife). Alice was at another home attending to another delivery. Their telephone service company called the wrong number and that was why Alice did not get my message.
Upon arrival, Anna examined my condition and confirmed that dilation was progressing. They started preparing quickly while my labour pains intensified. Moer stood by the bed holding my hand and encouraging me. After every cycle of pain, she would praise me for doing well and told me to relax so that the muscles could allow the dilation to progress naturally. Suddenly I felt that I was not able to push in a lying down position and requested to stand up. In the standing position, there is no support when the pain came and I had to hold on to my husband’s waist while using force at the same time. Anna realized that my husband would not be able to sustain my periodic pulling force so she covered a nearby chair with a blanket and had me hold onto the chair instead. She taught me to push in a squatting position. Thus every cycle of labour had me hugging the chair and screaming into the blanket while my head was buried in it. Mary whispered gently into my ear telling me to relax, to experience my body expanding and to get ready for the arrival of the baby. Anna and Moer were behind me, reporting to me the progress of the dilation all the time. My husband was beside me giving moral as well as physical support. Finally, Anna reported that the baby’s scalp was visible. After a few more pushes, Mary told me to stop pushing thus allowing the muscles to dilate on its own to minimise tearing. At that moment, the baby’s head emerged. It was still inside the water bag, as it had not burst. I rested for a moment and pushed hard for one last time. I felt my baby’s body slipping out of mine; my beautiful baby was born. I carried him close to me; this would be the last moment when we were physically connected (by the umbilical cord and placenta).
I laid on the bed awaiting the discharge of the placenta and started to breast feed my baby. Anna and Moer had observed and noted the blood lost during delivery. Moer massaged my slowly contracting womb at 15 minutes intervals; Mary and my husband helped to cut the umbilical cord. I drank some herbal soup and herb tea prepared by the midwives to stop the bleeding. As my baby was big (4.337kg) and the delivery speedy, there was substantial virginal tearing and Moer had to give me a few stitches. Anna examined my newborn baby and found him normal. When everything settled into place, Mary had to hurry to the other home to help Alice. That lady had experienced labour pains earlier than I but had yet to deliver. Anna and Moer stayed behind to ‘tidy up’ and advise my husband and I on the dos and don’ts for the next few days. During this delivery, I started experiencing slight labour pains at about 9pm; the midwives arrived before 11.30pm, and by 12.22am my baby was born. The whole delivery process was over in 3 ½ hours. Although it happened so quickly and with so much excitement, I was able to capture every moment vividly and my elder child was not even awakened by the commotion. Since it happened so fast, my husband could not complete the prayer that he was chanting and had to resume after Anna and Moer left.
I hugged my new baby thinking about the difficult journey that he had before arriving to this world; so too was it true for myself. At this moment, we both needed a well-deserved rest. He rested peacefully, looking so contented. It was completely unlike the time when my elder child was born; free from bright illumination, injection, eye-medication, unnecessary medical examination, and most important of all did not have to leave my side. The home environment, unlike that of the hospital, is free from all sorts of invisible viruses and infections. I was happy that I chose to deliver my baby at home.
In the following fortnight, Mary, Anna, Alice and Moer visited my baby and I at home on separate occasions. On each visit, they examined my recuperation progress and my baby’s growth condition, and this gave me tremendous comfort, without feeling lost and being abundant once the baby was born. When my baby was 8 weeks old, I called to Anna’s home with my baby for a follow-up medical examination. This wraps up the whole mid-wife service.
Recollecting the memories of both occasions of childbirth; the first being in the hospital and the second at home, each lasting 3 ½ hours. In the hospital, I was being strapped at my abdomen, drip attached, enema, being shaved, restricted movement, and the unforgettable vaginal cut that was made just before the birth of my baby. Nurses would make half-hourly checks and leave me alone staring at the lights of the equipment around me the rest of the time. I still remembered the bad experience of a certain nurse who forcefully parted my legs while I was having labour pains. At that time, I was unaware of my rights and had allowed it to happen. After delivery, my baby underwent all sorts of examinations, injections and was then taken away from me. My husband was busy taking care of all kinds of documentation. Although I had earlier indicated that I wished to breast feed my baby, I could not do so until 4am when I suddenly awoke and made a special request. The next day, I was discharged from the hospital with aches all over my body. In contrast, delivering at home was more ‘mother-centred’. All attention was focused on my needs and me; all those around me were familiar faces and not those of strangers, I can choose to deliver my baby in the most suitable manner, the father can participate actively in the delivery process. All these gave me great confidence in myself and allowed a smooth delivery. No wonder only 5% of cases handled by my mid-wife service are caesarean cases (23% of deliveries in California Hospital are caesarean cases).
After this experience, I no longer feel that delivering of babies is exclusively for women only. If not for the constant presence and support of my husband, I believe the whole episode would have been a lot harder. May I sincerely express my deepest gratitude to Mary, Anna and Alice; the unsung heroines who made such a beautiful experience possible.
If you ever consider giving birth at home, the choice of a competent team of midwives is of utmost importance. You have to understand the kind of training and experience they have undergone, their emergency readiness, whether there is any hospital support, their professional tools, their operational procedures, their charges, mutual understanding with them and their professional attitude. You should also read up on the topic especially if you are a first time mother. I have had made references to two books; the first is “Special Delivery” written by Rahima Baldwin and published by Celestial Arts, and the other is “Gentle Birth Choices” written by Barbara Harper and published by Healing Arts Press.