With the rise in popularity of both home births and epidurals, there's been considerable debate about the pros and cons of natural delivery versus a medically-assisted one. It's great that we have more options beyond the standard-issue labor and delivery route, but let's face it: The decision is about which way you'd prefer to have your vagina explode all over the place, so all of the choices basically suck.
The weekend after I discovered I was pregnant I watched Ricki Lake's documentary The Business of Being Born. In terms of educating myself about my options without making any effort like reading a book or even leaving my house (the movie was available on Apple TV), I felt this was a step in the right direction. The documentary is very much pro-home birth (even showing a naked Ricki pushing out her son in her bathtub), but it's also a valuable resource for understanding the contemporary experience of childbirth in America, and how frequently medical interventions — like administering Pitocin, which is used to speed up labor and increases the intensity of contractions — are used as a de facto part of the birthing process, rather than out of necessity. Additionally, each medical intervention increases a mother's chance of having a Caesarean. And if the mom-to-be isn't not laboring quickly enough, some doctors will perform a C-section just to get it all over with. (According to the CDC, Caesareans now account for nearly one-third of hospital births in the United States.) Basically, the film taught me to "trust birth" and to trust my body, as it will do what it needs to do when it needs to do it. I was immediately indoctrinated into the notion of natural, drug-free childbirth.
This is ironic. As someone who has gladly taken drugs medically and recreationally for all of her adult life, my choice doesn't really make much sense to me. I'm a Princess and the Pea type of girl who gets distracted by the slightest discomfort. I can't (or rather, won't) even sit in a dentist's chair without getting doped up on nitrous. Still, I've dedicated myself to this natural childbirth process, — in all honesty, because I felt like it was the best way to avoid a C-section scar. (Because in the ridiculous daymares that often play out in my mind—like if my husband dies and I lose my job and I can't afford daycare so I need to get creative—I didn't want to limit my money-making potential in case I ever have to become a stripper. It's very competitive in the NYC gentleman's club scene. I guess I would also have to start working out, too.)
There was one thing, though, that couldn't brainwash me: home birth. I understand people's reasons for choosing them—being comfortable in one's own home, surrounded by familiar things and smells—but there are simply some activities I won't allow in my home. When it comes down to it, I don't want that mess all over the place. (As I understand it, I will shit myself during delivery.) I just had new floors put in last year. Plus, I have an annoying dog that barks incessantly when I have company over because she doesn't like it when I have conversations, so that wouldn't be relaxing. And she absolutely revels in disgusting stuff. In the past she's had field days with feminine hygiene products, and one time she frolicked in a friend's vomit. I can't even imagine what she would do with afterbirth.
So I've chosen something that's kind of a compromise: a birthing center. While I won't be administered an epidural, I will get my own Laura Ashley-esque floral bedroom with a hydrotherapy tub, and I'm allowed to move freely and eat and drink whenever I want, as opposed to the usual labor and delivery in a hospital, where women are mostly confined to laboring in a bed and aren't allowed to eat after being admitted. It's kind of like having Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant. Sure, it doesn't have the special touches and familiarity of home, but you also have the luxury of not having to clean up any shit. Plus, the birthing center I chose is actually located in a hospital, so if complications arise, I'm just an elevator ride away from a higher level of care.
Of course, the birthing center does have its limitations. For one thing, you have to qualify as a low-risk pregnancy, meaning no gestational diabetes. And age and weight (of the mother and the baby) are a factor. I'm almost 8 months in and I've packed on 50 pounds, so I've entered into that gray area where they will be watching me, although my blood pressure remains normal. Both my husband and I were ten-pound babies, and even though our mothers delivered us naturally, things are different than they were in the '70s. Nowadays, often they won't let a woman push out something that large. And the biggest catch: In order to qualify for the birthing center, you have to go into labor after your 37th week and before your 41st. So, seeing as how women are typically pregnant for 40 weeks, you cannot give birth in the birthing center if you are more than 6 days late — which, actually, many first-time moms are. So really, all of this hemming and hawing over making the most educated and well-thought out choice might be for naught. If my baby is too big or if I'm too late, I'm going to have to go through the classic labor and delivery anyway.
And even though there are no guarantees about where or how I will give birth, there are two things that I can be sure of: I will split in two, and yes, I will probably poop on the floor in front of everyone.
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