A Better Home Birth

A wonderful thing about blogging is that whenever I post a question or predicament, I have friends (and friendly strangers) immediately sending me possible answers and solutions. In the case of my recent post “Me, Preggers” I got lots of food for thought in my email box (and in my ear) that very same night. In a nutshell, I am reconsidering the possibility of having another home birth; yes, in my rented condominium home in Laguna Niguel.

And then this morning I got an email request from my sister’s friends in London: they’re having a home birth (next month!!) and asked if I had any tips or thoughts to share. So, I thought I’d take a minute and reminisce about what made my home birth with Bella back in 1993 so wonderful…

Basically, it’s important to remember that a first labor is typically long and that it’s not called LABOR for nothing. According to Chapter 7 in A Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, the average first labor is twelve hours. My own first labor was not very typical: my water broke on a Friday, I was in and out of labor all weekend, and Bella was born Monday morning. How many hours is that? I don’t know, I’ve never counted, but it was long, exhausting, and completely exhilarating.

In preparation for another long labor at home, I would plan as if I were going to hole up for three or four days to go on an intensely personal psychological and physical journey. That would mean:

1. People around with whom I am 100% comfortable.

This may sound obvious, but it is critical. I am a cerebral, over-analyzing woman, who has a tendency to be constipated (in all things) and it was difficult enough to turn my mind off with just my husband, midwives, and one friend present at the birth. I found that my mind and body have never been more connected than in labor, and I think it was my mind that kept stalling my labor. The mind can stop and start labor, so it important that you can be as relaxed and comfortable as possible. This includes any mental blocks you might have. In fact, I think this is the single greatest reason to have a baby at home – where in the world are you more comfortable than in your own bed/nest? Where else can you absolutely choose who is in the room with you?

I have often compared labor and birth with sex. Imagine having sex and then in the middle of the act, you stop, get ready to leave the house, go to the hospital, get checked in and undressed, and then start trying to have sex again. This for me, would have been a very difficult way to achieve an orgasm or birth a baby. For me, an orgasm is intensely personal and requires dedicated focus – no way could I get there in an unfamiliar room with strangers watching. Laboring was similarly personal and required meditative focus. Lots of it. So pick people you know you won’t have to think about or worry about to be around you.

2. All my favorite comfort foods and juices loaded in the pantry and fridge.

Labor is exactly what it sounds like: hard work. It is a physically challenging process to separate this new human being from yourself as gently and as lovingly as possible and you will need calories. I was in labor for so long that I actually needed to have small meals and snacks. (Eating is not normally allowed in a hospital situation because of the possibility of a cesarean, and hence anesthesia.) My friend Lisa made a big bowl of delicious pesto pasta at the beginning of the weekend and we snacked on it all weekend long. When I was in active labor, diluted ice-cold grape juice hit the spot and gave me a little extra sugar. Cut fruit was good too. After the baby is born, you’ll want to spend all your time gazing at your fresh miracle, so it’s nice to have a few casseroles ready to cook in the freezer.

3. Clean sheets and PJs

Birth is unbelievably messy. Expect blood, poop, mucus, and milk as a matter of course. (And if you haven’t already, watch as many births as you can on videotape – positive outcomes are best of course!) Have lots of clean towels and sheets on hand, and fresh PJs to change into when you get sweaty. Damp washcloths were wonderful against my forehead.

You’ll want big soft menstrual pads and your most comfy underwear for afterwards. I prefer cotton menstrual pads.

4. A tidy, clean house

Once the baby comes you will not have time nor the inclination to clean.

5. Lots of options for having contractions in different positions

I birthed Bella sitting propped up on pillows in the corner of my king-size bed. One foot was up against Bella’s dad’s hand, the other against my midwife’s hand. I was in many different positions during my contractions, and even though I had favorites, I would exhaust each position simply by being in it for so many hours. I like being on my hands and knees, standing and leaning over the back of the sofa, and sitting on this stool that was very similar to a toilet seat. Pushing the baby out feels a lot like you’re having the biggest poo of your life, and apparently sitting on something that is like a toilet seat helps you get in the right frame of mind. In a hospital, women are often given enemas before the birth – your midwife will be expecting poo – it happens to all of us.

You might consider getting one of those big yoga balls.

I liked having somebody press on my lower back during my contractions.

6. Candles and music for ambiance

Low lighting is great. Asking people to speak in whispers keeps your focus in check, but it’s best to ask in advance. I preferred for people to talk about mundane matters in the other room; what I was going through was larger-than-life and I didn’t want to hear about anything else. You may or may not want music – calming music.

7. A fully charged camera/video camera and a person in charge of recording the event.

I treasure my few photos of the labor and birth. And for Bella’s first birthday I had a few friends over for lunch and I put the birth video on in the background. We had three hours of videotape and I figured we wouldn’t want to sit through it, but I was wrong. We were glued to the screen!

We had another celebration 100 days after Bella was born with friends and family. We planted a smoke tree with the placenta and Bella’s feet touched the ground for the first time. I’ve always believed that it was a Korean tradition to celebrate a baby’s life at the end of 100 days, but my sister says I’m making it up.

8. A person in charge of communications: sending email or phone updates to a phone tree. Family and friends often want to hear when you first go into labor – and then occasional updates.

Get this set up in advance. It’s great to have at least an informal phone tree, so you don’t have to spend precious time away from your laboring partner or new baby to make the same call twenty times.

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