Written April 16, 2020
When a family member, M*, decided to do a home birth a few years ago in the US, we all freaked out. Those in the inner circle that she shared this with were told to keep it strictly secret from her parents. When a family friend (a doctor) found out about this, M* said the friend berated her and told her it was dangerous and irresponsible. M* went on to have a very healthy birth and baby. A few years later, she told our family. They reacted the way we had guessed they would — initial freak out, then realization everything was fine, and finally calm.
3 years later, I found my own mother giving me a pep talk on the phone. She’s was trying to convince me that a home birth would be a great option in London during the pandemic: “This is so easy. You’re biologically programmed to do this. Your own grandmother did this 7 times. We don’t even know if she had access to penicillin.” That morning, I had called private midwives to inquire about home births. Along with my dream of endless intravenous epidurals, my vision of a hospital birth, topped off by the hope of a post-birth glass of champagne and tea party – was slowly vanishing.
Originally, we had entertained the idea of a private hospital birth. Encouraged by American friends living in London, I did all the research: where did the royals give birth? Which hospital had the most comfortable room for your partner to stay with you? What menu did they have for afterbirth tea? Best of all, there was this handy price sheet to compare and contrast different hospital offerings (as an American, private hospital price sheets continue to delight me). I imagined that after my luxurious, drug-induced labor in a fancy hotel room, our family would be able to join us for celebratory lunch. We’d all circle and coo around the new baby as I absorbed maternal wisdom from my mother and mother-in-law.
By March, those dreams quickly evaporated week-by-week. A private hospital was not reasonable given how far we lived, and the transport conundrum became complicated once COVID hit. Also, the NHS provided an incredibly good (and free) service. If anything happened to me or the baby in the private hospital, we’d be cared for by the NHS doctors anyway.
As COVID ramped up in London day-by-day, even our NHS delivery plan began to shift: would Daniel be able to be in the birthing room with me if this keeps up? Would I have access to a midwife the entire time? The health system, both private and public, were becoming strained. Also if I’m healthy, wouldn’t it be easier, safer, and almost more predictable for all of us if I stayed home? The more we weighed the potential downsides, the easier the decision became.
Initially, Daniel was enthusiastic (“Get me some scissors and boiling water!” – he loves a good DIY project). I felt less sure…until I met the midwives. What I didn’t realize is that while home births are thought of as a fringe movement in the US, it’s far more common across the UK and Europe. The midwives giggled when they explained how unusual it was that this was even considered unsafe (“We hear they call this ‘granola’ or ‘crunchy’ in the US?”). Even the NHS recommends that second+ time moms do births at home (though that’s changed as of last week due to ambulance shortages; I’ll explain in another post. Don’t worry, the midwives have a car).
Despite the daily news change, we’re pretty committed at this point. Mostly because we have to be. I haven’t really thought about the delivery plan details, or envisioned my own labor. As a good friend said to me, “It’s pretty terrible, and you just have to get on with it.” It’s not romantic, and it’s definitely not the tea and scones I was envisioning in my fantasy. But it’s realistic, and I’m happy with it: labor will be what it is, and it’s a tiny detail for the most incredible reward. When I talk to friends who are moms, rarely do any of them recount the hours they spent laboring in pain. They talk about their baby’s first smile, first coos, the endless snuggles, and of course, the sleepless zombie months in between.
With all these rambling thoughts, I’ve captured a list of the things that worry and excite me as a first time mom. I hope I can look back on this after D-Day (delivery day) and see just how much I got wrong and what I got right.
One day, you’ll read this and be horrified. Then you’ll love your mama even more (my entire plan). We’ve picked out an ideal room for birth, purchased one of those hippie birthing pools, and prepared some snacks, towels, and other birthing goodies (like nitrous oxide).
But let’s face it: who knows when and where you’ll decide to arrive, and we’ll have to improvise depending on how impatient you feel. If you take after me, you’ll arrive like a rocket in 2 hours. If you’re like your daddy, we’re in for a long labor.
The midwives seem to think I’m going to give birth in some weird, tiny place – like the closet space underneath the staircase which reminds me of Harry Potter’s bedroom. Or, the downstairs bathroom which daddy (and at this point I) can barely fit into.
Before I forget all about this anxious time of waiting, here’s a short list of what I’m scared of:
- Any complications you may have. We’ll make sure to have a fast exit plan to the hospital, and the midwives have walked us through all the contingencies. So far, everyone has been impressed with how healthy you sound, look, and feel (remind me to tell you about the time you violently kicked one of the midwives for poking you awake. It was so hard daddy could practically see a foot protruding from my stomach). I imagine birth will be a little rough. Being forcibly evicted and having to learn how to breath, eat, and cry in a colder, brighter place can’t be a great first experience. I promise you won’t remember a thing. Soon enough, you’ll find that crisp air, delicious food, and warm sunlight will be life’s greatest delights. I promise. We’ll talk to you a lot now so you recognize our voices, and know you’re in a comfortable, safe place.
- Blood. I’m not as afraid of pain, but I sure am scared of blood. I really hope you don’t get into too many accidents when you’re a kid because then we’re doomed.
- Feeding us right after. Your grandma will most likely not be able to travel out here right away, and daddy will have so much on his plate trying to keep both of us alive. Good thing he’s a natural feeder. I hope you’re able to get all the nutrients you need, while we both figure out feeding. As the first born, this will be the beginning of a long list of things we will learn together. I can only wish you inherit your daddy’s patience.
- Our furniture/shipping container arriving at the house from quarantine during labor. Can you just imagine daddy dealing with all that: the movers in the house, the midwives, me in labor upstairs? This is a real possibility, and it would be very inconvenient (though memorable!).
Things I’m most excited about:
- Meeting you for the first time! I can’t stop thinking about seeing you. I’m excited to give you baths and face massages. I’m excited to feed you. I’m excited for you to explore those first few weeks, and for me to experience being born again through your experience.
- I hope you’re chubby. I can’t wait to see your round face, and I hope you have rolls on your arms and legs. I’ve been doing my best during COVID to hoover up all the food I can, and eat your favorite snacks (fruit, fruit, fruit).
- Our first snuggle. I know you’re technically snug and comfortable right now, but it’ll be a different experience to hold you, and for us to see one another for the first time. I wonder if you’ll recognize my voice and my smell.
- Growing from a family of two into a family of three, and experiencing this with your daddy. He’s my best friend and favorite partner in crime, and we’re going to have so much fun raising you. You will be our most challenging and rewarding adventure yet.
- Daddy’s entire expression during this process. I hope he’s terrified! Last week, I read to your daddy a few notes about birthing, and he had a meltdown. It was the funniest thing I’ve seen in months. I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard, I thought I was going to induce labor. I hope he delivers, and I get some quality entertainment on D-Day.
- Chocolate cake and pink champagne. Sushi. Cured meats. Runny eggs. 3 cups of coffee a day.
(In his own words) Things daddy’s scared about:
- Chaos. In the dead of night everyone running around the house and screaming like a horror movie. Replete with blood. Better save some of that nitrous oxide for me!
- Complications and driving. Complications with the birth are terrifying and the thought of driving on the wrong side of the road while in such a panic is enough to make my stomach turn. If I drove I’d probably veer onto the wrong side of the road and accidentally kill us all. Thankfully if all goes to plan we’ll be at home and I trust the midwives can drive on the left.
Things daddy’s excited about:
- Who are you little guy?! I’m excited to see what you’re like and what interests you. What catches your eyes? Makes you laugh?
- One day soon I hope I’ll be cooking for you — how do you like fancy breakfast? Do you like hot sauce (Lao Gan Ma)? Butter? Bacon? I hope so!
- Having an avid albeit passive listener. I’ll tell you about all of the things! By 5 you’ll know more about how the Internet works than most adults.