Sometimes you poop in the birthing pool.
You know the scene. You've seen it on TV: a woman's chaotic rush to the hospital when the labor pangs begin, the painful contractions, and then hours spent under bright hospital lights attended to by overworked nurses.
Most women in the United States choose to give birth in a hospital because they believe it's safer than having a baby at home. And then of course, there's the research regarding American home births that suggests that this belief isn't unfounded, and that babies in the United States are more at risk if they're born at home with a midwife than if they are born in a hospital.
But there are places in the world—like the Netherlands, Canada, and the United Kingdom—where midwives are well trained and giving birth at home has become relatively safe and common. And an increasing number of women in the United States are experimenting with giving birth at home, too.
At home, a woman can give birth in a familiar setting accompanied by people she knows and trusts. She can eat whatever she wants, change clothes and shower as many times as she wants, and sit or stand in whatever position is most comfortable—something many pregnant women find more liberating than the constrained and impersonal atmosphere of a hospital.
The women we spoke with describe their experience giving birth at home, and which parts of the home birth experience surprised them most.
Sarah Bregel, 32, Baltimore, Maryland
Unlike my hospital birth four years earlier, I felt in control, calm, and comforted throughout the entire process. I was able to move freely, walking around my home, swaying, or sitting on a birthing ball. The birth moved quickly. My midwives only arrived about an hour before my son was born. The pool was barely filled in time.
I also pooped in the pool, apparently. The midwives were so swift with scooping it out that I didn't even see it or know about it until my husband revealed it later. I had to get a couple of stitches and the numbing medicine didn't really take, so that was the most unpleasant part of the whole birth.
Elizabeth Battle, 43, Charleston, West Virginia
It was a good 14 hours of active labor. I didn't expect that I would find the pain so nauseating that I'd vomit several times, nor did I expect to be in such a drug-like state without any drugs involved. It felt a lot like twilight anesthesia, and when my midwife later read me her written account of my labor, there were entire hours that I could not remember, and events I had no recollection of.
I did need a doctor after giving birth, however. I was surprised by a third-degree peritoneal tear that is very rare in a home birth. There is a pelvic opening that's narrow in the front, but my son's head aimed more toward the back, resulting in a tear. Instead of taking me to the ER for stitching, my midwife called my family doctor, who came up to my house with his black leather doctor bag and stitched me up by the light of a table lamp.
It was very 1870, except for the lidocaine, thankfully.
Nilo Mea, 34, Fremont, California
It was the 26th of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, and I awoke with the rising sun from the pain. Being a doula myself, I knew it was still early in my labor. But being a laboring mother, I felt like my baby was going to come right then. Experiencing the most intense back labor known to man wasn't helping my cause.
Submission is the key to labor. You have no control. Your body is in control, and it knows exactly what to do. My midwife knew I needed to be alone with my partner, so she sent us to our room. I've experienced two hospital births, and though they were fast and easier than this one, they weren't as peaceful or powerful. I wasn't in control of those births and I wasn't trusted in those births as I was with my home birth.
Denise Hicks, 30, Nashville, Tennessee
I began to have contractions starting around midnight, and I got up and immediately started to sanitize our kitchen. Nesting is real, y'all.
When I could no longer do anything but breathe, moan, and sway, I woke up my partner. I'm pretty sure the last coherent thing I said was a cavewoman-esque, 'call midwife, need doula.'
Later, when we settled on the couch to wait for the grandparents, I realized that my postpartum bleeding was heavier than I should expect. I called the midwife and we went to the hospital together via ambulance. My labor was only 7.5 hours and my giant 9-pound, 8-ounce baby was pushed out in 23 minutes. I can't remember a feeling of overwhelming pain or strife, whether that's due to amnesia or my body's hormonal ability to keep up with the natural progression of childbirth.
Leanne Fulwiller, 31, London, United Kingdom
I knew I was going into labor all day. It was not my first rodeo. So I just pottered around, went out to lunch, cooked dinner, watched a movie, then another one, made a crostata, started to really hurt after midnight and called the midwife, who came about an hour later.
Being at home meant I could eat whatever I want, wander around semi-clothed, and shower in my own bathroom. I even walked, or limped, to pick up a takeout pizza for dinner that night and get some fresh air.
You know how a lot of women go into labor with mantras? Like 'I am made for this' or 'ride the waves' or whatever other bullshit they listened to on a hypnobirth YouTube video? My mantra during back labor was, 'I'm going to die.' My husband reminded me over and over it was just moments of my life, that it would pass, and that I wasn't anywhere near dying.
Hope Hamilton-Schumacher, 29, Birmingham, Alabama
Gestation may have been a marathon, but the last leg of it was a sprint. Seven hours of birthing time, and I had an almost 8-pounder on my chest.
The birthing help barely arrived before the baby came, and that's just how I wanted it. At the very end I found myself crying out to Ryan, my husband, and Layla, midwife extraordinaire, for help. The intensity of the moment was unlike anything I've ever experienced. I wanted to run, but I decided to stay. I could feel the babe moving, slipping, and squirming through my body toward the light. Though the sensations didn't quite mimic orgasm, I'd say they were euphoric, nonetheless.
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