It’s usually the middle of the night when I drive to my client’s house after hearing she is in labor. The streets are quiet, often glistening from a recent rain. If I am lucky the moon will be up casting light on the ocean. As I near their home I realize again that I have no idea what to expect when I get there. It’s my job to anticipate and prepare for any possibility, to simultaneously empty my mind of expectation and simply wait, trusting the mama and baby, trusting birth.
I pull onto their street. Their house is a little bit lit, some interior lamp glowing while the people on the rest of the block sleep. I let myself in, lugging packed bags of medical supplies and equipment. I know this place. We have had many prenatal appointments here. Each house has it’s own feeling that reflects the people who live there. I enjoy watching how houses evolve once there are children. A couple expecting their first child may have a house that’s neat as a pin, but with their next baby the signs of family life explode out of every nook and cranny. I love to see how the individual personality shines through with degrees of order, colors on the walls, furniture placement, books and music. The family has created a home filled with their creativity, their interests, colors, smells and style.
At the door, I’m often met by my client’s partner, sometimes their excited older children, a mother or sister, or maybe the family dog. Along with the other members of the birth team, we share the job of providing encouragement and care for this woman, this baby, this birth. We support the laboring mother, and as we do we are supported by the home environment, because that’s what helps the mother feel safe while she births her baby.
It’s one of the hallmarks of midwifery care that we don’t judge the birthing mother. Just as the place she lives is unique, so is the way she gives birth. We trust her and her body to deliver her baby. We trust that she is normal and the way she gives birth is too. We broaden the definition of normal to include long labors and short, vocal and quiet, dramatic arrivals and births without much fuss. Sometimes we need to transport to the hospital and we work to smooth that transition too. It’s our job to protect and guard this normalcy and act accordingly.
Birthing at home describes a feeling as well as a place. During a recent birth, I witnessed the baby pulse from her mother’s body up onto her chest. She opened her eyes and looked around at the dimly lit quiet room, experiencing her first impression of life on the outside. “These are my people — their voices, their emotions, their colors. This is my place.”
The experience of laboring and birthing in ones house enriches the home environment and contributes to making it a haven for the family to rely on in our increasingly frenetic world. The values built in that core can be so strong that they spill out into the greater community. Strong and healthy families of all stripes contribute to a healthy culture.
For women who choose to give birth in the hospital, coming home and taking the time to heal can be a beautiful rich experience. This period can feel a bit like the family has stepped out of time. There’s only one job in this world and it is meeting the needs of the mama and new baby. We used to call it lying-in, and I remember thinking it wasn’t necessary for a strong modern woman. Through my own experiences I’ve come to see just how valuable it is to let the world pass by while the mama and baby learn to know each other as they heal and grow from this life changing experience of birth.
Homebirth is not for everyone. And that’s ok. Women need to birth their babies where they feel most safe. But besides the key component of defending the freedom for families to choose their place of birth, one of the societal reasons we need to support it is that home birthing upholds the values of home – security, warmth, trust, and love. When we’re passionate about that, the rest of the culture feels it. Then the businesses and institutions in our community strive to create environments that model these values too.