My husband tells me I think too much in black and white. And until recently, I thought he was probably right about that when it came to my opinions on religion or customer service, but choosing where to birth our baby really did seem like a no-brainer. For a normal and healthy pregnancy, hospital with doctors equals bad and home with midwife equals good. Whenever I’d read somewhere about a doctor or nurse pooh-poohing an expectant mother’s birth plan on the grounds that birth is unpredictable, I’d think, “Well. Sure. The big, evil hospital doesn’t care what you want. ‘Birth is unpredictable’ is a way to justify all the things they do to you. The only way to make sure you get the birth you want for you and your child is to have a homebirth.”
According to me, in the hospital laboring women are poked and prodded and hurried along, their babies are damaged with drugs and forceps and then taken away from them. And oh yes, these things are the reason, along with unhelpful labor and delivery nurses and pediatricians, many mothers and babies have trouble with breastfeeding. I was sooooooo sure. Nevermind that two weeks prior to my son being born, a friend of mine had a perfectly lovely, intervention-free birth at a hospital. I figured she just got lucky. It may seem like this story is going to end with my son’s birth needing the help of drugs or surgery after all. Thankfully, it didn’t. But it turns out I need to stop being such a buttface about that whole “Birth is unpredictable” line. There is so much more to it than episiotomies.
So there we were in our apartment with our midwives, at the end of roughly twenty-one hours of labor. The pain was bearable, the music, food and company were good. I was on the floor in front of the bed in proposal position (kneeling with one knee down, you know), pulling on my husband’s arms, when Atticus finally popped out after two hours of pushing. But what was this!? Someone had beaten him up! He’d come out forehead first, so his noggin-bones hadn’t molded into that nice cone shape. Instead, he had a giant, swollen bruise on the right side of his forehead. He came out whining and continued to fuss and furrow his brow for two hours before he fell asleep. He wasn’t able to latch onto my breast in that time, but our midwives said he might be a wee bit sore right then, and not to worry.
The next day, the swelling had gone down but he still had that pained look on his face whenever he’d try to latch on. One of the midwives, now worried about his skull, recommended we call a craniosacral therapist to come over and manipulate the tectonic plates of his head to make sure they all got to where they needed to be. We called, she came. After rubbing his head a bit, she declared that although he’d sustained trauma similar to a forceps delivery, his little melon was fine and would I like her help in getting him latched on? Sure, the more the merrier. We couldn’t get him on. She told me I had short nipples and that was our problem. Well then.
On day three I started pumping colostrum, and because he’d started to turn a little yellow, one of the midwives suggested we give him a little formula in addition to the colostrum in order to get him pooping. She gave us a syringe to use while he was messing about at my breast so that he wouldn’t end up preferring a bottle, but we had trouble using it as he’d mostly just put his little lips around my nipple and then fall asleep. We went for the bottle, as it felt like time was of the essence if we didn’t want him to have to go into the hospital to lay under the jaundice lights. Every two hours we’d wake him, feed him the pumped colostrum and then top him off with an ounce of formula (if he took that much) before he fell asleep again. This got him pooping like a champ.
However, the next day at his very first doctor appointment with a doctor who was not to be his going forward (Here’s a tip: do not have a baby in August. Everyone you need to see is out of town.), we were told we needed to head to the ER immediately because this baby was very jaundiced. The big ol’ bruise on his head was way too many red blood cells for him to break down on his own. And here’s where I really shine … my first thought was that they were trying to punish us for having a homebirth. Oh my lord, Eliza.
Unfortunately, my husband had met this doctor once before and he didn’t like her either, so we said we’d go home to wait for the results of his bilirubin test before we went to any ER. We called our midwives after getting the result and they agreed his levels were high and we really ought to go in. Fine.
Atticus spent all night under the lamps in a box in the NICU, where at 7lbs he was the biggest baby there and I finally started to feel like a bit of an ass for assuming all hospitals wanted was to mess up your baby and take your money. We spent that night apart. My milk had come in at that point and I began to pump and bring it into the NICU for him to have in a bottle.
In the morning they turned off the lights and the blanket and waited to see if his levels would come down any more on their own. Since we were now allowed to go and hold him as often as we pleased, we tried a few more times with a couple of lactation consultants to get him onto the boob. No luck, he’d get on, suck a few times, then pull off and fall asleep or cry. They let us take him home that evening. As his bruise faded, we made progress in the breastfeeding arena. By two weeks he was off the bottle and onto a nipple shield, and by three weeks he was on the boob!
So yes. I had my relaxing and empowering labor and birth in the comfort of my own home. But I still got some other things I definitely would not have put in my birth plan: a banged up baby, separation from each other at only a few days old, the introduction of the dreaded bottle, but not because any evil hospital was out to get me — but because birth (and babies) are unpredictable. His two month appointment is on Monday and I promise to bring my logical hat instead of my paranoid, judgmental, everything-is-black-and-white hat.