I know John Mayer is kinda a divisive subject matter. (And actually that works well, as this whole post is on another divisive subject matter.) I don’t know your personal opinion of John Mayer or his music, but I’ve always enjoyed his music. (Not gonna make any statements about his personal life.)
I’ve begun to really relish one of his songs again recently, because it was something I clung to during my second pregnancy. Right now, walking out this third pregnancy --- navigating these old-yet-new waters all over again, I’ve found myself comforted, and yet a pinch haunted, by it’s familiar tune.
While I was pregnant with my daughter Ruby we bought his album "Born and Raised.”
That time in my life was exceptionally trying for me. We had just moved, I was the furthest I’d ever been from my family and anyone we knew. I was pregnant for the second time and desperately trying to cling to my sanity --- as I had begun to fear birth, in a place so deep inside myself I didn’t know if I could come back from it, after being extremely disappointed in how my first birth experience went. I’m fairly certain I had some post traumatic stress from the event. It shook my faith. And it alienated me from most everyone I knew, because no one seemed to understand how the simple act of giving birth and gaining a new healthy life could be scarring. They seemed to feel exasperated by how long I was taking to recover emotionally, and shocked by how deeply this could affect me. Yet admittedly they would often acknowledge verbally how I “couldn’t do it” in reference to my first birth, and constantly worry on my behalf for the second event of giving birth again.
Once I moved to a new location, I was faced with new birthing dilemmas. The hospital nearby, which supposedly had some really great midwives (whom I would never be allowed to meet), did not allow for VBACs (Vaginal Births after Cesarean) only repeat c-sections.
I, of course, had to resign myself to the idea that if I needed a c-section again, I would have a c-section again. But no part of my being could willingly sign up for a repeat c-section without a full effort towards a VBAC. To accommodate this primal need, I had to begin to face totally new (for me) ideas towards birth.
My options were stranger and fewer than I was used to. If I didn’t want a scheduled repeat c-section, my next closest birthing option was an hour away. But these doctors weren’t exactly what you would call VBAC friendly --- placing heavy stipulations on the mother, in order to be “allowed” to try to VBAC. And these stipulations are placed upon things that are not within anyone’s control --- such as baby’s predicted size (which isn’t even something that can be accurately judged) and going into labor “on time”, which may --- or may not --- be, a random date of the doctor’s choosing --- usually right around your due date, which I knew I was extremely likely to go past (induced at 42 weeks the first time around.) Labor would be heavily monitored and movement and comfort measures very limited. (Outside of epidurals, which aren’t touted for VBAC success.)
The better option --- which many women in my shoes and in my location would choose --- was a different hospital with midwives who were supportive of VBACs and allowed for laboring in birth tubs and the good stuff you’d hope for in birth, but these midwives were 2.5 hours away from my town! I’ve known women (personally) who’ve had shorter labors than 2.5 hours! That’s a long drive to make in labor. And not to mention to make for check ups: monthly, then weekly, and with a 1.5 year old in tow. (By the time I’d have gone there and back and been seen that would take an entire day which equals what, a year, in toddler time?)
The last option, one I had sworn I would never do, became my first option: home birth.
It was a ton to take in, mentally and emotionally. It was literally the last place I ever expected to see myself going. But I was going there because I felt it was the safest and the best option I had. I began to read everything I could possibly get my hands on. I was studying books nonstop and scouring the internet (not common baby forums, the deep unknown world of midwives’ from other countries websites, and ICAN statistics, and birth management papers --- all things I’d never seen before), trying to make sure I was choosing well and not risking my or my baby’s life. The more I read, the better I felt.
But it doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared. And it doesn’t mean I wasn’t trying something that felt very untested.
I was doing all sorts of new things for me. Like seeing a chiropractor in pregnancy because my midwife knew it would be good for me. The setting of my midwife’s office and the chiropractor’s office was as alien to me as the surface of Mars. And all the while I took deep breaths preparing for a potentially overwhelming unknown.
The wait was overwhelming.
While I would drive the hour to my midwife’s office, or the chiropractor’s office, I would listen to John Mayer’s Album “Born and Raised” --- most often listening on repeat to the song “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967.”
(If you haven’t heard it before, I hope you listen to it --- it is the whole premise of this blog post. I mean you might as well. If you’ve heard it before, push play --- it’s just good.)
This birth that I was about to try at home... was my homemade, fan blade, one-man submarine ride.
Granted while pregnant, I didn’t know if I’d ever get to get in my submarine (I didn’t know if my body could start labor on it’s own --- my confidence had been shattered) nor if my submarine could hack it (I’d never pushed a baby out), but then again neither did Walt Grace --- I hated my old place (being told I couldn’t do it, and having machines and knives try to do it for me) so there I was, in my basement working away on what it would take to survive... and no one could talk me out of it.
“And his wife told his kids he was crazy. And his friends said he fail if he tried.”
Blake [my husband] never told me (or told anyone) that I was crazy --- that guy was my rock and was literally the only thing that kept me from emotionally imploding. He supported me more on my choices than I did myself.
But other people told me I was crazy, or basically said as much.
I told very few people my plans, because I knew just how strongly the general population responds to the idea of home birth. And I wasn’t up for defending myself to the general population. (Just having a pregnant belly in front of the general population is enough to make most women furious at some point.)
But some people needed to know, and those were the only ones I told. But that small amount of sharing created pretty much a 1:1 ratio of “you’ll fail if you try” responses.
Here are some of my “You’ll fail if you try” stories:
- My mom was terrified for me. It was just a conditioned loving response. She watched my induction unravel as I was in a kind of pain she couldn’t fathom was “right" (having done two natural labors and deliveries herself), and watched me push relentlessly for hours, with nothing happening, while I was hooked up to every gadget in the room including an oxygen mask, and then when the doctor came in to say he “had no tricks for this,” it’s time for a c-section. She was there while my daughter was cut from me. And she was there as I recovered. And she watched from outside me as I struggled to wrestle the emotional aftermath for years. Of course, as a mom she had a hard time reconciling that experience, to the idea I could give birth on my own at home. Sitting with her and watching the movie, “The Business of Being Born” was pretty huge in aiding her emotional shift towards supporting me instead of fearing for me.
- It came as a surprise to me that Blake’s mom wasn’t on board with my plan. She herself, had two of her children in the hospital, before going on to have her last two (one of whom was Blake) at home. But it felt like she now saw me as broken. Her hospital births had gone fine, she just didn’t like the way she was treated there the second time around. But in her mind I was not a candidate for home birth. The only words of support she could muster, with a voice utterly full with fear was, “We are praying for you.” As much as I think she tried, she really could not hold back occasionally spewing forth scary birth stories she had heard, as well as the phrase “you couldn’t do it” when bringing up my first birth, enough times to cut me again. This often came after recounting her daughter’s birth stories. She wasn’t being mean-spirited --- she also was there, and had watched me try to push a stuck baby out, and saw that baby not budge. But she didn’t understand the entirety of the situation, and just attributed the fault to my inabilities*.
(*I had since pieced a lot of my puzzle together, able to see so many pieces in hindsight that contributed to my entire experience. And I was now fairly certain I could have avoided it all if only I had known better the first time around. But for some reason these realizations of mine are always met with tons of resistance from anyone outside of the field of midwifery or doula-ing. Actually, it was doulas and midwives who enabled me to start to work on my puzzle. Which of course majorly aided me in having a much better second birth experience. But even still, for anyone else that I’ve brought these notions up to, they tend to dismiss the ideas and say I just really needed that c-section, that it was unavoidable. I do know I can’t go back and change anything. I had a c-section. I didn’t know what I know now and I can’t tell past-me a single thing. But I do find comfort in understanding what happened to me and why. I’d rather know I can, than live with "I can’t.")
- Besides our moms, essentially every other family member who knew (people whom either I had told, or had been told by another terrified party) took it upon themselves to tell me any scary birth story that could come up with, seemingly to talk me into a hospital. OR to tell me any happy c-section story they could lay their hands on so I could take the “safe” route of repeat c-section. (No, they never did whole-heartedly believe me that statistics clearly show c-sections get riskier with each successive [major abdominal] surgery you have. And that VBACs actually carry less risk to the mother and baby. But why would they? Americans aren’t told that.)
- I had one particularly fun evening at Christmas time: once my 3 birthing options were shared (well 4, when you include in-town hospital repeat c-section, which I wasn’t going to choose), every single one of my options was turned down due to it being impossible --- this was done by one single family member. He was adamant in all of what he said, and never seemed to realize he just disqualified me from giving birth. That was interesting --- I guess he planned on my child growing up and doing their whole life... from inside me.
- I had an extremely taxing run-in with a non-OB doctor for an insurance referral to the chiropractor. The way my husband’s Post-Doctorate position at the university worked, I had to be covered by the student health insurance (awful!) so I got to go into a clinic that looked like STD central --- covered in posters of STDs, bowls full of condoms on every surface available, and a bottle of lube just sitting out on the counter --- ready at the helm (I was disgusted to be touching anything in there based on these sights) all to have a doctor, who’s been treating colds, flus, sports injuries, and STDs, tell me he’s been in the ER and watched terrible things happen to pregnant women. For over 20 mins he tells me a bunch of random stuff, including the fact that since I’ve had one c-section I’ll need another c-section, and that (because he cares) he would never let his wife birth at home… before telling me a chiropractor could not enlarge my pelvis (which, to be utterly clear, that idea was never even hinted at, because my brain would never come up with an idea that stupid.) I tried to be polite and quietly wait through his bit for my slip of paper saying a chiro was coverable by insurance (which is so dumb, because it IS covered.) But when he insulted my pelvis, I lost it. One too many people had implied there was something wrong with my pelvis. And let’s just be clear here: I have the kind of hips that could make almost any person on earth say something like “Now there are some birthing hips” while I merely walk past. I’ve had a hard time buying jeans my whole life due to my waist-to-hip ratio. There is no reason on earth, from looking at me, someone would think my pelvis is tiny. (Which is all this doctor did, look at me fully clothed and read a questionnaire I filled out.) But here is this man who knows nothing about me, making me sound like an idiot who has done no research and is asking for voodoo magic from a witch doctor. But the thing is, I could have schooled him in a big way on birth after all the research I’ve done. (At least half the things in his 20 mins speech were completely inaccurate and the rest were pretty misused and an abusive way of conveying information.) Blake still claims I am qualified to get a doctorate in birth after all the research I’ve done in birth (and he’s not just saying that --- he’s earned a doctorate.) I didn’t school that man. My emotions were way too high. Because once my pelvis was insulted, I raised my voice to a near-yell, “I NEVER SAID I WANTED MY PELVIS TO BE BIGGER. I SAID I WANTED PROPER ALIGNMENT TO HELP THE BABY BE IN A GOOD POSITION TO BE BORN. IF I HAD COME IN HERE SAYING MY BACK HURT WOULD YOU HAVE JUST HANDED ME THE PAPER?!?” He replied “Well I don’t want you to lie.” To which I responded, “WELL OF COURSE MY BACK HURTS, EVERY SINGLE PREGNANT WOMAN’S BACK HURTS. I WANT MY REFERRAL.” And I got my referral. (Someday in the nearish future that university’s post-docs won’t have to use the student’s health insurance anymore. And for them I am SO glad.)
- Long before I moved to Iowa, and I had few check-ups with the midwives I saw for my first pregnancy. (A group of CMNs practicing at a hospital.) Those appointments shook me up so bad. They were midwives… I thought it was part of some unwritten midwife rule that "VBACs are good, and we support them.” But when I went into my appointments, pregnant after a c-section, my time with them was spent being lectured on how VBACs are not guaranteed. And then having my pelvis assessed to see if it was “ok", and then I was told my pubic bone was “more boney” and that it “could cause issues while pushing. You might need to try multiple positions in order to get the baby out.”
When I got to Iowa, my midwife there was very clearly miffed by the words “a more-boney bone”, which isn’t any sort of diagnosis. And she told me to ignore that because it’s just silly and makes no sense at all, and means nothing. (And when it came down to it, it was silly and utterly not relevant at all to my birth story.) So even midwives were part of the crew saying “you’ll fail if you try,” which totally blew my mind.
- And well, most of my friends just kinda silently took in the little I said to them, and heavily implied they would never risk such a thing. I think I recall some saying “in jest”, “You’re crazy” --- but I was pretty sure they were serious.
Basically the only people who supported me were Blake, my home birth midwife (who on our first meeting, looked me in the eye and said with fierce sincerity, “I believe in you.”) and my doula. Everyone else bit their fingernails for me.
“But with a will to work hard and a library card.”
I already mentioned how much I began to read on birth while pregnant the second time. (It was near obsessive compulsive levels of reading.) And how Blake thinks I earned a doctorate in the subject matter. So... I LOVED this line of the song. I was working harder on this (the preparation for the upcoming birth) than anything I’d ever done in my life. (This included eating well and being extremely purposeful in my constant workouts and posture to ensure baby would would have good positioning.)
I was also impressed that with simply with a library card (well and the internet, but seriously even with just the library books) I was able to learn so many things that had been told to me wrong by doctors and my original care providers. It really made me question their right to be in charge of so many people’s well-being. I had been outright lied-to in many ways. Whether it was intentional or just honest mistakes, I was still surprised they were allowed to be so wrong.
For instance, one midwife (I was seeing a group of 8) during my first pregnancy told me, after I inquired about what it means to be Rh-negative and why I needed a shot, that “it’s one of the things that used to cause women to die in childbirth in the old days.” That is not even true in the slightest and my midwife for my second pregnancy was appalled at the idea that the prior midwife didn’t have that information correct. If a Rh-negative woman gets sensitized to the positive blood type of a child, her body will likely not be able to carry another child to term because it sees it as an enemy to fight off. But it does not cause the mother to die. It causes her to lose her babies in pregnancy.
But that’s just one tiny bit of wrong information. And since I got the shots I needed, it didn’t really affect me personally, it just proved they aren’t always telling you the correct information. I had a lot of other things come into play that did affect me negatively that I was either told incorrectly or not told at all.
Anyway, I was shocked by how much I could learn on my own, and how empowering that could be.
“That morning the sea was mad and I mean it. Waves as big as he’d seen it deep in his dreams at home.”
I listened to that line with such intention. I wanted to labor so bad. I had my labor “given” to me the first time. I wanted my own labor. I wanted to get in that sea. And I was ready for those waves. I was ready to let them thrash me like I had never known before, and I was ready for that sea do that to me for days on end. I wasn’t backing down. I was gearing up.
As it turns out, I think I fought my sea more in my mind before my labor, waiting to face it, than anywhere else. My second labor, made of own own body’s strength, felt nothing like a pitocin labor. It was natural to ride. It wasn’t a sea outside of myself, it was myself and I flowed into it. I understood it. I was it. I was awed by its responsiveness to me. I gave it free reign and it was something I could trust.
But I still love that line of the song, because my sea was mad --- so, so mad ever since my first delivery. I’d been fighting a mad sea for ages, I rode those waves for two years. I was exhausted.
“From dry land, he rolled it over to wet sand, closed the hatch up with one hand, and peddled off alone.”
I will never forget how labor started for me, and how surreal it felt when I knew it was time. I had to make the mental choice to get in and close the door to make a journey I would take on my own. I had people around to support me, but it was my body that would do this, and I knew I had to close to the door and trust the entirety of everything to make it through. I wanted to fight it, I wanted to say "I’m not ready.” But I knew, I just had to close that hatch and do it, I had to turn off my thoughts and surrender.
“For once in his life it was quite… as he learned how to sail in the tide.”
There has never been any time in my life, before or since that labor, when I was silent inside. It is something I will always marvel at. Before labor started, I sat for one hour in total mental silence, with my hands on my belly, and meditated absolute nothing. (This is something I’d have thought was sincerely impossible for my brain.) After that, my labor started. During labor, I had to choose if I would listen to my thoughts or not --- they often wanted to tell me I couldn’t do it, but I had to choose to ignore my mind and obey my body. And by the time I was in transition I almost didn’t exist anymore. I was my labor, nothing more, I almost couldn’t feel it, I just was it, there was nothing else.
“And the sky was aflare when he came up for air in his homemade, fan blade, one man submarine ride.”
The rest of the song… well no one really got that excited for me. Outside my immediate family, no one named anything after me.
And that’s okay. I didn’t think they would.
If you birth at home, most people in America kinda just go back to shunning the idea the way they would before you did it, only now they just tweak it to say “I’m so glad you and your baby survived.”
A lot of people still see me as broken. My mother-in-law has definitely used the words “you couldn’t do it” even after I naturally birthed a totally happy healthy baby at home with zero drugs, as if that whole event never happened. She’s not sure how to address me and this pregnancy, she’s always certain to drop in enough caveats to keep me from seeming safe to be considered a standard birthing women.
Some friends hold me at a distance with tweezers when birth comes up --- which I get. I didn’t want to hear about homebirths before I had one --- something about it felt threatening to me as a woman --- as if the idea that some women can birth at home but I wasn’t strong enough for that. And I just didn’t want to be around people who thought I was wimpy.
But I have to say, having a home birth has not made me feel stronger than any other women. It’s just made me feel really grateful that I got to experience my body unfettered. But I don’t think any woman is less of a woman if she has birthed differently than me. (And let’s not forget, I’ve birthed different than me too. I’ve had two drastically different births and have had to reconcile it all together as part of me.) When it comes down to it, each and every birth is unique. And life, and the very fact that is exists, is just plain amazing. I just wish women knew that’s how I felt so they wouldn’t have to get out their tweezers around me.
Right now, I have the feeling people are kinda side-eyeing me for this pregnancy to see what I do. (That is, if they care --- third pregnancies definitely get a lot less attention than first -- and even second -- ones.) In general, I think people are little leery of me in terms of birth. Perhaps a little hopeful for me to gave another good experience, but perhaps there is also a little innocent ill-wishing going on as well. (I’ve done it, and I’ve heard other mommas admit to it. I’m not gonna shame you for it. It happens without our full permission. My heart knows that feeling so well, the confusing pull and loss at what to think.)
Anyway, I do think having done a home birth changes the way people want to perceive me and birth this time around --- whether for good or bad --- that’s not up to me.
But I’d have to say, I don’t really mind. Any of this.
I've been able to learn so much.
I've been able to experience so much.
I was able to get in my submarine
and I’ve seen Tokyo.
(Would you believe that? I said I didn’t want to see it.
I’ll never regret going for one split second. Best (scariest, most intimidating) trip of my life.)
Cause when you’re done with this world, you know the next is up to you.
The more I read lately, the more I am disappointed with America’s birth situation. Did you know that we are the only civilized nation (besides Brazil, which has the world’s highest c-section rate) that took midwives out of the birthing equation? (During the 1920’s the American medical field launched an attack on midwives and basically flat-out lied to the public about their safety and their birthing records, stating hospitals were better at birth despite statistics proving quite the contrary. And so midwives were nearly cast out of our country completely.) Other countries never had anything like that happen. And still, even now with midwives coming back into some favor in America, we currently do not use midwives the way other countries do. In most of Europe midwives are the normal route to go for low-risk births. In some countries your health insurance will only cover an OB if a midwife has referred you to one. And in most of Europe OBs are trained by midwives before they become OBs. Midwives were never looked down on in other countries like they have been and often continue to be in ours. I’m not saying we need to look down on OBs either --- they are much needed. But the balance here is clearly different than it is elsewhere. And these other countries boast much better birth outcomes for babies and mothers than America does.
This song speaks so much to me.
When I listen to it, it returns me to those Iowan car rides… I am scared, emotionally facing what I thought would be the hardest day of my life.
It turned out to be the most astounding experience I’ve ever known, something I will always treasure. The hardness. The emotional turmoil. The dread. The fear. All seemed so worth it. I’d do it all over again in a heart beat.
And this song kinda helps me do that in the span of 5 minutes.
Want to read up on the history of Birth in America? This is super interesting and entertainingly-written:
Birth Day: A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History, and the Wonder of Childbirth
Want to read up on the many ways in which the statistics you’ve heard (or have heard being alluded to in news articles) on home birth being unsafe have been written using flawed science, and are only really being used to support a specific agenda, rather than propagate truth? This book is an endless description of such:
Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care
Want to read a fantastic, world-renowned, American midwife discuss the ways birth is important --- not just to mothers, but society as a whole? A bunch of really good information, and some tangible steps America could truly implement to improve our birth environment (not just in idealism or theory, but stuff that would actually truly improve birth outcomes of our nation, that our government could choose to implement if we sought after it)? This book is beautiful:
Birth Matters: How What We Don't Know About Nature, Bodies, and Surgery Can Hurt Us
Or if you just want to read some awe-inspiring natural home (or, mostly not in a hospital) birth stories…the birth stories in this book literally changed my life:
Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin