Ash and me at a babywearing class in NYC. Preparing for carrying around Demorris when he arrives!
Ash and I have always walked the line between traditional and non-traditional, mainstream and counterculture. When we decided we wanted to get engaged we knew we didn't want a South African diamond because we knew about the treatment of the workers in diamond mines owned by DeBeers and the like. So we drove to Montreal to pick out an engagement ring with a Canadian diamond, mined in Canada where they pay the mineworkers fairly. Of course, after a 13-hour drive to Canada where it was 7 degrees below zero, we ended up finding our diamond in Virginia. When we decided we wanted to get married we picked an outdoor venue with a beautiful estate house for the reception. We had a female minister that was gay-friendly, and we followed American slave tradition and jumped a broom at the end of our ceremony to signify we were married and to honor slaves that were forbidden to marry each other. We've always ended up doing traditional things in a non-traditional way that makes sense to the two of us. It wasn’t until deciding to start a family that we found ourselves at our farthest from the mainstream, square on the Prius-driving, conspiracy-loving, granola-eating side of life.
When we decided we wanted to start a family, we struggled between our own selfish desires to have a little "us" in the world and knowing that there are so many children already born who need decent homes and parents to love them. We finally decided that we wanted to have at least one biological child and the length of a pregnancy would give us time to prepare for being parents. A good friend of ours recommended we see the documentary "The Business of Being Born," which we Netflixed as soon as it was out on DVD. The film focuses on maternity care in the United States with highlights of medical statistics. The downside? Gratuitous images of a naked Ricki Lake. It was worth it in the end though - we were shocked at a lot of the information we saw in the movie, and it really opened our eyes to the fact modern medicine interferes in the process of birth much more than is necessary and often times healthy for mother and baby.
When we found out I was pregnant, we decided to go with the Ob/Gyn group I've been seeing since we moved out to the east coast. They are close to our house, well known for cancer treatment and all sorts of other women’s health issues. At my first OB appointment, I rode solo. Ash was called in to a meeting hours from our house in VA with the sponsor of the work he does for the Lab. I had no idea what to expect at the appointment. I mean this was our first baby. As a mother I knew the little life growing inside of me was special. And wouldn't the doctor think that little life was special, too? I dreamt about my first OB visit the night before I went in. We'd talk about being pregnant; I'd get some sort of bag of information, maybe even a cookie. I couldn't wait to have our baby confirmed by science! So I headed into the appointment and had a sonogram that first visit because we weren't sure how far along I was (we got pregnant right away when we decided to “stop not-trying”). There was our future child on the screen, a circle shaped egg with a pounding heartbeat. I had always imagined I'd cry with joy, but the moment was cut short with the doctor interrupting my thoughts, "There's the pregnancy. I'm optimistic that this one will survive." The pregnancy? Optimistic? What was going on? This child is going to be President someday for God's sake and she was referring to him as an optimistic pregnancy opportunity? I almost cried, but not because of the moment I was having with our unborn child.
Needless to say, we got off to a rocky start. At that appointment I also mentioned that I was interested in a natural birth. She told me the doctors in her office referred to natural birth as a BBE or Beautiful Birthing Experiences, because they are anything but beautiful. She told me it was too early to think about the birth and she told me not to eat tuna. That was it. I went home and cried. The experience was the opposite of what I wanted. On the second visit, we had the same doctor I had in my first appointment. She must have thought that a natural birth was Ash’s idea because when he mentioned it, she told him that they could do it, but they would tie a string to his balls and pull every time I had a contraction. Now, some cultures do that, but we were shocked that Ash's balls came up at an OB visit. Each subsequent visit we had similar experiences. One doctor told me to rent a DVD if I wanted to learn about natural birth because that's all I would need. No one spoke to me like I'm a 29-year-old woman with a brain. Each time I was told “birth hurts and you’ll want an epidural when the time comes.” I grew more and more tense and scared about the birth with those doctors. I had an internal struggle between what I wanted as a woman and what I thought was best for our baby. I mean, I didn't want a ton of medical intervention, but I wanted to birth at a hospital. I'm the type of person that wears a seatbelt in the back seat of a cab, every time.
We tried to sign up for a natural birth class associated with the OB group, but it took the woman over a month to get back to us. So I did my own research on the internet on sites like mothering.com. I came up with the Bradley Method as a natural birth option for us, and we enrolled in a twelve-week natural childbirth class. This was the point where started the rapid decent into “granola” territory. We were a little hesitant at the first Bradley class, but it turned out to be exactly what we were looking for. It was engaging, informative and empowering and our instructor rocked. I asked her what she knew about the group. She confirmed my fears and mentioned they may not even work with us if we were doing the Bradley method. I asked her for recommendations for midwives and hospitals with good birth statistics, low cesarean rates, low usage of episiotomies, etc. Then I gave the OB’s one last chance. I asked again about natural birth classes, the doctor wouldn’t give me statistics on any of the questions I asked like how long do you let a first time pregnancy go past the due date (the average first timer goes 7-9 days beyond her due date) and this group is known for inducing you at 5 days. That means almost all first time mothers would be induced. She wouldn’t give me answers and she wouldn’t suggest a natural birth class. She did tell me “no Bradley method” and rent a DVD.
So we made the move to a midwife that came highly recommended and who delivers at a hospital with great birth statistics in Baltimore with a renowned OB staff in the event we have some sort of complication in delivery.
Yesterday, we met with one of the midwives from the practice. It felt so different to me. At first I was skeptical because the office was cluttered and it wasn’t as fancy as the OB office I’ve been going to for the last 5 years. But once we sat down and the midwife talked to us for over an hour about all of our questions. I was in love. What’s your episiotomy rate? Her answer, “I’ve done one in the last year. The practice average is 5%.” What’s your cesarean rate? “8-10%.” The rate recommended by the world health organization. Average in the U.S. is between 25-33%. How long do you let first timers go beyond their due date? “After a week we start using ultrasound to monitor the baby, and go up to 42 weeks.” It was like she was reading my mind and telling me exactly what I was thinking. Ash loved her because she used words like “standard deviation.”
She encouraged us to make a birth plan but let us know that most of what we were going to ask for is already their protocol. She mentioned it’s tough being a part of deliveries. She said she doesn’t like to deliver them, and then she corrected herself and said, “Well catching. You do all the work, I just catch the baby.” I sat there tearing up with joy. Joy it took 27 weeks of pregnancy to be able to feel in a care provider’s office. Us and Dem found the right people for our birth. I was meant to do this. My body was made to give birth to the baby growing inside of it. It’s something I can and will do. When I mentioned I didn’t want an epidural or drugs she didn’t even blink she just kept talking with me about what I wanted. She didn’t make me feel scared or not capable. I felt safe, comfortable and supported. The way a mom-to-be should feel. Ash and I left the appointment with our arms wrapped around each other smiling from ear to ear. Turns out being granola isn’t so bad after all.