Content note: This post focuses a lot on my current state of mind and thought process regarding my upcoming birth. In it I state (or at least heavily imply) some specific preferences for birth experiences I do or don’t want. None of this is meant to be a judgement on anyone else’s choices or experiences. If this sounds like something that might be difficult or offensive to you, please consider whether you want to read on!
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We’re farm-sitting for the long weekend. It’s a delightful place, just shy of 9 acres with ducks, chickens, sheep, and a dog and a cat. The gardens are incredible, with vegetables and flowers intermixed and large art pieces carefully placed so that it doesn’t feel planted or even landscaped, but curated. One of the owners is a potter and painter, and the eye for color and composition is apparent. The house, too, is a lovely space, an eclectic combination of art and rustic farm feel. It is a basic ranch style house, but the light is gorgeous through the large windows on all sides, with views of the sheep pasture to the back, studded with Oregon white oak, the gardens to the front, and evergreen-covered hills to the sides. Bird feeders have been attracting everything from song sparrows to hummingbirds to varied thrush. It is idyllic, the work is minimal (feeding once a day, plus a second egg hunt later in the day to save any late eggs from the jays), and the weather has been gorgeous. Since I decided to take the incomplete on that last class, my stress is lower than it’s been in months, at least (possibly years?) and I’ve been able to actually enjoy the time here. It’s like a country vacation.
Darwin, too, is enjoying it. The first morning we woke up here, she looked out the back door window and exclaimed “BOK BOKS! CHICKENS! HOORAY! KITTY CAT! HOORAY!” and giggled and grinned. After Rachel and I made coffee and pulled on our muck boots, we all tromped out toward the duck pond to begin the morning routine. The chickens are truly free range and had all gathered around the back of the house, knowing we would be out to feed them soon. Darwin ran as fast as her little legs, hobbled by rubber boots that go up to her knees, would take her, arms waving up and down and yelling “Bok boks! Hooray! Bok bok bok! Yay!” It was so funny and I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t even get my phone out to get a photo– but I suspect that’s an image I won’t soon forget! It has truly been a pleasure to be here.
Unlike other vacations I’ve taken, the opportunity to be here and just be still without needing to go do or see or experience things has given me lots of time to think– which is great! As I mentioned yesterday, there are many things for me to think about over the next few weeks. This morning what got me thinking was Darwin’s obsession with the doors here.
Darwin has been increasingly particular about where and when and how things happen. She will give Rachel specific instructions saying “I want nurses, on this chair”– and god forbid Rachel sit in the wrong chair. One of the things that I find particularly charming about this house is the number of doors to the outside, many of which are very close to each other and lead to nearly the same exact place. There is a deck that wraps around maybe a third of the house, and I think four different doors open onto it. When she wants to go out, Darwin has not only been insisting on going outside now, but going out this door. And in my introspective state, I cannot help but see this as a kind of analogy for my upcoming birth experience.
Pam England, the author of the book Birthing From Within that I mentioned yesterday, opens one of the early chapters by describing a conversation she had in which someone asked her what is the most important thing a woman should know before giving birth. She replied that that question will be different for every woman. Some want to know “Will I be strong enough?” some want to know “Will it be worth it?” Any of you who have given birth probably had your own questions, whether they were voiced or even acknowledged. I began trying to think of what mine is. I thought it was “Am I strong enough to have the birth I want?” but upon further reflection I have come to realize that it’s a bit less straightforward than that. Rather than thinking of all the Things I Have To Do in order to get to the birth I want, I began to try to think of all the various ways to get there. Like Darwin and her desire to go through a specific door to get to a place that is reachable via many routes, I began to consider what my true destination is– is it the door, or is it what is beyond the door? If it’s the door, then yes, there will be specific things I have to do or be in order to go through that particular portal. If it is in fact whatever is beyond the door(s), then I have more wiggle room to be who I am and to prepare as much as I can (but in more generalized ways) in order to take any route possible to reach my final goal. So perhaps my question is “Where are the doors that will take me to where I want to go? What do I need to do to get to them?”
In anthropology, we talk about liminal space (I think this is also used in psychology), or the state of in-between-ness that comes during rites of passage or transitions. The word comes from the Latin limens, meaning ‘threshold.’ Pregnancy is a prime example, as it marks the state of being in between ‘maidenhood’ (for lack of a better term) and motherhood. (Obviously there are many more ways of becoming a mother than simply growing a baby in your own uterus, as this community knows better than probably anyone else, and simply giving birth does not necessarily mean the birthing person will go on to parent that child– but for those of us who are gestating/ will gestate a baby and who do plan to mother or parent said child, I think this explanation holds. For others, the transition will be different but, I would argue, still present). So, consider me in a state of liminality. I am on the threshold of… something. But what? I think that’s the part I still need to figure out. I am already a mother, so it’s not motherhood itself, and I suspect for many women that’s not the only piece of it anyway. That’s why women have birth plans and specific hopes and needs, and why they can experience such trauma when their birth feels out of control– even when they and the baby are alive and uninjured at the end of it. But there is something that is important to me about birth itself, about gestating and birthing and physically pushing a baby out of my body that is important, and how and where that happens are also important to me.
Part of this is about my work and the effects my position as a researcher have on my position as a pregnant and soon-to-be-birthing woman, and part of it is why I got into the field I am in at all. I’m not going to go into all the reasons I chose to plan a home birth, because they aren’t really important at the moment. What is important in this particular moment is the fact that I did choose to plan a home birth, and I do want to avoid a transfer to the hospital if at all possible. But what it comes down to is that I have to decide what is most important to me in all that. Is it most important to me to give birth at home unless there is a true medical emergency, knowing that a transfer will likely mean a cesarean at that point? Is it most important to me to have a vaginal birth, even if it means transferring and always wondering if I could have done it if I had just stayed home a little longer? Is it most important to me to protect the reputation of home birthers and midwives as a group and transfer at a potential earlier point so that the receiving providers have no room to blame the situation on ‘crazy’ home birthers pushing things too far? These are the questions I have to grapple with, and then, once I reach that conclusion, I have to imagine as many scenarios as I possibly can that can get me to that goal.
It’s hard, when in a liminal state, to envision what life on the ‘other side’ will be like. It’s hard to know how I would feel after each of those potential scenarios, especially given the variety of outcomes that can arise from each one. I could stay home even in the presence of fetal distress and still have a good outcome– or I could end up with a much worse ending to that story. I could stay home until there is evidence of distress, transfer and have a cesarean, and be ok with knowing that I did everything I could to have the home birth that is so important to me– or I could have a cesarean and end up with ‘cesarean regret’ and have to go to therapy to deal with the potential psychological trauma. I could transfer with ‘a complication not a crisis,’ as they say, and always wonder whether I could have or should have stuck it out just a little longer– or I could transfer at this point and have a beautiful vaginal birth surrounded by women who love and support me, like my wife did. With all these potentialities, it’s hard to envision which route is the one I want to take (though there are a few I’m pretty clear that I’m not interested in), but I can at least begin to narrow it down and trust that when the time comes I will know what to do. And my midwives and my doula and my wonderful wife have all assured me that I won’t have to make that decision on my own.
So, to return to my birth question, perhaps it is straightforward (though still not simple)– What is it that’s most important to me? A live and healthy baby, yes of course. I am very clear that I am not interested in doing anything that will put my little one at risk. But thinking beyond that– what is my priority? What will make me feel the safest, the strongest, and the most prepared to parent this little Bee? And then– how many doors can I find to take me there?