Where did you choose to have your birth and why? What are your feelings about that choice now?
I knew I wanted a non-medicalized birth because I’m crunchy like that. I didn’t really want a home birth, though, because I was a little scared about complications (I have some health issues and wasn’t sure how everything would play out). I liked the idea of a birth center (my mom delivered me in one) and a midwife.
It was only when I was pregnant that I learned about Ina May Gaskin. I found out that the Farm’s Midwifery Center ( http://www.thefarmmidwives.org
) was still around, and went down there for a weekend to check it out (both the Center and the community in general). It wasn’t going to be realistic to have my baby there, but from being there and after a long conversation with one of the original and still-practicing midwives, I felt better-equipped to make a decision (even though the videos they showed scared the crap out of me).
In a kind of roundabout way, through a doula that knew my grandmother’s chiropractor, I was referred to Rhode Island’s preeminent home-birth midwife, Mary Mumford-Haley. She’s pretty (in)famous around here. At the time, she was running the prenatal program at a family clinic run by a local community action program. Which was a bonus because I had Medicaid. Prenatal visits were in the clinic offices and deliveries took place in the birth center of a nearby hospital.
I am grateful to have happened upon Mary and the clinic (where my son and I continue to go). Prior to the referral, I’d done a bit of research but nothing panned out. With the clinic, everything just slid into place; I knew I was in good hands, and would be taken care of in ways that jived with my own strong sensibilities about health and wellness and medicine, and pregnancy and birthing and childrearing.
How did you prepare for your birth?
Prenatal yoga. I tried not to think about it. That’s not true. But I was kind of terrified and knew that I didn’t know anything, that I wouldn’t know what to expect. Different techniques were suggested to me, which all sounded good, but my financial situation was very prohibitive. The doula at my clinic said that yoga would be a good all-encompassing practice for me, especially with the compilations of my health problems. I had a work-trade deal with a yoga studio (thank you Kaeli!).
Also, I kind of waited till the last minute to do a lot of things, which turned out to be a bad idea because my kid came early! So it was all very spontaneous at the end. Which, overall, worked well.
Who was invited and present at your birth?
(Just to get this out of the way, and in case you’re wondering, I’m single, so there was no partner to be there.)
Aside from the plethora of nurses, doctors, residents, and trainees I hadn’t invited, I scored big-time with not one but *two* volunteer doulas. Bianca’s the doula I mentioned before, who was an Americorps member at the clinic and had the desire (and stamina) to attend every birth she could. Dawn was a nurse at the clinic, who just randomly said to me one day, “I want to be at your birth! I want to be your doula!” I said sure, if you insist! The two of them were absolutely godsends and I wouldn’t have made it through as (relatively) well as I had without them, no question.
My midwife Mary was not there—the OB, Heidi, that worked for her handled the delivery. I’d only met her once before, but now we’re BFFs.
My mom also came. We’d discussed whether or not that’d be a good idea, didn’t really come up with a decision, and just played it by ear. It ended up being a good thing. I was pretty out of it and oblivious of everyone except my doulas for a while there, but I know she was glad to have been present.
What qualifications do you look for in a midwife/OB/primary care provider?
I look for a referral from someone, or from a network, that I trust. I look for a person both skilled in, and critical of, Western medicine. Skills/knowledge in other traditions are a plus. Anything for a well-rounded, holistic perspective, basically. I look for knowledge in and encouragement of alternative and traditional remedies, even when that means no remedies at all. I look for a person I can hash things out with, who respects me as a person not just a patient, and who will say the right things in the right tone when I get all neurotic. (Mary was *really* good at that last thing.)
What is your ideal relationship with a birth attendant?
BFFs! I need to have a pretty close relationship with someone to be that comfortable with them.
If you have received maternity care from both the medical and midwifery models of care, what are the biggest differences? Pros/cons of each?
I began my prenatal care in a county health department in Ohio. Six months into my pregnancy, I moved to Rhode Island, where I met up with Mary and her cronies at the crunchy clinic.
There was a world of difference. In Ohio, I was herded like cattle and looked at sideways like they assumed I was a junkie or something. It was one of the most impersonal and depressing experiences of my life, and at an especially vulnerable time. I connected with one person, a social worker, who left the department after I’d seen her once. My care was rotated between three local OBs who spent about 10 minutes with me and never learned my name. I fibbed at certain questions (what I was eating, if I was taking the right prenatal vitamin, that sort of thing), knowing that I was doing the right thing for me but that they probably wouldn’t see it that way and might refer me to DCYF for early intervention or something. If I’d delivered through the department, I have no idea who would have done it, and I probably would have had little voice in the circumstances of my birthing. Thankfully I did not stay long enough to get acquainted with their delivery system.
Meanwhile, back in Rhode Island. My first visit to the clinic, I was met by the nurse I’d talked to on the phone, who remembered our conversation. (This was Dawn, mentioned above, who was my doula. See, it all comes full circle.) Mary treated me like a friend from the start. They all seemed *happy* that I was there. And I knew I could talk to them—I could be honest about what I was doing and thinking about, and not only would they not judge, they’d probably agree with me. Imagine that!
Did you feel adequately informed of your options?
For the most part, yeah. Honestly, there was so much information out there, I got kind of overwhelmed. How to sort through it all? How to know what’s important to know and what’s not? How to make decisions regarding something you can’t ever truly know about until you’re *in* it? I don’t do well under information overload.
How do you feel about the safety of birth in a hospital vs outside of a hospital?
I don’t think it’s about hospital versus not-hospital, but rather about who’s handling the birth, if you trust them and they know their sh*t.
Is there anything you would change about public policy relating to birth/maternity care? Why/how?
Pretty much everything. Why? Because it’s all wrong. How? I don’t know, a coup? All the crunchy pregnant people of the world could be quite the proverbial force to be reckoned with.
What do you feel were the most influential factors surrounding your birth? Why?
Ina May Gaskin and The Farm. Mary Mumford-Haley and the clinic. The crunchiness and anti-establishment-ness that pervades all aspects of my life. It keeps me critical of the status quo and helps me to find alternative spaces where I belong.
Who owns birth?
I would like to say “the community,” but let’s face it: community is dead in our society. Between the atomization of the nuclear family and the impersonal and diabolical interference of the government on our bodies, we’ve pretty much only got ourselves.
I guess I can still say “the community”—and define “the community” as the person who’s pregnant, and those nearest and dearest, who will be most affected by the birth—be it the other parent, or, as in my case, family and friends. My son only needs one parent—he’s got tons of aunts and uncles, who are not literal aunts and uncles (I’m an only child), but who are his family, his community.
Want to know more about Vanessa?
Check out her blog Unchained Sunday to learn about real food, parenting and a unique perspective on life. You can also read her birth story, which I happened to find quite powerful. Thanks Vanessa!
HOW TO JOIN THE KNOWING BIRTH SERIES
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you the questionnaire directly. There are no requirements, only that you have a voice about birth and want to share it openly and honestly.
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