My husband and I once lived in Mexico for five years and, while there, I was constantly puzzled by the Mexican's term for giving birth: "to bring to the light". Such a blessed refer ence to an experience which I had always thought of as horrible didn't make sense at all.
It didn't make sense—that is—until Dick and I studied on our own, learned to ignore the scare tales with which we were flooded and brought our third child to the light by ourselves in our own home. Now—nine years later—I've had two more children the same way and am teaching the Lamaze Method of Training for Childbirth to other couples. Naturally, I've developed some ideas on the subject that I'd like to share.
First and foremost, if you want to have your baby at home, be very, very faithful about pre-natal checkups. The slightest indication of possible trouble should send you to a hospital for the birth. Really good nutrition (read Adelle Davis) is another important part of preparing for childbirth: natural and unrefined foods, lots of fruits and vegetables . . . you know what I mean.
The study of some method of birth "training" is also extremely vital. I prefer Lamaze, having found it most effective in my own experience and having seen it work over and over for the parents I've instructed. Lamaze or not, however, you should know—and know well—some way of controlling the possible pain and discomfort of a delivery. Wide-awake parents, who are informed and aware of what is happening during normal birth and who know what to do to keep the mother comfortable and to assist—not impede—nature, are vitally important in any delivery . . . and especially so for home deliveries.
You should also (unless you're an Amazon) have a third person—in addition to the mother and father—take the childbirth training with you. A mother in labor should not be left alone and we always have a trusted adult (someone we vibe with) handy to run errands, fetch water, etc. It will be ideal if you can find a doctor who will come and assist if needed and not interfere when not needed. It will also be unlikely. Right or wrong—to avoid hassles—we've learned to simply not tell anyone when we're planning something so outrageous as having a baby in our own home.
You should be making other preparations as the time for delivery approaches. Have the bed protected with rubber or plastic sheets several weeks in advance, in case the water breaks at night. We used newspapers on the bed for our first home delivery but found them too crackly and didn't repeat that idea. When you know for certain you're in labor remove the plastic, make the bed with clean sheets, put the plastic back on over the linen and then put another clean sheet on top of the plastic. After the birth you'll be able to strip down to the underneath sheets and have a clean, fresh bed again with little hassle.
You won't need great tubs of boiling water although a good potful is handy to wash mother with after the birth and some doctors and midwives used to apply warm wet towels to the perineum (where baby's head emerges) to soften the muscles and help stretching. Gather together a large batch of clean rags, old towels, etc. during the pregnancy. Launder them well, dry them in the sun and wrap them to keep them clean. You'll find these cloths useful as pads to catch leaking fluids under mother.
Have some baby clothes ready, where your assistant can find them easily . . . and be sure your room, igloo, tipi or whatever is WARM. One couple I heard of recently had a cold wind sweeping into the birthing room through cracks and broken windows. The mother-to-be was in great discomfort—not from labor—but from COLD. And remember: that little baby will experience a drop of about twenty degrees when born, even if the room is over 70° F. So don't cool it, warm it.
I'm not going into all the training information here. I don't think you should attempt to learn how to have a baby at home from a magazine article—or even a complete book or books, for that matter—anyway. Make every attempt to find a good instructor: first-rate training is worth going some distance for. And once you know what you're doing, practice and practice and practice what you'll actually do during your delivery. If you want to reap the rewards of "going it on your own", in other words, you must expect to pay the proper dues.
We've found that boiled shoestring makes a good, unbreakable tie for the cord once the baby is born. This tying is not the Great Mystery the medical profession would have you believe. You simply boil the shoestring and scissors a half hour, cover and leave until needed. Then you tie a knot tightly around the cord a few inches from baby and make another tie—again, very tightly—a few inches from that and cut between.*
Putting the baby to the breast soon after birth helps prevent excessive bleeding from the mother. If the placenta (afterbirth) doesn't come spontaneously soon after the birth get a doctor. I've heard of Indian mothers who expelled afterbirth by getting on their knees, crossing their arms over their tummys and bending over. Maybe it works . . . I don't know. If you have any trouble, my advice remains: get a doctor.
If you're planning to have a baby at home you're sure to get a lot of "Think of the risk . . . you're jeopardizing your baby. . . what if you die!?" etc., etc. ad nauseaum. Of course, there is some justification for this talk . . . but did you know that—in countries where home delivery is the usual procedure for normal births—the infant and maternal mortality rate is actually LOWER than it is in this country.
That's right. It's safer to have a baby in England, Sweden, the Netherlands and about ten other countries where normal deliveries at home are considered "standard", than it is to have a baby here in the United States where intricate and almost-mechanized deliveries are rapidly becoming the norm. To put it another way: complications during birth can and do take place . . . but not nearly as often as the Nervous Nellies would like us to believe.
THERE IS NO LAW STATING THAT BABIES MUST BE BORN IN HOSPITALS. Don't let anyone con you into thinking there is. Such a law would be unconstitutional. Home is a groovy place to give birth and having a baby there minimizes the trauma for all family members, especially other children.
After much thought and five babies of my own I've come to feel that I much prefer the joy, sense of oneness with husband and baby and the risks of home delivery to the "maybe safe" alternative of the cold, de-humanized, antiseptic and unsatisfactory delivery increasingly offered by the medical profession. After all, it's not MY fault for desiring a good experience . . . it's THEIRS for not offering one.
Thank God that a few wonderful hospitals and doctors are now waking up to the growing need for more awareness of the vital human values inherent in the birth experience. These enlightened souls are actually trying to provide hospital safety without sacrificing human warmth and, in some countries, mobile emergency maternity units—that contain all the equipment which might be needed and that are parked outside the home during delivery—have been built. This trend should be encouraged and, I'm sure, will develop in response to people's demands. You can help this "liberation movement" by writing letters to hospitals, doctors, departments of health and newspapers presenting your views.
So kiddies, to sum up ole Gran's advice: If you intend to have a baby at home, study and prepare and have all necessary supplies ready beforehand. If you have to visit every doctor within 50 miles to find one you dig and that digs natural childbirth, do so. If you can't find such a doctor, at least keep on going to the best one you can find for your regular checkups and hunt up someone who can train you, your husband and a close friend in one of the good (such as Lamaze) delivery techniques. If you're a longhair, ward off any showdown with the Public Health people right in front by keeping your pad scrupulously clean and by complying with the laws regarding birth certificates.
If there is any indication of trouble before or during labor, go to a hospital or get a doctor to come immediately. Having babies at home is not modern nor approved nor even recommended today . . . but an increasing number of folks are choosing to believe that it is both dignified and RIGHT to do so. It's time the medical profession faced the fact and took steps to provide safety and care for delivery in the home. That's where babies were meant to be born.
Good luck. Let me know how it goes for you.
JOHN STARR, M.D. COMMENTS: Contrary to popular belief, boiling is not a guaranteed effective way of killing germs on either scissors or the material used to tie an umbilical cord. Heat resistant tetanus and hepatitis germs can be killed only by pressure cooking the objects to be sterilized at maximum pressure setting for at least 20 minutes.
Surgical gloves (sterile and disposable, size 7 or 8) should be worn when tying baby's cord or whenever touching any area of mother injured in birth. Tetanus (in the baby) and childbed fever (in the mother) can result from improper sterilizing techniques and from not using gloves and masks to perform the delivery. Surgical masks and gloves are available from a physician's supply house (see the yellow pages).