I know it's odd that I am technically on maternity leave and yet writing my first blog post in months. But as I *patiently* await the arrival of Baby R, I figured this would take my mind off things.
I've been doing a lot of reading and research over the past few months in anticipation of this experience. You see, some girls dream about their perfect wedding days, but I had instead always envisioned a peaceful natural birth experience.
I was born at The Midwife Center in Pittsburgh--this was back when it was a part of West Penn Hospital, and was very different than what it is now. It was always very awkward in school when we were asked what hospital we were born at. I would proudly state I was born at The Midwife Center, thinking I was special since everyone else in the class was born at one of the same 2 or 3 hospitals. I didn't realize at the time that it was a pretty unconventional thing to do. Again, I assumed the awkward responses and strange looks from the teachers were because I was special, not because it was "weird". If you aren't from Pittsburgh or are not aware, this city is renowned and quite proud of it's conventional healthcare systems and hospitals.
The plan was to have our baby at the newly renovated, free-standing midwife center. The best part was that insurance would cover it! Turns out that was too good to be true. I was expecting a more holistic, functional, patient-centered experience, and while I'm sure that would be the case compared to seeing an OB/GYN and having a hospital birth, my experience there was way too clinical for my liking. It started with me not liking how they rotated midwives and feeling like I was being talked down to and my voice not being heard, with a little bit of fear-mongering and shame thrown in. From there it just spiraled and the whole debacle in its entirety is quite long and, in retrospect, a stupid story that I really would like share eventually, but in the interest of time and space, I will just say that I lost what little faith I had left in our healthcare system.
This is just my experience. I'm not knocking The Midwife Center; I realize it would be the perfect setting for a lot of people. It just wasn't for me. The most important part of having a healthy pregnancy, labor, and childbirth is to feel safe and comfortable; for some women that is at hospital and for some women that is at home. Neither is right or wrong. A woman will know in her gut where she needs to be, and that's where she should be--to hell with what anyone else thinks. We are all entitled to our own unique experience.
I've talked to many people in the midwifery community as well as those who have given birth at this birth center multiple times and it is my understanding that midwifery has had to make a lot of compromises in recent years in order to be more respected in the mainstream healthcare community (and probably to get insurance to cover their services). I can see the good in this, but I'm also stubborn and do not think that the old school midwifery model should be abandoned. It's actually the norm in most countries in Europe in Canada, where home births attended by midwives are common and covered by health insurance...AND their maternal mortality rate is better than that of the US! In fact, despite that it is standard to have a hospital birth here, the United States has the worst maternal death rate of all the developed countries and it's only getting worse (and according the Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, a lot of maternal deaths are underreported in the United States).
So it was really weird to me that when people asked what hospital I was giving birth at and I responded with "The Midwife Center", I still, 30 years later, was met with awkward tension and the same puzzled looks I did when I was a child proudly boasting that I was delivered by a midwife. 9 times out of ten, the response I received was "Oh, that's different".
I transferred out a little over halfway through my pregnancy and a few weeks later settled on a home birth with an old school midwife who I absolutely adore and is probably one of my favorite people I have ever met. It made sense. I hate hospitals (not just dislike but probably have a clinical phobia of hospitals; they literally scare me) and I'm a homebody. At this point, I was so over discussing my birth plan with pretty much anyone besides my mom and husband (who I am extremely blessed to have had both their 100% unconditional support). It got to the point where I was months removed from The Midwife Center, but when asked, I would LIE and still tell people that's where I was giving birth. I was used to hearing "That's different" at this point, but after a few bad experiences of hearing people's uneducated thoughts on a home birth, I was absolutely not interested in hearing what anyone had to say about my educated, researched decisions and most importantly what I knew in my gut was best for me. Hearing "That's different" was much better than listening to anyone's selfish fear-mongering anxiety.
You see, it's not that I was ashamed of having a home birth. In fact, I am extremely proud of it (or else I wouldn't be sharing it publicly on the internet). But after the stress, anxiety and rollercoaster of emotions (hormones didn't help) I endured during my experience at The Midwife Center and while looking for a new provider I vibed with, I finally found myself back at that place where I was envisioning my perfect peaceful natural birth experience. To behold this mindset against was extremely important and valuable to me. Being a highly-sensitive empath, I was not going to risk letting anyone penetrate my good vibes and healthy mindset that I worked so hard to re-establish.
What really got my groove back was reading and researching (of course!). The more I read about classic midwifery, the more excited I got and my positive vibes quickly returned. My husband also read most of these books and it got him excited for this experience, too. That's what I love about the old school midwifery model. The father takes a very active role in labor and delivery and my midwife was adamant about including him in this process. His mindset is just as important as mine; although he had a much better time dealing with OPTF (Other People's Thoughts and Feelings, a term coined by Diane Sanfilippo regarding people's comments on your somewhat unconventional healthy lifestyle choices).
These are the books I gathered and read based on recommendations from midwives and my nutritional therapy community; therefore, most of them are geared toward a natural-ish birth. So while you won't find What to Expect When You're Expecting on this list, I do think some of these books will hold value no matter the type of birth experience you choose: hospital, home, medicated, C-Section, etc., and will prepare you for all possibilities (because you never know what's going to happen; if things do go not as planned you want to be as educated as possible about all your options). I have included in my reviews if I think the book would be appropriate for your experience of choice.