Wow, it's been a long time since I blogged! It's a lot harder to blog or, well, do anything when you're on a newborn's time schedule that's for sure. And I will definitely get back to business eventually (my Fall brides just breathed a sigh of relief! haha), but am choosing to take my time and luxuriate in the awesomeness and uniqueness of a new baby for as long as I reasonably can! I have, however, been wanting to write this post because so many people have literally been asking for it and I've been promising to do it for months. So here we go!
When Erik and I found out I was pregnant, well you know how that went. I wasn't exactly jumping for joy. I was scared, overwhelmed, and felt very alone. I cope with everything in my life by seeking knowledge... so I threw myself into books about pregnancy and birth (and later, babies). One of those books was Pushed, and for better or worse, that book terrified me. The history of obstetrics in our country is pretty pathetic really and learning where a lot of routine practices originated and why they've endured over time (hint, it's not for YOUR best interest) really shatters your confidence in the system... whether you had any to begin with. Basically, that book planted the seed for me that conventional care wasn't going to be right for me.
I was going to my OB/GYN office for monthly checkups during all this and the nurse practitioner who I saw there told me she couldn't attend the birth. She also told me not to worry because the Chippenham birth suites were really nice with hardwood floors and flatscreen TVs. Apparently, that's what makes other women feel better about where they're giving birth? To me, it was the most dismissive and trivial response to my concerns. So, I started the real search for alternatives.
There aren't many alternatives.
I concluded that we either had to go to a hospital, have a home birth, or find a birth center.
We really didn't want a home birth. We know others who have done it and the enormous judgement and disdain they felt from their family and friends for doing it wasn't appealing to us (which is a sad reason to dismiss something, but you know, people suck sometimes). There's also something about a home birth that really puts the ball in your court. It just felt extra overwhelming to us, even knowing we'd have a midwife and/or doula to support us, it's kind of scary, I think especially for first time parents, to imagine having your baby in your bedroom or wherever.
We did tour one hospital. I didn't look pregnant at all yet, so we were totally out of place in this tour full of women who were going to have their babies any second, but you know, we were trying to be prepared! Haha!
One of the things that had become really important to me was having a natural birth with no drugs and as little intervention as possible, and to PREFERABLY have a water birth. The most important reason for all this was just that it's overall safer for baby and isn't that always goal #1? Here are a few other reasons... but I think Willow and I had no trouble with breastfeeding because she wasn't born on drugs so she knew exactly what to do, and that's a huge thing! The fact that women obsessively abstain from Advil and sushi throughout their pregnancies and then load up on pain meds for birth baffles me. I mean, I've been through labor now, I GET IT... but the two ideas just don't seem to coexist!
So anyway, what I really wished for was a birth center. A place that would make Erik and I feel safe in the case of an emergency but was also outside the bounds of a hospital and its mindless one size fits all rules and routines. The idea of placing Willow's birth into the hands of whatever doctor happened to be on call at that time (especially when it's a rare doctor that I like) sounded especially awful to me.
Well, there weren't any birth centers near us. Not remotely. I was so bummed. It seemed like the happy compromise of philosophies to me. Eventually I gave up and figured we would have to go to a hospital after all. This didn't help my dreary state of mind at the time.
A few weeks later, I was searching for doulas because if I was going to a hospital I was at least bringing a freakin doula with me! For those who don't know, doulas are awesome people who support and advocate for you during labor. They may help you find more comfortable positions, work magic massage points that ease your pain, explain to the father/birth partner what he can do to support you, or even explain what's happening when the midwife or doctor tells you something. Anyway, this search randomly led me to a midwife named Corina(!) who had left a comment on one of these doula's Facebook page about the birth center she was planning to open. I couldn't believe it and called Corina right away!
Now is where I tell you that Erik would have happily gone to the hospital, but he wanted ME to be comfortable. That's why he even entertained the idea of meeting with a midwife. And I'm so glad he did because that is all it took to convince both of us that this was the right thing for us.
Our first meeting with Corina was much like the subsequent meetings we'd have... it was twice as long as planned, so we were in her little apartment (the birth center didn't even exist yet!) for two hours. We asked tons of questions like the noobs we were and she answered all of them patiently and enthusiastically. Contrast that to the one OB/GYN appointment Erik attended with me when we waited for at least twenty minutes for our appointment to start, and then had a nice "everything going ok? good, ok!" five minute check in with the doctor before being sent on our way. Erik said, "seriously that's what we waited for!?" And I said, yes I wait for this every month. IT'S SO MEANINGFUL AND NECESSARY.
When we walked out of that first meeting with Corina, we were both so happy. Erik and I are judgmental, in the literal sense of the word. Neither of us warm to others easily. But you can't NOT warm to Corina. Her enthusiasm and comfort and frank realness were the perfect mixture that we needed. So despite our health insurance refusing to pay for a dime of midwifery care (ugh, ridic), we knew this was the best thing we could do for ourselves and our baby.
So for months we met with Corina and she did the normal physical exams and lab tests that we would have had through a doctor, but those always seemed like a formality at our appointments. They were the five minutes that we were obligated to do out of the hour (usually longer) that we spent talking about physical things like how to help my back pain or what our ideal birth looked like. But mostly mental things, like how we were feeling about this huge life change. And I do mean WE. One thing I loved especially was how much Erik was included in these appointments. It made me feel less alone in the journey. It made Erik feel involved and helped prepare him for the enormity that becoming a dad is. And honestly sometimes it felt like we were just hanging out and getting to know a new friend. Erik was emailing Corina Youtube videos he had told her about. I took pictures of the staff for their new website. We formed a RELATIONSHIP and built enormous trust with Corina.
Something small that always stood out to me was that she always asked my permission before she did anything. At every appointment, of course it was okay for her to touch me, but she always asked anyway because it's a personal, invasive thing for someone to put their hands on your stomach and feel around for your baby. Corina never made decisions FOR me. She presented options and asked what I wanted to do. Sometimes she'd say "go home, research it, and let me know at our next appointment." No one could say sweeter words to me regarding anything! I love research! Haha! She didn't assume we'd want Willow to be injected with vitamin K when she was born, she asked us.
Something she said was that she catches babies; moms deliver them. I liked that because I'd never considered how a doctor takes ownership of a birth when she says "I delivered the baby." Midwives empower YOU to do what you were capable of all along. That confidence building is so crucial, especially for a new mom. Many people asked me or Erik what our birth plans were and some of them were openly, or subtly unsupportive of natural birth or birth centers or midwives. I won't say it didn't bother me. I wish it didn't. And it never bothered me enough to make me doubt myself, but the confidence of a supportive midwife is especially helpful when friends or family are telling you how needlessly hard and awful what you're going to do will be. For the record, don't do that to a pregnant woman okay? You're being kind of a jerk :)
But a midwife "catching" a baby (which even that, they'll let you do if you want to!) is indicative of some of their overall philosophies during birth... like intervening as little as possible. If you read our birth story, you know Corina had an emergency family situation and we actually gave birth with Adrianna, who clearly lived by the same code. (Sidenote, that's how much we trusted Corina... when she said she knew the perfect midwife for us to replace her, we were completely on board without even meeting this new person because we knew Corina knew us that well!) Adrianna only checked our progress when I wanted her to, she used medication for me after Willow was born when it was necessary, she gave me the space and alone time to do what I needed to do, and she was thoughtful and cautious throughout the whole thing. At one point, she was deciding on something and told me she was going to go think about it and disappeared from the room for a few moments. I found that so reassuring. How can you not trust someone who takes their time and thinks through the ramifications of either scenario?
Our experience with the birth center itself was pretty unique. It was supposed to be finished in March(?) I can't even remember at this point. But naturally, construction and legalities made it all take much longer than it should have and it wound up only being finished maybe a week before Willow arrived! She was literally their first baby, which is historical and fun to say but in those weeks leading up, was pretty stressful! I was definitely worrying it wouldn't be ready in time. But you know? Even if it hadn't been, we had placed so much confidence in Corina and her team that when she said she could support us in a home birth if it came to that, we were actually okay with it. It wasn't ideal, but the idea wasn't as scary as it had been a few months before.
So we moved from meetings at Corina's apartment, to a few couches at the wellness center before it even had drywall up, then to a finished wellness center, then to an unfinished birth center, and then to the beautiful, finished birth center! It was definitely a unique journey. We had our final appointment just this past week. That's another special thing about midwives, they really support you after birth when you're trying to figure out what the heck to do with this new human! Three days after we went home with Willow, Corina and Ke'Andre (her student midwife who we also adored!) came to our house to make sure everything was going okay. They stayed for two hours! Mostly, we reminisced about the birth, but Willow and I got a check up. Erik got a lesson in brewing the ultimate sitz baths. And everyone took shots of Erik's finest rum to celebrate the arrival of such a perfect little Willow!
After that, we continued going to the birth center every two weeks until now. Almost two months later! It was nice to have the breastfeeding advice and just general new baby support. Now, I'm a little heartbroken because no pediatrician or any doctor will ever live up to such a nurturing, individualized experience.
If you're reading this, Corina, thank you SO MUCH. We're so happy your world traveling midwifery adventure somehow brought you here and that you're providing the Richmond area with such a needed service. Hopefully birth centers will become more and more popular. If we have another baby (IF... calm down, grandmas) there's no doubt where we'll go.
Check out Embrace's website if you want more info for yourself or someone you know!
More Willow pictures to come, obviously.