When I was pregnant with my first in 2009, I had this idea that women who have their babies at home had some exceptional birthing abilities (or just couldn’t get in the car fast enough). Maybe they had really large pelvises, or were skilled in hypno-birthing, or were just uberconfident. I didn’t fit into any of those categories, and thought perhaps the hospital was the best place for your average Betty Birther like me, who felt pain, had no patience for imagining I was on a beach, and yelled a lot during my first birth. I felt like I had no place having my baby at home–and I wasn’t even really sure I wanted to. My birthing mojo had been stolen, and I had to find a way to get it back…
You could say I was a reluctant home birther. I always assumed women who have their babies at home just know that they know that they know. I didn’t. My first birth was in a hospital, and though there was plenty I could grumble about (you want to take my baby for a hearing test at 3am, really?!), I felt comfortable with the decision after considering both a birth center and briefly, a home birth. The idea of a home birth appealed to me on a visceral level – it felt like the most natural thing to do. Yet, I knew plenty of moms, and they all delivered their babies in hospitals, so how could bad could institutionalized birth be?! Plus, my husband and mother, the two most important people in my life, didn’t support it. At all. It was the “What-if-something-goes-wrong” argument. No amount of Ricki Lake could convince either of them otherwise, and it didn’t seem worth the effort. (I won’t spend time here talking about the safety of home birth, but feel free to check out some studies yourself!)
And really, my hospital birth wasn’t all that bad. It was pretty ordinary, and maybe a little boring for the doctor waiting in the wings, in case the midwife needed support. I didn’t get an epidural, wasn’t induced, wasn’t monitored very frequently. One of the nurses even said in a quiet tone, “We love these kinds of births. We hardly ever get to see them and they seem so real!” (Yes, as I am screaming, I mentally note that there is nothing fake about the intensity of a contraction.) After my baby was born, I requested they not cut the cord, not administer eye drops, or a Vitamin K shot, or bathe the baby, or vaccinate…needless to say, my “birth plan” was pored over by everyone who came in the room, just to make sure they got it all right.
I’ll admit – it was tiring to continually say, “Yes, you read that right. No, no Hep B. No, please don’t wash off the vernix.” And although at firstI chuckled, I got tired of seeing the biohazard symbol on my baby’s little plastic box, just because I refused her bath. (The plastic box is a whole different issue.)
Fast forward 3 years, and despite an enormous amount of research, interviews, and meeting homebirthing moms through writing The Other Baby Book, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go the home birth route during my second pregnancy. I truly supported and encouraged homebirth as an option for pregnant moms, but still had some hard-to-articulate concerns about the pain (was I prepared to handle another birth like my first again??). I knew at that point a home birth was likely going to be a much better overall experience than a hospital birth, but I also knew my husband’s stance, and didn’t look forward to the push back I thought I’d get from the rest of our family. So, I decided to find a new midwife (mine had moved on from the practice), go back to the hospital, and suck up the emotional drain of explaining myself to each new nurse on shift.
But my first appointment with a hospital midwife was disappointing enough to be my last. After waiting an hour (HOUR!), only to talk about testing, and percentiles, and risks for 30 minutes, I had a sour taste in my mouth. The midwife I met with was supposed to be one of the most sympathetic to natural birth, and yet I didn’t get that impression at all. It felt much more like pregnancy was one big “What if?” The last thing I wanted was for someone else to be casting doubts about the next nine months, and about birth in general. I wanted a birth provider who was knowledgable enough to provide excellent care, who shared the same birth philosophy with me – that birth is a natural, normal occurrence. I felt really discouraged after my appointment, and my thoughts kept drifting back to a home birth. I called a friend who recently had her baby at home, and she came right over to talk me through some of my concerns. I’ll never forget her words.
“There are risks no matter where you birth. Do you trust God with the outcome of your birth, no matter where it is and what happens?” I nodded, though I pondered those words for the days and months to come. “Then have your baby where you have the most peace, and don’t listen to anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. Even me.” It’s amazing how friends can speak the words we most need to hear, but don’t have courage enough to speak to ourselves.
The more I thought about birthing at home, the more excited I became. I had moved on from just not wanting to be in a hospital, to embracing the idea of being at home. So, I cautiously brought up the idea of a home birth to my husband, and he agreed to meet a few midwives. It helped that by this time, Miriam and another dear friend had both had positive home birth experiences.
We started by meeting a very experienced midwife, who I knew had an answer for every question under the sun. Mark was impressed. I liked her, but wasn’t sure it was the best fit…especially for over $5,000! From there, I dug through a local list serv and got recommendations for other midwives. I called a few, but when I met Sarafina, I knew she’d be the one. She has a presence about her–calming, empowering, and someone I’d be OK with seeing me naked. Seriously. That’s a factor. In other words, I felt totally at ease around her. Sarafina’s partner, Jessica, has this quiet strength, and bonus: they have an amazing student midwife, Kara, who never stopped smiling, and always complemented whatever I was cooking when she came over (way to my heart – love my food)!
The entire experience went beyond my expectations. What stands out though, is the quality of prenatal and postpartum care. I looked forward to every appointment–and not just to hear the baby’s heartbeat, but to have a conversation about what was going on in all aspects of my life. It felt like a very holistic model of care, rather than a fractionated, numbers driven model. They always presented my options, but never once did I feel like there was any agenda. I could chose what testing I wanted, or how to approach certain issues. I didn’t feel pressured, coerced, or belittled for my choices. I felt informed, and encouraged to make my own best decision. Barring some of my physical discomforts, I was at peace with my pregnancy in a way that I wasn’t for my first.
It’s the little things that make a difference too – Sarafina and Jessica came to my house for the third trimester (rather than me driving to their office), and I can’t tell you how fantastic that was. I didn’t have to disturb Anabella, or rush around in traffic, in snow, to make an appointment on time. I could be in my pajamas, or eating breakfast. There are five (!) postpartum visits to boot. I was so surprised to learn that. Sarafina gave me a great hip massage on day 3, Jessica did some breastfeeding troubleshooting, laundry lugging and folding, and general encouragement on day 7, and all along the way, they were available for any questions I’ve had. I’m going to miss our times together. I may just have to have another baby…
What about you? Where did you birth? What was the decision-making process like?
NOTE: This post is about the stomach bug. I use words like vomit and diarrhea frequently. You’ve been warned!
Well here’s a post I hadn’t intended to write at 39 weeks and 5 days pregnant! Just six days before my estimated due date, I woke up in the middle of the night, and I thought I was getting ready to go into labor. My body was cleaning itself out. I woke up my husband to give him a heads up…but about an hour later I realized this was not labor. It was viral gastroenteritis–aka, the stomach bug.
I made preparations for illness prevention this winter by praying for health each day, drinking elderberry syrup each morning, washing my hands almost excessively, eating a clean diet, and diffusing thieves oil throughout my home. But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t predict that a small child in my daughter’s gymnastics class would get sick within a few feet of me. (Thankfully, the little girl was late to class, so she was next to the bleachers where the moms sat, and not on the mat with our girls!) I’m nearly certain that’s where it came from, and it was a good reminder to me that you can’t control life!
Because we had so many friends who were sick, weeks earlier I had talked to my midwives and done research on what happens when a mother has a virus during labor. The vast majority of cases said that our bodies suppress labor until mom is better, and that when in labor, our symptoms often disappear as our bodies put all our energy into birthing the baby. I came across so many interesting stories of women who had respiratory illnesses, broken ankles or bloodied knees, and didn’t even know it while they were in labor. Just hearing this helped me to stay calm. I had a deep sense the baby would not be coming at least until the worst was over.
While this may seem obvious, please do contact your care provider if you get sick. While it’s generally a fast illness, it’s important that they are up to speed on what’s going on, to keep an eye on any issues that may arise.
After about 18 hours I felt better, and 30 hours into the virus, I was out of bed and free of aches and pains. By 48 hours, I had eaten egg pancakes, mashed potatoes, chicken soup and bacon! While I’m certainly not a doctor, I’d like to offer you some strategies I used to feel better fast.
I didn’t drink anything for an hour or two after the vomiting stopped. By that time, I was pretty parched, and knew water was not a good solution (despite common practice). If you’ve had several bouts of vomiting, you’ll have lost a good supply of electrolytes, so a rehydration drink is best. You can add some sugar or honey and sea salt to regular water to make a simple drink, but that didn’t really sound appealing to me. I just happen to have lots of coconut water around the house, and it’s been amazing. At first I drank it straight, and then I added a little sea salt, honey, and fresh lemon to it. It tastes delicious, and has really replenished me. I’d caution against commercial electrolyte drinks and flat soda, as they almost always have yucky additives that you don’t want in your body when you’re trying to heal!
I also sipped peppermint, chamomile and ginger tea. The peppermint helps to reduce your fever and soothe your belly, and the chamomile is an anti-spasmodic, helping to reduce stomach cramps. I also had pretty bad nausea on and off for the 12 hours after I got sick, so ginger was a must-have to keep that at bay. Once I moved into the diarrhea phase, I switched to an elder flower and red raspberry leaf tea, both of which are helpful for regulating digestion and improving diarrhea. (Here’s a great list of different herbs and how they can help during cold and flu season.)
While it’s important not to push yourself, dehydration can be dangerous to a mama and her baby, so make drinking a priority! The last thing I wanted was to have to go into the hospital for an IV, so I kept the coconut water, tea, and plain water, (which I actually didn’t touch) next to my bed, each with straws, to make sipping from a reclined position easier. Room temperature or warm drinks are much easier on the belly but if the only way to get it in you is chilled, do what you need to do to amp up your fluids!
Once I felt well enough to get out of bed (about 24 hours later), I took warm baths with 2 cups of the elder flower and raspberry tea, to help with the diarrhea. If you have a fever but are still up for a bath, make sure it is lukewarm! You can do a lemon foot bath to reduce fever. Just place slices of lemon the bath or a large pot and soak your piggies for about 20 minutes. You can also take a relaxing bath with a bit of peppermint oil to reduce fever.
While technically not a food, I have been taking a triple dose of my probiotic to replace the good bacteria in my gut that’s been swept away. I have no affiliation with this company, but I LOVE GutPro. (It seems a bit pricey, but I still have 1/3 of the bottle and it’s been over a year, so it’s actually really economical and recommended by Natasha McBride, founder of the GAPS diet.) It’s unlikely you’ll be eager to eat much in the first few days, but I found it helpful to start with bone broth, homemade applesauce made with just apples and some cinnamon, bananas and fresh pressed juices. I’m steering clear of bottled juices as they have a very high sugar content, which exacerbates diarrhea!
I’m also taking 1 T of elderberry syrup several times a day. Two other options that I have not tried, but seem to work well for others are: Diatomaceous Earth and Activated Charcoal.
This was a little easier before kids. And nearly impossible at 39 weeks pregnant. Just rolling over hurt. Talking, opening my eyes, having the lights on–it was brutal for a few hours. I didn’t sleep at all that first night, but I stayed in bed for the first 18 hours (really, what else could I do?!) Thankfully, viral gastroenteritis is a self-limiting illness which means it gets better on its own. In other words, this too shall pass! Resting your body is so, so important, especially if you are primed for labor in the near future. I’ll admit, it’s been a bit painful to see my perfectly set up homebirth room turn into a recovery room. My kitchen was meticulous the night I got sick, because just in case I went into labor, I didn’t want anyone to have to deal with a mess. Now…well, let’s just say my 3 year old poured the milk from her cereal all over the floor this morning. Gleefully. But, I have to let go of these things, because a healthy body is far more important than a clean house!
Rest isn’t just for our bodies though. Give your mind a rest too. Stress is powerful, and can completely deplete our energy even when we’re well. So grab a book, that magazine you’ve been wanting to read, or call your mother-in-law to clean or watch the kids if you really have to. Relapses, unfortunately, are common when we push too soon, so do whatever it takes to give yourself ample time to recover and regain your strength! You’ve got this, Mama!
After three years of nursing my preschooler, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of what I’ll want close by during those early weeks of breastfeeding. While last time around I had a whole “Nursing Nook,”I think I’ll be moving a bit more from room to room as I nurse and play with my older daughter. So, I’ve created a portable basket that I can bring with me wherever we may be!
Burp Cloths/Cloth Diapers
Each mama is different, but since I know that I have an overabundance of milk, having cloths and breastpads readily available at all times is a must. To deal with a fast and furious letdown, I’d often remove AnaBella from the breast, catch the fire-hose spray with a cloth diaper or burp cloth, and then relatch. Sometimes the fast spray can cause gulping, which in turn causes gas, and a frustrated and bloated baby. (Read more about oversupply and forceful letdown here.)
Breastpads or something to catch your milk!
And while one breast was spraying my newborn in the face, the other was leaking down my chest, my stomach, all over my shirt – not exactly a pleasant feeling (or smell, after it dried…). I’d usually put a breastpad on the other side to catch the leaks and keep myself more comfortable. If you’re a heavy leaker, you may want to wear them for part of the day when you’re not nursing, too. I have a few disposable ones for going out and about, but while in the home I’ll use these affordable organic cotton ones or even wool. I also have a stash of cut up old receiving blankets, towels, or cloth diapers. I go through a lot of these each day in those early weeks! If you do buy some actual breastpads, make sure you wash them in a lingerie bag!
Water, water, water
This may seem obvious, but how often did I forget to get a glass of water as I sat down to nurse? It was like the second I had all the pillows arranged and AnaBella latched, a wave of intense thirst would come over me. My husband was constantly running water. I’ll put bottles of water around the house for the first few weeks, in addition to my stainless steel water bottle, but having a few in the basket will ensure that I won’t be left parched.
I don’t have any snacks in the basket just yet, but when little girl arrives, we’ll stock it with dried fruit, nuts, fresh fruit, and some energy bars. I found I was much hungrier when nursing than I was pregnant!
As a first time mom, I had terrible cracked and bloodied nipples. I know now that AnaBella’s latch was not right, but the day I got out of the hospital, I picked up some prescription nipple cream. I never used it. Just the idea that I was putting chemicals on my nipples, and then my baby was putting her mouth there, was unappealing. I muscled through the pain, and let my breasts air dry, dipped my nipples in hot, salty water, and expressed breastmilk on them to heal. It worked, but not as quickly as I’d hoped. While I’m more experienced in recognizing a poor latch now, I did make a batch of nipple cream just in case. AnaBella and I have already used half of it on our hands during these dry winter months. I will DEFINITELY be making this again!
For those practicing EC, having a bowl or little potty on hand is helpful. It’s a lot easier to have a receptacle on hand, than have to disturb the nursing session, or clean a dirty diaper afterward! Some people really like these potty bowls. We didn’t have one the first time and I didn’t find it necessary, as I used an old plastic bowl, or something from the dollar store–or even, if I can maneuver it–strategically get her bum over the sink!
This is totally personal preference. Some people are comfortable just holding the baby in the arms, some like special breastfeeding pillows (though please do check what materials may be in the pillow first–many are treated with dangerous chemicals to meet flammability requirements) or buckwheat pillows that mold to the baby, and some just practice laid back breastfeeding, and keep baby on their chest! You’ll figure out what works for you, but having couch pillows and a bed pillow or two handy isn’t a bad idea.
If you are birthing at home, you’ll likely get a kit list or suggestions from your midwives. I won’t include the basics here, as that is likely covered. Instead, I’ll give you a run down of some essentials that may not be on the list, but will help your birthing experience!
As you can see, I have a “baby” kit, and a “mama” kit. The baby stuff is simply items that the midwives had on their birth kit list. But on the right, my “mama kit” has a few extra items I pulled them in a repurposed toy bin that I’m keeping in the space next to where the birthing tub will be.
Sleeping bra.I found this indispensable in my first few weeks postpartum. I didn’t want to put on a real bra, but I wanted to be somewhat modest in front of people too. I plan to wear this bra while in the tub as well, especially if there will be any photos or videos taken. It took me a long time to find one in a dark color – white seems to be the majority pick!
Coconut oil. This is for perineal support if I’m not in the tub, or as a carrier oil for an essential oil massage. (I tend to buy from either Tropical Traditions, when they have a free shipping promotion, or Mountain Rose Herbs.)
Birthing aromatherapy blend. I got this for my first birth and loved it. It’s basically a mixture of essential oils, including clary sage, bergamont, rose, and geranium, in distilled water, to be sprayed in the room to stimulate labor and energize mom.
Candles. I have both a patchouli jasmine candle I fell in love with a my local drug store months ago (clean burning – amazing!), and some battery operated ones in case I don’t want the scent.
Lavender sock. Yup, I filled my husband’s old sock with equal parts lavender blossoms and flaxseed, and used an elastic band to fasten it. I’ve used some version of this to ward off headaches, backaches, etc. It can be dampened and warmed in the microwave and placed on your forehead for relaxation. (Though keep in mind some people are stimulated by too much lavender.)
Snacks. I have a packaged larabar in the picture for now, but my 3.5 year old will likely eat it before Labor Day. I’ll probably bring out my homemade ones for labor. I also have a 5 pound jar of honey and some spoons. =)
Bottled Water. This is actually more for my team – our water filter pitcher is woefully slow, so I have two dozen water bottles on hand. I don’t normally buy water, but I thought it would be a lot easier than having to keep track of cups and wait for water pitchers to fill!
Straws. These are helpful for the midwives or my husband to put into my big gulp cup of homemade labor drink!
Scriptures. One of the ways I was able to stay focused and relaxed during the majority of my first labor was by memorizing portions of Scripture and meditating on them during contractions. I have four passages that I’ve “edited” to take me about 60-90 seconds to say in my head…approximately the length of a contraction! (Psalm 31; Psalm 62; Psalm 63; Philippians 4:4-7, 11-13)
Music. My mom bought me Childbirth in the Glory for my first pregnancy, but I didn’t really listen to it much. But after reading about Mama Natural’s experience with the cd, I thought I’d give it another go. I’m enjoying the Scripture declarations, and the instrumental music is SO soothing, so I have a playlist on my phone and some earbuds, should I so desire to listen!
Birthing Ball. This isn’t in the picture, but I found it really helpful during my first birth. My preschooler is really into bouncing on it all.the.time, so it’s hanging out in the attic for now!
Tennis ball. Thanks to a suggestion from one of our Facebook readers, I’ve added a tennis ball to use for counter pressure. (Thanks, Meg!)
I also have arnica, pads, mesh undies, and some comfy front-open pjs for afterwards!
What about you? What did you have in your birth kit?
I’ve been prepping our home for my upcoming homebirth for the last few weeks. I thought you may be interested in seeing how things have panned out. There will be further explanations, links, lists, and recipes in the coming days and weeks so check back again!
Please note: I did not “stage” anything. This is exactly how it looks every day. You’ll see my dirty laundry basket, a random screwdriver on our changing table, and that bag of amazing gluten free brownies that I am desperately trying not to eat. My three year old is part of the video, too. I want to show that homebirth is very accesible. You don’t need a huge home (we live in 1300 sq feet, in a second floor apartment), nor do you need any fancy set-up or lots of money. (This differs widely – our hospital birth was $5K – almost $2K more than a homebirth, but for others with better insurance, hospital births cost less out of pocket.) I bartered with my midwives for the use of one of the birth tubs as our bathtub is so small that half my belly sticks out. All of the supplies I need for birth have been borrowed, found at the back of the linen closet, or purchased from discount stores.
I’m pretty sure it never occurred to me I’d ever give birth at home. The first time around I headed straight to the hospital, hooked up to the epidural, pushed her out and breathed a sigh of relief.
After researching homebirth extensively while co-writing The Other Baby Book, my perspective on birthing began to shift. Birthing was not a medical event in most situations, I realized. It was a lifecycle event that belonged to the realm of the family, and it could be meaningful and loving and powerful.
Eight days ago I gave birth to my second child, at home in my bedroom. My three year old was watching raptly, making me laugh, bringing me presents and playing with the midwife’s birthing stool. My husband and two midwives rounded out my team of supporters, helping me to move through resistance and bring a beautiful new soul into the world.
When my midwives came by the day after the birth to check on us, one remarked that my labor was a million births in one. What did she mean by that, I asked, having only been present at two myself. It had its boring parts, she said, like when she showed up and I was laboring in the tub. It had its intense parts, like when we were all shouting “yes!” in unison and pushing the baby out. It had its restful parts, like when I fell asleep between contractions during transition. It had its calm parts and its fearful parts, and its dramatic parts – like when the baby’s head was out and he began kicking his body visibly inside me, trying to work his way out, something my midwife had never seen in her 35 years of practice. It had its funny parts, like when I initiated a round of laughter yoga, and my midwife joined in. It had its romantic parts, like when I asked my husband to kiss me as I pushed the baby out.
For me, though, the birth came down to a tremendous physical and psychological challenge – overcoming my fear of the intense sensations I was feeling and finding my way through them using tools that shifted with each contraction. One contraction could be mitigated through rhythmic breathing, another through back massage, another through hugging my husband tightly. I was afraid, not of what could happen to me, but of what was happening to me, of why I was unable to mitigate the sensation through relaxation, as I’ve been able to in yoga. My midwife wisely explained to me that my goal wasn’t to relax my uterus, that it actually needed to be clenching and tightening in order to push that baby out.
When I finally pushed, then pulled my baby out and held him on my chest, I felt a huge sense of relief, as if I’d conquered a physical challenge akin to a marathon or massive mountain climb. I felt humbled by the experience yet elated by the magnitude of what I’d achieved.
Everything about birthing in my home environment was perfect – being available to my 3 year old, even nursing her back to sleep while I was in active labor; having free range of my house, including bed and bathtub; having access to my clothing, blankets, pillows, and food; being surrounded by skilled caretakers who were followed my lead and contributed helpful suggestions when needed; and not needing to go anywhere when it was over.
My birth experience was challenging, it was exhilarating and it was memorable. I’m glad that I had the courage to stick with it while living a society which has been trained to think of birth as a medical event fraught with danger. I’ve added birthing to my personal list of mothering experiences that I’ve been able to reclaim as my own.
Given my new mommy status, The Other Baby Blog will be going on hiatus for the summer. In the meantime, please check out our active community on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheOtherBabyBook.
Miriam J. Katz is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year, where you can find a guide to safe co-sleeping and other fun tools. Miriam is a career and life coach whose passion is to help women realize their life purpose. She lives in Boston with her husband and two children.
I’m two weeks away from my due date, anticipating the birth of my second baby. Since becoming a mom, making my way through the first three mystifying years of parenthood, and sorting through mountains of research while co-authoring The Other Baby Book, my perspective has shifted. As a result, so have my decisions. I’ll give you a brief run down of what I plan to change this time around.
1. Birth. We’re preparing a natural home birth, a huge departure from the epidural hospital birth I planned the first time around. After sorting through the data, I found that home births were as safe or safer for healthy moms and babies, and I relish the thought of being surrounded by family and caring midwives who see birth as a empowering natural process. I also value being able to call the shots about how I labor and what happens to my baby immediately after birth.
2. Sleep. The first time around, I famously said that the baby would sleep in her crib, in her own room from day 1. I had all sorts of illegitimate fears about how bringing a baby into my bedroom might negatively impact my marriage, and misconceptions about healthy and appropriate sleep environments for newborns. This time we have a co-sleeper on hand, but we now know that the best way to optimize sleep and care for our baby will be to bring him/her safely into our bed from the start. (For a safe bed-sharing checklist, click here.)
3. Diapers. The first time around, I was afraid of the stigma and workload involved in cloth diapering. We used disposables for the first 4-5 months, though we pottied our baby beginning in her first week of life. This time around, I plan to use cloth from the beginning, and to be a bit more pro-active about pottying the baby both at night and when out on the town. With a 3 year old who’s very nurturing and attuned, I’m hoping that my little helper can help me keep our baby attuned to his/her pottying needs.
4. Baby Wearing. The first time around, I was terrified of putting my newborn in a carrier, and spent many hours holding her and sitting. With an active toddler to care for, this time around I’m planning to make a lightweight cotton wrap that I can use to tote the baby to all our activities. I’ve learned that there’s little cause for shlepping those heavy carseats everywhere, that the freer my hands are and the closer my baby is to me and to milk, the happier we all will be.