Our experience having our first child was not a pleasant one(long story for perhaps a different post). Thankfully, despite the difficulty, at the end of the day we were the overjoyed parents of a beautiful, happy, and healthy baby girl. Jump ahead 6 years and my wife and I are once again pregnant and trying to figure out how to have a better experience than the last time. My wife brought up the option of a birth center. Unlike my far more knowledgeable wife, I knew next to nothing about birth centers aside from the fact that there are birth centers and there’s maybe a midwife involved somehow and perhaps there’s a witch doctor wafting incense around the laboring mother who’s in a bathtub filled with mountain spring water because, you know, “natural”.
Needless to say, aside from the midwife thing, I was way off the mark. We did some research online and found a few centers near where we lived. We made phone calls, went on tours, and asked a lot of questions. Is it safe? What if something goes wrong? Do they do epidurals? Is it expensive? Will my insurance cover it? Can we do the witch doctor incense thing just for funsies?
Unsurprisingly, we were told that it is safe. We were told that they do not do epidurals, all natural, which is what my wife wanted. We were told that the midwifes were capable of resolving almost any issue that may arise during birth. We were told that it’s uncommon for things to complicate to the point where they would send you to a hospital and 99% of those cases ended in a successful birth. We were told we would have to supply our own incense wafting witch doctor, but hey, whatever blows your hair back.
As far as costs go, they varied quite a bit depending on the place and the services you wanted. For us, after what could be used from our health saving account, it was likely going cost between $2,000 and $3,000 out of pocket. Far less than the hospital bills from our first child which ended up being around $11,000(Thankfully, most of that was covered by our insurance at the time). I imagine the question of cost is going to vary from place to place and from person to person, depending on your situation.
Taking all that into account, we chose one of the centers. I was pleased to discover that this wasn’t just a place you go when you’re in labor. This was, much like the whole doctor and hospital thing, a full pregnancy term kind of service. We were to have regular prenatal and postpartum checkups, all the standard tests, and even an ultrasound. The main difference being, a midwife in place of a doctor. Aside from that, we were put into a group made up of 6 or 7 other expecting parents. This group was to meet weekly, usually along side our regular checkups. During our group meetings one of the midwifes or doulas would have a lesson for the group that ranged from “best diets for a healthy pregnancy” to “how to prepare your home for a child” to “how to approach a sexual relationship after birth” and everywhere between.
Because we were already parents, the lessons covered some things we already knew, but we still learned a lot. After all, it had been 6 years since the last time we were taking care of an infant, and no parent knows everything. I hadn’t expected how emotionally beneficial it was to be able to share our experience with the other parents in the group. Though we were strangers, we all seemed to find a comfort in the fact that our fears and uncertainties were not uncommon. As we got to know the other parents a little more it became fun and exciting to see their progression as they moved closer to their due date.
Over the course of our pregnancy we began to feel a real personal connection with our midwife. She wasn’t just the person who was to deliver the baby, she felt like a trusted friend. I can’t stress enough how much this made the birth a more positive experience. We felt like our midwife knew us, cared about us, and our baby. We felt that she was personally invested in our experience being a positive one. My wife would often tell me how she felt more involved and in control of what was going on, not just a passive baby container on legs that was being acted upon. This was her pregnancy, her way.
Our due date had come and gone and our baby seemed perfectly content to stay where it was, we were starting to think this baby was never going to arrive. I use the word “baby” because we decided not to find out the baby’s sex this time. It was fun knowing we had a surprise waiting for us and it had the added benefit of driving our parents crazy. *evil grin* Anyway, we were at the birth center for another checkup, hoping for some sign that things would happen soon. My wife was having the normal braxton hicks contractions all week but nothing that suggested that it was time. After giving my wife a full checkup, our midwife told us that there was a possibility that things might kick into gear later that night. We were told to go get some lunch, maybe take a walk, and head back in an hour or two. So we left.
About halfway on our way to lunch, my wife started getting slightly stronger contractions here and there. Not wanting to get our hopes up too much we continued on our way, “let’s just see what happens”. Shortly after that, things started happening! Strong contractions getting closer and closer together. I can’t say from personal experience but I got the impression that the passenger seat of a car wasn’t a terribly easy place to be dealing with what was happening to my wife. I spun the car around and headed back toward the birth center. I became aware of something primal that had awakened in me. It was finally time for me to do my part, all those years of Mario Kart had prepared me for this moment! Like a rocket I swerved around cars, sped down straightaways, and cursed out red lights for taking so long. I was a man on a mission.
After what felt like forever, we arrived at the birth center. The birth room looked almost identical to a bedroom you might find in someone’s home, aside from the large birthing tub near the foot of the bed. Our midwife and her assistant were a flurry of practiced activity. They pulled cloths, pillows, and equipment from behind the lovely, kitchen style, wooden cupboards. I stood there feeling slightly useless, wanting eagerly to help. This is a pretty common feeling for all men who are about become new fathers. They suited up my wife in a gown and laid her down on the bed. I continued standing there annoying people with questions like “how can I help?”. As the contractions intensified in strength and succession, my wife began pushing. Breathing and pushing. Resting a moment and pushing and again and again. We were getting movement. The baby was in a good position, head down, and things were moving along. Then we hit a snag.
I should say, the baby hit a snag. My wife’s hip bone, to be exact. It’s head was struggling to pass though. I could see the exhaustion and worry in my wife’s eyes. She wasn’t giving up, but she knew we had hit a hurdle. Without skipping a beat, our midwife knew just what to do. She had my wife change positions to something both unexpected and slightly odd. I was to sit on the edge of the bed, knees out. My wife was to sit on my lap with her body hanging down between my knees. I imagined at the time that this must have looked pretty silly, but we really didn’t care at that moment. I was also quite happy to be doing something more productive than just standing there going “you can do it! keep pushing!”. After pushing a few times in that position, the head finally moved past the hip bone and my wife returned to the bed.
At this point it was easy to see the progress that each push brought. Things were really happening and I knew that soon the baby would be here. Then out comes the head. Words fail me as I excitedly tell my wife though a string of babble. “Head! It’s head! Here, go go head!” or something like that, I don’t quite remember. I could see it’s face and I knew it was my child. A few more pushes and before I knew it, out it came. It’s tiny cry suddenly filling the room as they handed it to my wife who looked at me and said “It’s a boy! Look! Oh my god, it’s a boy!”. I’m looking but struggling to believe what I’m seeing. It’s amazing, beyond words. The whole world must be feeling the warmth beaming from my chest. I have a boy. 10 fingers, 10 toes.
Things got weird after that. Nothing bad or negative, but it came as quite a shock when our midwife said “Here, I want you to see this. This is the placenta. Look, good, healthy, size. Did you want to keep it? I know some people like to eat them.” All I could eek out was “Umm… no”. My wife and I like to think of ourselves as very open minded people, however, that’s a little out of our comfort zone. Yes, I’ve heard about the benefits of doing this and if it’s something you did when you had your child, more power to you. You’re gutsier and more open minded and I.
Anyway, things quickly settled down. The midwife told my wife she was amazing, and she was. When thinking back, I’m always blown away by how tough my wife was that day. Nothing short of a astonishing. We spent the next few hours resting for the most part. Unable to do much more than stare at the boy, gobsmacked and grateful. Our 6 year old daughter, excited and happy, looked at the boy in the way she might look at a new toy to play with.
Having our second child at the birth center made all the difference in the world, it was a much better experience. It felt like our pregnancy, our way. We only went back to the birth center 3 or 4 more times for the usual checkups you’d expect and we felt sad that we weren’t going to see these people again. They’d gone through this whole ordeal with us, and made us feel at home.