An experience with a midwife -- a Chronicle reprint from 1993
Lying on the table, Lorin asked if the doctor could feel where the baby's head was. "Oh I don't touch bellies," he said. "I can't tell anything by doing that."
I was astounded. An obstetrician, he could prescribe an ultrasound, blood tests, urine samples, and a zillion other costly, complex procedures, but he refused to use his hands to help him diagnose! A short time later, we visited a lay midwife. She gently felt Lorin's belly and deduced within a few minutes that the baby's head was pointing down at a bit of an angle and the pain Lorin was feeling in her back was probably due to the baby's shoulder, which was resting against Lorin's spine. After that first visit we agreed that we would quit going to the obstetrician. We were going to have the baby at home with a midwife.
Over the next few months, my respect for the midwife continued to grow. A wealth of information, she answered all our questions, lent us books on childbirth, visited our home to make sure we had enough space to have the baby in our room. She not only prepared Lorin for birth, she nurtured us, she cared for us. She examined Lorin on a monthly basis until the ninth month, when she began weekly exams. Each visit lasted at least an hour. Compared to the 10-minute stints in the doctor's office, these exams were thorough, relaxed and complete.
Months earlier, friends had told us of their home birth. I was shocked at the thought of such a risky proposition. We had health insurance which would have paid for almost all of our hospital costs. But we decided to pay the midwife $1,200 out of our own pocket.
Over the past 11 months, I have seen examinations by medical doctors (obstetricians), certified nurse midwives and lay midwives. There is virtually no observable difference in the procedure: All weigh, measure the belly, listen for the fetal heartbeat and ask patients about discomfort or pain.
The difference lies in the preparation. Our lay midwife had the time (and the desire) to ask us if we were ready mentally and physically to have a baby at home. With the deaths of my father and brother over the past year, I was leery of more sorrow or guilt. What if something did go wrong?
I watched my father slowly wither in the hospital, surrounded by people who didn't know him, in a strange bed continually bombarded with fluorescent light. My brother died at home, in his bedroom, with his wife and family holding onto him. Both are gone, but my brother died in a loving atmosphere. His passing was serene and personal, searingly painful yet peaceful and tender.
Before the baby came, we visited the hospital. We looked at the gurneys and heated baby cribs. We chose home because it felt safer, cozier. In retrospect, I can't imagine a more beautiful event. I have never felt such joy. And being at home allowed me the time, space and luxury to savor the joy of a new life, a new love.
Some doctors want to eliminate the option of home birth. They think the risk is too high. For me, the risks seemed equal.