Regular readers of this blog know that have mentored a great group of young men since they were in elementary school (going on 17 years now!). One of the young men and his partner of 7 years and they have three boys ages 10, 5 and 3. The oldest is the mother’s son from a previous relationship, but the young man I mentor acts as his father and treats him like a son. Both the young man I mentor and his partner lost their minimum wage jobs this year and became homeless, losing all of their possessions because they had no where to put them. They are both now working – the young man since summer and his partner since October and are trying hard to get back on their feet. They rarely ask of anything of me except moral support, but I told them I wanted to help with Christmas. They have good hearts and are defying many statistics – no drugs, no arrests, no abuse, raising children together – but they still face a lot of struggles. I’m working with them and friends to try to get them into a house where they will pay rent, but the owner is willing to work with them on a rent to own plan the next 20 years which is an amazing thing for them and we are also working on GEDs so that they can try to get better jobs – she would like to be a nurse and he loves to cook and would like to work his way up in a kitchen somewhere. They desperately want to provide a better life for their children. I told them I would take care of Christmas (they protest every year, as they are proud, but I insisted). We’ve covered a lot of it and also tried to get donations from friends here who have boys the same age and have extras to give to them. However, since so much was lost in being homeless (they are currently in a precarious, overcrowded situation with extended family) they have a lot of needs. I made an amazon wish list for them here http://amzn.com/w/1D8EO82EXCGS3. There is no pressure AT ALL, however, if you’d like to help out and buy a little thing for them, they and the boys would be very appreciative. I’ll try to deliver everything to them by December 15 or 17.
This is a time when everyone (including my lovely family) is writing and talking about what they will cook and make for the Thanksgiving meal. As vegetarians and folks who are aware that many Native Americans refer to Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning, it is not quite as exciting for us.
Don’t get me wrong. I really love everyone taking time to be thankful and give attention to our families. I also am very aware that most folks, like us, don’t really tend to associate our holiday traditions with the supposed first Thanksgiving meal. Aside from the ridiculousness taught to most elementary school kids, pilgrims and Native Americans are not really part of Thanksgiving for many of us.
So I get that my feelings about Thanksgiving could be read as crazy liberal stuff, crazy vegetarian stuff. I am certainly not going to raise this with my family or neighbors because I don’t want to be seen as the strange one ruining the fun talking about Native Americans and trying to stand up for turkeys or something. We eat a vegan fall meal in our home on Thanksgiving and welcome anyone who wants to join us.
But, in a way, this is sort of my concern. Because violence get normalized when those who point out the violence (historical or present day) are the “weird” ones.
So, on the one hand, I want to avoid disrupting a nice day by good people who are just trying to have a good meal together. On the other hand, I want not to normalize the history and the killing that is quite literally at the center of this holiday, with the turkey in the middle of the table.
So here is the story we tell in our family around Thanksgiving:
Our son was born at home, at the end of a dead end road in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Our house was up against ten acres of woods and it was quiet and I can’t think of a better place for him to have been born. It was a chilly spring day that he was born. I wasn’t able to get out of bed for over 24 hours. Finally, when I got up for the first time my partner said, “Look out the window!!” I looked out into our back yard, which was right up against the forest and there were 14 wild turkeys, a deer, two bunnies, and a squirrel sitting out in our yard. It was misty out, early in the morning, the day after our son had been born.
We tell him that the animals in the forest knew that a new creature had been born in the woods and they came to welcome him. In a way, I’m sure that is not quite true. But, in another way, I have to wonder if it is. We had never seen any turkeys or deer until this moment – just the occasional bunny and our squirrels.
We tell our son that the turkeys were excited to see him especially because they are simple, peaceful animals and it is a message to us that we do best when we also live simple and peacefully.
We tell him the story of how, many years ago, people lived in the land we now call Plymouth, his birth place, and people came from Europe and wanted to live there too. We haven’t gotten to the details (i.e. the massacres) but in general we point out that it is hard when different people want to live in same place and we need to be thoughtful about how we live with others – the harm we cause and the ways we can lessen that. We tell him that his birth location and his welcome by the turkeys and other animals of the woods is a gift to him to remember the ways that we can live more peacefully, with a spirit of welcome. Eating animals in general seems strange to him since he has never eaten animals and rarely sees others do so. But, we hope that, over time, his birth story helps him remember his connection to animals and to history such that it calls him to make a different sort of world than the one we have.
I get that it might seem hippie or cooky to some. But, for us, it is a small way to say that there is enough killing in the world. There is enough pain and enough violence and we’re just going to do our best to lessen how much of that we take part in, recognizing that we can never fully extract ourselves from this broken world with broken systems of violence that we are a part of. But, at the very least, we’ll try not to celebrate it and try to opt out when we can.
I remember them in our kitchen with their beers
Laughing thunderous laughs
With mouths wide open and heads thrown back
Like it was still the nineteen seventies
When my parents and they were young and beautiful
And funny and enamoured with themselves as most
Young beautiful profound people were in the nineteen seventies.
Except now, as they laughed in our kitchen, I was five
And my sister was three
And we were not quite sure what to make of these
Mystical people who would show up
And we would stay up past our bedtime
Listening to their stories
Pondering at their unfamiliar mannerisms
In our yellow kitchen
Too late into the night
He had hundreds of albums
And I can’t remember if I saw him and my father
Playing them on the turn table and drinking beer
With smoke around them
Or if I just pictured it in my mind that way
Because I had heard the small simple
Legends of the camaraderie and joy
Of the time sitting
And listening and talking and drinking
And basking in the wonder of
Friendship that became a synergy
Of magic and a kind of madness
The descent for these dear people
Whom my parents loved
Was so rapid that it is almost
Not possible to think about it
Or make sense of the liver cancer
And brain cancer
And the loss
It all happened so quickly
Yet in a sort of bizarre painful slow motion
And these mythical people
Like the ghost from 1976
That they seemed to me to be
Like so many beloved and central people in our lives
They were not without great faults
Yet we don’t often love people
Because they are without faults
But because they would die for us
And we would die for them
And we have laughed with them
And we retell our stories
Like the smoldering ashes of the dawn
And so it goes again
The passing of this time
Like a hammer smashing the finger
And it comes again and again
And you get used to it
Realizing that that pain
Is just part of what it means
And we say goodbye again
To people we love
Who were broken and flawed
And magical and glorious.
My facebook feed is full of people who are inspired by voting and the election… those who are excited about their candidate or love to make fun of the other side. I, on the other hand, feel really ambivalent about the whole thing. I voted, but I wasn’t even sure I wanted to wear my “I voted” sticker. Because, for me, making a big deal about voting and how wonderful it is distracts from how profoundly broken our political system is.
This whole election season has been disheartening and depressing and I just cannot bring myself to pretend that I think otherwise. I think so many regular people like me (not to mention my students) are alienated by the partisan ridiculousness, the harshness of both sides being nasty and making fun of each other, and failure of the system to speak with authenticity to the everyday people who want to work hard, care for others, balance public good with personal needs, and make our world a livable place.
So, I say, do your voting. Then, roll up your sleeves and try to make the world better. Because I can make a promise: neither candidate is going to make this world the world you want. That can only be done day in and day out by everyday folks trying to do the hard work of love and justice and freedom that so many religious and political folks say they value.
Very soon after I found out I was pregnant, my partner and I decided that we would find a midwife to provide care and to attend the birth of our child in our own home. I had been reading about children, pregnancy and birth for many years prior to becoming pregnant so it was not a hard decision for us. But I remember when I first read about someone having a baby at home – on purpose nonetheless – I thought: Why would anyone do that?!?? Why take the risk just to be more “comfortable” or “empowered”? Didn’t you just want a healthy baby?!?!
But, as I read more about, I got it. This is an account of my reasons for our decision.
First, being in the hospital is often dehumanizing. I realize that there are some amazing hospitals, amazing doctors, and amazing nurses that treat you like a full person, respect your wishes, and make you feel good. But, by and large, hospitals are a place where the needs of the system often take precedence over the needs of the individuals. You have doctors and nurses you don’t know well, involved in one of the most intimate parts of your life, often overworked, pressuring you, in a hurry, and often using language that implies that there is a threat to you or your child. I understand that many doctors and nurses are doing their very best – I don’t fault them, per se. But hospitals are stressful and intimidating and you depend on luck for a doctors and nurses that are supportive, gentle, and kind. For me, this wasn’t about wanting a “spa-like” birth or something. It was about wanting to be in a place that treated me, my child, my wishes for my birth and my child with basic respect and care. This, perhaps, on its own would not have led me to have a homebirth, but it was a factor.
Second, and most importantly for me, it is difficult to have a birth in a hospital where mother (and child, once born) are not subjected to interventions (or pressure for interventions) which do not improve the outcomes for either mother or baby. (And often actually increase the risk of harm to either mother or baby.) I will not review the research on this, but I spent a lot of time reading articles in medical journals and reading meta-analysis of studies about what interventions are shown to improve the outcome for mother and/or baby. I would suggest that anyone who is considering birthing at home or a hospital, take time to look at the research on outcomes. Read the journal articles, and then read the responses to them. Ask yourself, do the many interventions that frequently take place in hospitals improve outcomes for mother or baby? Do they reduce them? Am I prepared to argue with doctors and nurses about my care while in labor? Do I feel like my wishes will be honored? Will the doctors and nurses respect my right to informed consent on the procedures I am encouraged to undergo? There is no right answer about what is right for everyone, but it does make sense to know what research is available.
For instance, I am not aware of evidence that routine procedures such as electronic fetal monitoring, episiotomies, ultrasounds, labor induction, or pain reduction measures improve outcomes for mother or child although all of these practices are routine and widely encouraged for women in the U.S. There is, however, amble evidence that c-section rates are unreasonably and unnecessarily high, resulting in significantly reduced outcomes for mother and baby. And, we know that electronic fetal monitoring and inductions lead to higher c-section rates which bring with it a range of risks to mother and baby that does not occur with a vaginal birth.
So, while I honor the decisions of mothers and families to birth at home because it feels more empowering or peaceful, for me, I birthed at home because I thought it would be safer for me and my child. The birth situation in the United States is not good. Amnesty International argues that maternity care for women in the United States is a basic violation of women’s human rights, where the maternal death rate has more than doubled since 1987. I felt as thought I was likely to have a better outcome birthing at home with an experienced midwife. We know the U.S. ranks very low among industrialized nations, and often behind even developing nations, in terms of maternal and neo-natal outcomes. Thus, I found a hospital birth, and the accompanying the risk of being subjected to non-evidence-based procedures without informed consent, to be an unnecessary risk to me and my child.
For those considering your birthing options, here are some thoughts, for what they are worth:
*Ultimately, I think this is the decision of the mother and family. I am not saying you should birth at home. I am explaining why this was the best decision for us. I understand why others would make a different decision. I think the key is to be informed about the risks and options of either choice and make a judgement based on your own values. If you are able to be informed, it seems like that is an important step. I do not think you can trust most doctors to make the best decision for you. They 1) often not trained in evidence-based practices that improve outcomes for mother and baby and 2) they are trained to treat people who are sick and to deal with something when it goes wrong. For most births, nothing really goes wrong. They are not trained in supporting mothers so that they can birth without intervention and nothing going wrong. All of this said, I acknowledge that it is difficult to do this kind of research and thus honor families who simply do not feel like they can take this on.
*We were 17 minutes from the nearest hospital. If we would have been much further, I may have considered other options.
*My pregnancy was low-risk on every account. I went to 42 weeks, which may have made some folks concerned, but even the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology acknowledges that post-date is after 42 weeks.
*I did not have two midwives present and I regret this. Things were fine, but if I had it to do over again, I would have requested that there be two midwives rather than a midwife and her apprentice who was less experienced than I realized.
*I found out after my birth that my midwife was a Christian Scientist. I am not sure if this impacted her decisions about my birth, which ended up going fine, but in retrospect I would have asked even more questions about her birth philosophy and philosophy of intervention (or lack thereof). We liked her a lot and she has delivered many babies. I wish, in retrospect that I would have still asked even more questions.
*I recognize that it is a balance between the risk of an immediate, acute danger which cannot be dealt with at home and a range of (typically) less acute risks that are associated with hospital births. Because all indications were for a low-risk pregnancy, our proximity to a hospital, and my own awareness of how difficult it would have been for me to birth in a hospital environment, we opted to avoid the more likely range of risks associated with hospital births rather than the much less likely risk of an acute situation that could not be addressed at home or by a quick transfer to the hospital.
*I recognize that there are many cases where c-sections and interventions make complete sense and save the life of the mother and/or baby. My concern is that most of the time, interventions do not appear fall in this category. Thus, this is what we hoped to avoid.
*I really really hate medical situations where people don’t treat me with respect or care and/or are not aware of the most recent studies about best practices. It causes me extraordinary anxiety to be in these sorts of situations, whether it a birth situation or when my doctor doesn’t understand the risks of a medication he or she is prescribing for me because they don’t keep up with the literature. Which I get is hard for doctors but is nonetheless highly concerning to me. I knew that this would impact my ability to birth well. So that was a factor in my decision. My son was born in five hours and I’m convinced a huge part of that is because I felt comfortable with people who treated me with care and respect and trusted me to know what I needed (which was absolute silence and no one bothering me).
*I am currently within the vicinity of a hospital with an OB who is known to honor mother’s wishes for a natural, intervention-free birth except when interventions are clearly indicated based on knowledge of what improves outcomes for mother and baby. Thus, if I was to have another child while living where I do, I would probably birth a hospital because I know that the doctor and her staff are aware of best practices, would not pressure me, make an effort to honor mother’s wishes, and work to minimize interventions, with attention to the informed consent of the family. All of that is to say, if we could have the best of both worlds – hospitals that practice based on outcomes, providers that respect and care for the mother and family, I am all for hospital births.
*I hope eventually to add a collection of articles and resources to this post that helped me in my decision-making. But for now, those are some of my thoughts for those who are thinking through this issue from a home birth mother who wasn’t very interested in an empowering birth.
No incense or music or aromatherapy for me (although more power to you if you like that sort of thing). Mostly I just wanted a birth where I was healthy, my baby was healthy, and I was treated with care and respect. A home birth seemed like the best way for me to increase those chances.