Department of English

Spring 2010 Edition

Mr. Fix-It's Guide to Childbirth

Topher Ritchie
Expressive 2010 1st Place
Professor: Dr. Christensen

You wouldn't expect, walking down the aisles at The Home Depot, to find a book on how to deliver a baby. You'd probably also think it was ridiculous to shop for birthing supplies at the local hardware store. And yet, there I was, Mr. Fix-it, the do-it-yourselfer, timing contractions, measuring station and position, and getting ready to deliver my first child into the world.

Before I go too far ahead of myself, perhaps I should provide a little background. From my earliest memory, I've had a do-it-yourself attitude. My mother still tells stories of when I, as a toddler, took a butter knife with me to my crib one night so I could dismantle the light switch in an effort to figure out how it worked. From then on, she had to keep butter knives and screwdrivers locked away so as not to find the electrical outlets hanging out of the walls. Three years later, after my baby brother was born, I gutted his sound-and-light toys to try to better understand the electronics. A few years passed and I discovered power tools. I started building trucks and jets from scrap wood for my GI Joe action figures, and eventually graduated to projects as large as sheds and "clubhouses" in the backyard. When my wife and I purchased our first home, the do-it-yourself gene kicked in once again. The house had an unfinished basement, which, to me, was a dream come true – oh, the possibilities!

At this point, you might be wondering where I'm going with this. Well, I was in the middle of work on the basement; the walls were framed, the electrical was in, and I was getting ready to start hanging drywall when my wife came to me with an outrageous proposition. "I've been reading on the Internet," she exclaimed, "and I just found out there's a whole group of people who have their babies at home, without midwives, doctors or anything! Could we do that?"

I could have been shocked, flabbergasted, stunned, dumbfounded (pick an adjective – I'm sure you get the point). Instead, I answered, "Sure, why not?"

To someone who doesn't have a do-it-yourself personality, this may seem like a preposterous answer to a ridiculous question. The very idea of having a baby at home may conjure in your mind the image of medieval peasant women, writhing in squalid agony. And yet, I wondered, why not? If, in our modern age, someone else was doing it, surely my wife and I could. Besides, I thought, we'd been trying to conceive for years; it may have been years more before we'd even have to worry about this. But, within months, we found ourselves staring down the barrel of a positive pregnancy test, and it was time to start studying.

My wife had already trained as a massage therapist and had once shadowed a midwife for several weeks, so she was well ahead of me in knowledge of the subject. I had only some basic medical training from my time in the Army (stop the bleeding, plug the hole!), whatever knowledge I had gleaned from my wife in her studies, and a good grasp of medical terminology. Thus armed, I dove into a crash course on how to bring a baby into the world.

From Ina May Gaskin, America's foremost midwife, I learned the mechanics of childbirth: how the early contractions serve to open the cervix, the "mouth" of the uterus, and the later contractions ease the unborn child into the birth canal. I found out about APGAR scores, positioning and station. I became informed on how to turn a breech baby and how to dislodge a stuck elbow; when to proceed with the birth at home and when to get to the hospital – now! From her books, Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, I learned all of the nitty-gritty details of getting the baby from womb to bedroom, safely and efficiently.

My further studies were less about the childbirth process than about the experience. From Childbirth Without Fear to Birth Without Violence to HypnoBirthing to The Continuum Concept, expert after expert attested that pain in childbirth is a reaction to stress and fear and not an intrinsic part of childbirth, that pain and fear are to blame for common labor complications like failure to progress, and that a peaceful pregnancy and labor will result in a happy, well-adjusted child.

Then my wife ordered the book written by the woman who had sparked this idea of homebirth without a professional birth attendant, Unassisted Childbirth by Laura Shanley. Although this was mostly a re-hashing of Dr. Grantly Dick-Read's Childbirth Without Fear, it introduced me to the term "unassisted childbirth" and Shanley's reasoning for both practicing and advocating it. Shanley declared, "Women's bodies were designed to give birth. When a woman is physically and psychologically healthy (free from fear, shame, and guilt), babies can often be born easily. Although some women find the presence of midwives or doctors comforting, others find it inhibiting. It is up to each one of us to decide for ourselves who we want to be with us in birth." Although Shanley herself isn't considered an expert in her field, she does have Dr. Dick-Read's backing. He states, "If left alone in labor, the body of a woman produces most easily the baby that is not interfered with by its mother's mind or the assistant's hand.

If left alone, just courage and patience are required. Faith, if she is a believer, is the secret to having a healthy baby and being a happy mother."

So, now I understood the pro side, but what about the cons? I spent several hours reading reports on the internet that purported to prove, via statistics, that homebirth, particularly unassisted homebirth, was unsafe. Obstetricians and gynecologists, while admitting that they had never had anything to do with homebirth, decried the practice and declared that the safest place to have a baby was in the hospital. On that point I had to disagree whole-heartedly. I had been a medical administrator in the Army, tracking patients and ensuring that the doctors and medics were documenting all of their treatment properly. None of my experience led me to believe that pregnant mothers were better off in the hospital – in fact, several doctors I had worked with admitted that the worst place for an otherwise healthy person is in a hospital!

Pros and cons weighed, I went with what felt right. I'd support my wife, and we'd have this baby at home. Our only experience with the hospital during the pregnancy was when a nurse friend of ours let us try an ultrasound to determine the baby's sex (wouldn't you know it, that baby kept its legs crossed up so tight we never saw a thing. I should've known it was a girl, a boy would've been displaying his little peter for the whole world to see!). We did our own prenatal checkups every month, dutifully checking weight and progress, looking for abnormalities in blood pressure that would indicate pre-eclampsia. We tried to eat a good, balanced diet, and did everything we could to keep stress levels low.

When the countdown to B-day got down to the last couple of months, it was time to take inventory. We had alcohol, medical necessities and essential instruments. Homeopathic and herbal medications to speed childbirth, slow it down, and ease discomfort. For weighing the baby at birth, a digital fish scale straight from the sporting goods section of Wal-Mart. For cleanup, a pile of old towels, garbage bags and a plastic shower curtain. My wife and I had both been trained in infant CPR. As unprepared as I felt, we were as ready as we were going to get.

Two weeks before the calculated due date, my wife's water broke, and it was time for me to spring into action. Since timing the contractions showed that birth was imminent, and a couple of weeks early or late is perfectly normal, I prepared our chosen birth location – a spot in the kitchen where my wife could labor comfortably while holding onto the bar countertop, if necessary. But, as the Scots poet Robbie Burns wrote, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley." During a trip to the bathroom, hard labor hit, and that's where we stayed. I was glad I'd taken some time to sanitize it as much as I could beforehand! I crammed some towels and a stool into the small lavatory and supported my with through the first stage of labor.

I'll spare the gory details of two hours of first-stage labor. Fortunately, the second stage, during which the baby actually travels down the birth canal and is born, lasted only a few minutes. I had enough time, while the head was crowning, to see that the baby was positioned left occiput anterior, the easies and most common head position in birth, before she squirted full-body and without preamble into my waiting arms. That's right: It was a girl! A quick APGAR evaluation as she was cradled in her mother's arms determined that she was breathing well, had a great pulse, and her muscle tone and reactions were excellent. Other than a blue color to her hands, lips and feet (considered normal for our altitude), she was perfect: nine out of ten on the APGAR scale.

I helped her and my wife, her new mother, into a warm bathtub to help prevent shock, took care of the afterbirth and the umbilical cord, cleaned up, and was finally able to be a father instead of a midwife. I pulled out the camera, aimed it at the beautiful new infant and her mother, and announced, with more pride than I had felt at the completion of any other project in my life, "Kathleen Page, born at home."