Be prepared: This post combines my experiences from growing up on the farm with my experiences studying Biology, in which I have both a B.S. and M.S. You will probably think I’m a gigantic weirdo by the end. If you didn’t already. Also note: I do not intend to turn this into a baby blog, but I can’t help that it’s on my mind a lot lately.
Growing up, I was fortunate to know that birth is a natural part of life (as is death, but that’s another topic for another time). Spring was always filled with excitement, wondering when our Nanny goat would have her kid, when the sheep would have a lamb, when we could go visit the first new calf at my mom’s family’s dairy farm, and even when the llama would have her baby (is there a name for a baby llama?). It seems somehow fitting now that our baby is due in springtime. While we mostly didn’t witness births, since animals seem to prefer to labor and give birth away from human onlookers, it was always exciting. Most recently, I was amazed when our Shire Annabelle gave birth to her foal, Isabelle, overnight, totally unassisted, and with no complications. When my dad found Isabelle, she and Annabelle were both clean and dry, and the afterbirth was buried. Annabelle is a wonderful mom.
But it wasn’t always picturesque. My dad tells of wrapping a rope around a calf’s feet and pulling it out, when the cow had trouble giving birth. There was a time when a lamb was stillborn and the mother sheep died shortly after. I wasn’t a witness, but I heard what happened. And of course there were eggs that didn’t hatch. Things go wrong.
In college, I had the opportunity to take a course in Human and Medical Genetics, in which we covered both common and obscure genetic abnormalities. These genetic disorders led to physical and/or mental defects, and while I knew they were rare for the most part, the knowledge of their possibility scared me. The number of disorders tested in prenatal screening is amazingly minute compared to the number of known genetic disorders. However, the vast majority of them do not have treatments or simple dietary guidelines like phenylketonuria (PKU), so they’re not tested for before or after birth. In fact, a genetic disorder may not be identified until a child exhibits developmental delays.
I’ve also visited a little room in Yale Medical School that’s filled with jars of preserved human fetuses, showing the vast number of structural abnormalities. Of course these babies were preserved many years ago, before ethics would prohibit such treatment of miscarried fetuses. Walking through the room, looking at structural abnormalities from microcephaly to conjoined twins to deformities that I don’t care to remember, is a surreal, macabre experience. While I’m aware that these deformities are rare, and that today they would mostly be identified in an ultrasound, the images stay with me.
It seems I’ve had much more experience with genetic abnormalities and birth defects than the average pregnant woman. And while I don’t expect my baby to have any of these rare disorders, the possibility still lingers in the back of my mind.
These are all issues I consider when I think about where I want to deliver my baby. I am totally confident in my body’s own ability to deliver our child. Ideally, I would like to labor naturally without interventions like an IV, epidural, catheter or episiotomy. But I also want to be in a hospital. I’ve heard a lot of negativity about hospitals in the eco-blogosphere, and I’ve heard of successful home births. However, away from the internet, I’ve heard many positive stories of hospital birth, from women like my mom and mother-in-law, family members, friends, and colleagues. I don’t believe that a hospital birth is always as negative as the horror stories I read on the internet. I believe I can have the birth experience I want, and be in a hospital, too.