Donn: When Jean and I were expecting our first baby, in 1966, there was very little literature about natural birth. We had read enough to know that we wanted an undrugged birth, but we took for granted the “necessity” of birth in a hospital. From the beginning, we felt that both the pregnancy and the birth were ours, together. All we asked was permission for me to be present during the labor and delivery. “Oh, no,” the doctor said, “we have enough problems without having fainting husbands all over the floor.”
So Jean and I decided, tentatively, to have the baby at home. We began studying all the books we could find on childbirth, gynecology, and relaxation techniques (mainly yoga). We left the question of “where” open to the last minute. We bought and familiarized ourselves with the few supplies necessary for a homebirth, but kept our suitcases packed, ready to throw into the car. If either of us felt even a little insecure or worried about having the baby at home, we’d go to the hospital.
The time came and we felt fine. We tingled with anticipation and quiet excitement. The labor was a typical 18 hour, first baby labor: tiring, but completely without pain. Throughout the labor, I stayed with Jean, rubbing her back, moistening her lips, and being a brace for her legs – except for a few times when I tried to find food for myself. Each time I put on a pot of coffee or a pan of beans, another contraction began and I ran back to help.
Cathy was born in a little log cabin in northern Vermont, forty miles from the nearest hospital. She began nursing right away, while I massaged Jean’s uterus to reduce the possibility of excessive bleeding. The only thing that went wrong with Cathy’s birth was that I burned three pans of beans and boiled away six pots of coffee.
Karen was born in 1968, in our home in Vermont, with six feet of snow drifted outside the windows. This birth was not only painless, but very actively pleasurable. We had never read about this aspect of birth, and it took us both by surprise. What a long way from the pain and agony of conventional myth! (Years later, a sympathetic doctor said, “Yes, I’ve seen it a few times. It may even be that many women have orgasms during birth, but interpret them as pain – because the sensations are more intense than anything they’ve experienced previously, and because they have been conditioned to expect pain.”)
Susan was born in 1970, and Derek, in 1972, both in a log cabin in the mountainous Central Interior of British Columbia, also forty miles from the nearest hospital. Both births were a lot of work, but relatively easy, completely painless, and physically pleasurable.
Active fatherhood – that is, participating as a full partner in parenting – has many rewards, but one of the greatest is hearing that first little cry of “Hello” and of cradling the new son or daughter even before he or she is fully born.
Jean nursed each of the babies for at least a year. For the first six weeks or more, we never put the babies down or left them alone; we always held them, carried them, and cuddled them. They never woke up crying, wondering where they – or we – were.
“It’s good for them to cry,” several neighbors and relatives told us. “It develops their lungs.” Others told us, “You give them too much attention. It isn’t good for them. They’ll become too dependent on you.” The babies slept with us, despite the many warnings (from people who had never tried it) that “You’ll roll on the baby in your sleep!”
Jean: We hadn’t planned this aspect of parenting. The fact is, Cathy was born in October and with our wood heating system, the house got cold at night. My mother sent a beautiful wooden crib, we had enough baby blankets to keep ten babies warm, but when that first night came we just didn’t feel right with Cathy away from us. After all, we had held her all day. How would we know if she woke up and felt alone or came uncovered? Before she was born her every need was filled. Now she had lost her automatic climate control and feeding system, her eyes took in images she couldn’t understand, noises were different, her body, once continually cradled, could now flop around uncontrollably, she had to breathe on her own . . . . so many new experiences all at once. Her only true comfort – us.
We instinctively learned to cat-nap. . . deep sleep with complete relaxation when Cathy slept, and instant awareness if she moved or needed to be fed, and being next to us we knew she would be warm.
Donn: When the baby became hungry during the night, Jean had only to turnover, still half-asleep, help the baby find the nipple, and doze off again. No fumbling for the light switch, no grumbling at being awakened, no crying, no frustration.
There was only one instance when it didn’t quite work – that is, not right away. I woke up enough to hear Cathy’s murmur of hunger change to a cry of indignation, and I turned on the bedside light to see why Jean wasn’t feeding her. Jean, still asleep, was trying with great determination to put her nipple into Cathy’s ear.
Cathy was visiting neighbors with her grandmother when Karen was born, so she missed the birth – by just a few minutes. Both Cathy and Karen were with us during Susan’s birth, and all three welcomed Derek into the world.
Jean: Donn and I felt that childbirth was a natural event, as much a part of normal living for humans as it was for animals. We believed this very strongly even before we became pregnant.
Donn and I felt as close as two people possibly can, and when we did become pregnant, we felt that the baby was a natural part of our unity. Birth, we felt, involved all three of us, together.
Except for tales of people not being able to get to a hospital in the old days, we were unaware that home birth was a sensible option. It was only after we were told by our doctor that Donn would not be allowed to stay with me through our birth that we decided to look into home birth.
We found a few books. (The best in my opinion was and still is Dr. Robert Bradley’s Husband Coached Childbirth.) We thought about birth down through the ages. We watched our animals give birth with serenity; labor without pain. We decided that all things being well, as far as we could determine, we would have our baby at home so we could be together.
We felt we needed the extra security of a professional opinion regarding health and safety for me and the baby. We found a new doctor, one who would answer our many questions, insure as far as possible that there were no physical problems, and respect our decision to do it at home. There were no midwives in our area.
Our doctor suggested books! We read and studied. I was overweight and started a diet, counting calories and carefully balancing my nutritional intake. I continued with my yoga program and I truly believe that the relaxation and meditation techniques allowed me to be truly relaxed, open and willingly receptive to the process of birth.
I was lucky. With each of our four children, I had about a month of Braxton-Hicks contractions coming every other day for an hour or two. Nice gentle practice: warm-up exercises. The only problem with that was trying to decide if I was really in labor. Could we go to town or visiting or should we stay at home, just in case.
Cathy, the first baby, came easily just as Donn said. I worked hard but the labor was so gradually progressive I could easily stay totally relaxed, totally focused inward on all the new and different sensations of all the muscles working in harmony to perform the job they were designed to do without interruption. I believe that the total trust in my body, in the natural process, in Donn, and the ability to completely relax while looking inward, much like deep mediation without effort, made this birth feel like work, but without any strain or pain.
We put the camera out with the birth supplies. We forgot it. My only regret over the years is that I didn’t take a picture of Donn holding Cathy right after she was born. Like a variation of the Madonna and child, Donn glowed. He was totally enraptured. He was so completely caught up in the experience, that when I asked him if we had a girl or a boy, he just stared at me. To him it was of no importance. He hadn’t looked!
Karen came as differently as could be. While Cathy had come gently and gradually, Karen, I swear, came by pushing with her feet. I had the usual warm-up contractions on and off for a month. The day she was born I had contractions just before lunch and knowing we were close to the birthing time, I fixed lunch for Donn, Cathy, and Donn’s mother. (Mother came and stayed with us to take care of Cathy while I was in labor so Donn and I could concentrate on the birth. We expected it to be shorter, but didn’t feel we could give Cathy, two years old, all the attention she might need without interrupting my concentration.) I didn’t think I should eat until the contractions stopped, just in case. I decided that it was probably “for real” while cleaning up.
Mother took Cathy to the neighbor’s and planned to come back in an hour. Shortly after they left I began to feel the urge to push. I told Donn and he laughed at me and said he’d start getting things ready soon. I told him I didn’t think we should wait. He humored me. I know he was humoring me. As he got up to start fixing the bed with me, I told him that with the next contraction I was going to lie down and he could humor me just a bit more and see what was happening. I did, and he did. The baby was beginning to crown! We did get the bed set, just barely. By that time the contractions were really strong. I love the urge to push. It’s so right. I don’t think there is anything else in the world that is so totally compelling and feels so totally right. I had two pushing contractions on the bed and Karen came into the world, with the bag of waters still intact, and with the most incredible orgasm that just kept going and going! It took both of us totally by surprise. Just like our love-making, it was a feeling of Life celebrating Life. It seemed so very unfair that Donn couldn’t be a part of it too.
Susan and Derek were born with slightly longer labors, but with the same joyous orgasm at the end.
We tried telling people about our experience. Most thought us liars. A few women patted me condescendingly on the shoulder and told me I really didn’t have to make up stories. . . they knew the truth.
To those few who have been truly interested and asked what I thought made for such extraordinary experiences, I would say, the ability to feel completely relaxed and at one with myself, my sexuality, the natural process of birth, my husband, and a belief in the wonder of the universe!