Great Expectations: Elizabeth @ 35 Weeks

Elizabeth 35 weeks.jpgMy only major pregnancy update from the last two weeks is that Mae is now responding to outside stimulus - when I press on her foot, she generally kicks back. It's also very easy to see when she's moving around in there, and it has been fun to share that experience with Carson and others. I play and/or sing her song to her every day - "I Will" by the Beatles - and she usually kicks in response. She also gets the hiccups once or twice a day, right against my bladder. All of this plus my ever-expanding belly is making her imminent arrival feel very real!

Because I don't have any other big updates or changes to share, I'd like to use this week's space to talk about a controversial subject: why my husband won't be present for the birth of our daughter.

Women have birthed with women for millennia. It is the most natural thing that a woman's body can do, and it is best understood and supported by other women who have had the same experience. In some parts of the world, women still birth exclusively with women.

For a long time in this country, labor and birth was done at home, surrounded by female friends and family. It wasn't until the 1950s that most women started birthing in hospitals - almost always with male physicians - rather than at home with midwives. These hospitalized women were typically isolated from friends and family, usually spent the long hours of labor alone in discomfort on their backs, and were often sedated against their will. Given the option of being totally alone or having your partner by your side who can support and advocate for you, it's no wonder that a movement started to let men into labor rooms. By the 1970s, it was a widely accepted practice in hospitals around the country and the world. These days, more than 90% of U.S. babies are born in hospitals, and I'd guess that most involved partners are present.

I think it's wonderful that some couples decide, mutually, that the father's presence will be welcome and helpful. However, there is a tremendous amount of pressure for the dad to be there for labor and delivery, which means that men and women alike who aren't comfortable with the idea are even less comfortable vocalizing that preference. Men who would rather not be present - for any number of legitimate reasons - may not speak up because they don't want to be seen as unsupportive. Women who would rather not have their partner there may stay silent because they don't want to deprive him of the experience, or because they don't want to be browbeat by everyone telling them how important it is to have the father present. This influence extends to me; when I share my decision, I am met almost universally with scorn and indignation. "You have to let him be there if he wants to be!" I've heard more than once. "Actually, I don't," I reply matter-of-factly. Why on earth should a man's desires outweigh any woman's when it comes to how she will birth their child? Unfortunately they often do, and it has taken my very strong will not to give in to the chorus. My heart breaks for women who are deprived of the birth experience they know they want because of outside pressure.

Michel Odent is a French doctor who has taken the bold and maligned stance that men should never be present at a birth. While I disagree with that absolutism (as noted above), I think he makes some valid points.

I have heard from several women that their partners were "no help" during labor or birth: they fought, or he got in the way, or she felt she had to pay more attention to his feelings and needs than her own. Even before I spoke with these mothers I knew I wanted to labor only with women, but it was very validating to hear their stories. Carson is a wonderful man and I can't wait to parent with him, AND I know that his presence would be a hindrance for me. I generally want to be left alone in any kind of hardship, and I'm very good at coping and self-soothing. The instant someone tries to help me, it makes everything worse. When I am in the middle of coping with something - breathing through nausea, for instance - and Carson asks me if I'm OK, it takes me much longer to breathe through the sensation. I have explained this to him, but in the moment his concern for my well-being overrides any previous conversation. I have already told my midwife and doula that what I want from them is labor sitting unless I indicate otherwise. It will be easy for me to ask them for help and subsequently ask them to leave me alone, and simple for them to receive my requests with ease and understanding. It would be much more complex to communicate my needs to my husband, especially as he is experiencing the emotion of childbirth in his own way. So, I am choosing to keep that complication out of the equation, and I innately know that this is the right decision for me.

Carson is one of the most supportive and loving people I know, and because of that he does want to be present for the birth. However, as his incredible support has no strings attached, he respects my decision. We live a mile from the birthing center so he will be very close. If at any time I change my mind, he will be there in a flash. Presently my plan is to labor at home, with Carson and our doula, for as long as I can. After that I will head to the center where I will occupy a darkened room, able to find the rhythm of labor in my own way without being interrupted (one of the reasons I knew immediately I did not want to birth in a hospital - so much interruption). It will be hard work, and I will be focused on doing that work and nothing else. I can't imagine a better scenario to bring new life into this world, and I can't wait to introduce Carson to his daughter when the hard work of labor is done, and the hard work of raising a child together begins.

Photo caption: This will be the first year we don't visit my family in Seattle at Christmas, and it's also the first year we've put up our own Christmas tree. Under the tree are presents from my family wrapped by Amazon, to be opened via Skype on Christmas morning. What a modern holiday we'll have!

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