May 20th, 2005

A Pocket Full of Murder

Why I am SOOOOOO glad I have a midwife

When I was expecting my first child, it didn't take me very long to decide that I did not, repeat not, want to go the traditional obstetrician and hospital-birth route. I'd just heard one too many stories about unavailable/busy/callous doctors, overworked nurses, unnecessary interventions leading to c-sections, etc. I decided that I wanted to give birth somewhere that I felt comfortable and in control of my environment, with no more technological monitoring or medical interference than was necessary for the safety of myself and my child. In short, I wanted a home birth, and I wanted a midwife.

When some of my friends heard what I was planning, they said with wide eyes, "You're going to have a home birth? Oh, you're so brave!" But the fact was, I wasn't brave at all. I was simply more afraid of hospitals and doctors than I was of the alternative. Besides, I'd done my research, and I knew that if anything went seriously wrong with the labour, the midwife would transfer me to hospital immediately. Given that the hospital was only five minutes from my parents' house where I planned to labour, and that it takes twenty minutes to prep an operating room for a caesarean in any case, I'd be no worse off than if I'd gone straight to the hospital to begin with. And since the midwives would come to the house with all the same equipment as the average small-town hospital (indeed, about the only things they weren't trained, equipped and fully licensed to do were epidurals and caesareans), I wasn't taking any kind of risk with my own health or the baby's.

So when I set off for my first midwifery appointment, I felt secure that my choice of a home birth was a responsible and sensible one. I'd also been pleased to find out that the midwife's services would be covered by our province's socialized medicine program, so I wouldn't have to pay anything more than if I'd gone to my G.P. or an obstetrician. But the best, I soon discovered, was yet to come.

Because my midwife actually paid attention to me. Until that first appointment I'd been expecting her to be a bit more like my family doctor, who is a nice man but too busy to spend more than a few minutes peppering his patients with rapid-fire questions and then dashing off a prescription or two. But my midwife didn't behave as though she were rushed at all (even though, I found out later, the practice was quite busy and there were four midwives on staff). Instead, she made me feel as though I was her one and only patient, as though she had all the time in the world to talk to me, examine me carefully, and address any concerns I might have about the way my pregnancy was progressing. She was friendly, relaxed, and very easy to talk to -- and that first appointment lasted nearly an hour.

Of course, I thought, that was just the first appointment, and no doubt things would become snappier and less chatty later on. But no, all my appointments ended up being carried out in the same leisurely, fully attentive style as the first. And even now that I'm having my third child and have very few questions or concerns to talk about, my midwives still give me that kind of focused attention and ample time for my appointments.

My first birth did end up being in a hospital, where I had an epidural to help me rest up for the pushing stage after a long and exhausting home labour. I saw there first-hand how the midwives and the local medical staff worked together in a positive way, and in the end I had to admit the hospital experience wasn't so bad after all. But I was still determined to try for a home birth again, and with my second child and the help of a rented waterbirth tub, I did it. And it was wonderful -- or as wonderful as something rigorous and painful as labour can be, anyway -- and I definitely want to try it again with my third.

Anyway, the point of all this ramble is, I would definitely recommend midwifery to anyone who is expecting a child, regardless of whether you want to give birth at home or in a hospital. There's really no substitute for the kind of care and attention I've received from my midwives. Not to say that they're all perfect by any means, or that there's nothing I would change about their approach (I found, for instance, that the midwife I liked best during my office visits turned out to be worryingly absent and distracted during the labour process, whereas a midwife who seemed somewhat less likeable in-office turned out to be absolutely wonderful when it came to the actual delivery). And I'm sure that there are a few midwives out there who really aren't that great. But on the whole, I've found midwifery to be a wonderful thing, and I'm very glad to have the option of taking advantage of it.