Home birth or hospital birth?
I wrote this article for the most recent issue of Today’s Parent about my unplanned home birth.
As published in the May 2019 issue of Today’s Parent magazine
BIRTH STORY: CHANTEL GUERTIN
AN UNPLANNED HOME BIRTH
THE CONTRACTIONS started at 5 a.m., as I was getting ready to do my five-minute segment as a beauty expert on The Marilyn Denis Show. I didn’t realize they were contractions, though. I assumed it was indigestion or maybe Braxton Hicks. I was sure of one thing: It couldn’t be contractions because my water hadn’t broken, and besides, I was still a week away from my due date. Everyone knows first babies always come late! In my mind, I still had three weeks to do all the important mom-to-be stuff, like get a pedicure and pack my hospital bag.
Despite choosing to go the midwife route instead of using an OB/GYN, I was planning on having a hospital birth. Some time after getting pregnant, as I researched the various options, midwife or OB/GYN, I encountered the midwifery ethos that it’s the mother who delivers her baby, not anyone else. I appreciated the feminism that underpinned the theory, but I knew it wasn’t for me. I’m a writer: My area of expertise is knowing how to fix a dangling modifier, not how to coax a baby out of my vagina. That task was better left to the professionals, who I’d always expected to encounter in a hospital.
Which is what I firmly stated in all my prenatal classes, every time we went around the circle, saying our names, how far along we were and how we were preparing for the birth. “Hospital! Hospital! Hospital!” I would chant like an overzealous cheerleader. I was so judgmental—and I wasn’t quiet about it, either. “I have no idea why anyone would choose to have their baby at home. It’s 2014! That’s why hospitals have maternity wards! It’s called modern medicine for a reason!” Obviously, I made a lot of lifelong friends at my prenatal classes.
But the truth is, there was a deeper reason I wanted a hospital birth, which I kept to myself: I would be 38 when the baby arrived. And while the pregnancy had gone smoothly, I was worried my luck was going to run out, that complications would arise during the delivery, putting both my baby and me at risk. My due date was in February, and I didn’t want to worry about snow and traffic complicating matters if we had to suddenly get to the hospital.
The plan was that when the contractions started, the midwives would come to my house, monitor my vagina situation and my blood pressure and whatever else they needed to do, and then, when it was time to go to the hospital, my husband and I would drive there.
And for the first few hours, everything went according to plan. I somehow breathed through the contractions long enough to get through my live segment, drove myself home from the TV station and crawled into bed, calling out to my husband in our home office that I was pretty sure I was having contractions. He timed them at five minutes apart, and so, just like the TV show, he called the midwife.
My midwife, Nimerta, arrived shortly and took very good care of me, checking in every hour or so as the pain grew worse. I moved back and forth from the bed to the bathtub, Nimerta following me to make sure the baby and I were both doing OK. When I was in so much pain that I could no longer read the Jojo Moyes novel I was totally engrossed in, my husband sat on the side of the tub and read it to me. It is one of my favourite memories of our relationship.
Shortly after midnight, while I was burrowing under the blankets on my bed, trying to get comfortable between contractions, Nimerta said we should get ready to leave for the hospital. I’d been having contractions for more than 18 hours at this point. I was exhausted. So I psyched myself up: I needed to get out of bed, go down the hall and down the stairs, put on my boots and coat, and get into the car before the next contraction came. I had about three minutes. I could do it.
But every step I took was painful. The house was warm and cozy. I knew it was freezing outside, and even though the drive to the hospital would take only 10 minutes, it felt insurmountable.
I had always been adamant: I didn’t want to give birth at home. Now, at midnight, in mid-winter, I changed my mind. The thought of checking into a cold, sterile hospital in the middle of the night, the elevator ride, the hospital room, the hard bed—it all seemed terrible. It was the opposite of where I wanted to be when I met my baby. The old me would have powered through and gone to the hospital anyway. Because what would everyone think?
Suddenly, for the first time in my life, what others thought didn’t matter. Looking back, I think that was the moment I started thinking like a mother. There was a strength inside me, a conviction that I had to make the best decision for me and for my baby.
“I don’t want to go,” I whispered, just loud enough for everyone to hear. “I’m not going. I want to have the baby right here.”
“OK,” Nimerta said. “Do you have your home birth kit?”
Of course I didn’t have my home birth kit. I was having a hospital birth, remember? I had no idea what was in a home birth kit.
“All right,” Nimerta said. She rattled off the items we were going to need. A shower curtain to protect our mattress. Lots of towels.
My husband raced around the house as I got back in the tub for the billionth time. “Not that shower curtain!” I yelled. “I special-ordered it! It’ll take weeks to replace!” And, “Not those beach towels! They’re too nice!”
He put back the shower curtain. He put back the nice towels.
Soon the bedroom was ready, and I returned to our bed. I thought things would go smoothly then, now that I’d made my decision to give birth at home. But over the next few hours, my contractions started to get further apart. Through the whispers of the midwives, I realized that if the baby didn’t emerge soon, we’d be forced to go to the hospital anyhow, and if that happened, there was a good chance I’d need a C-section.
No way, I thought. There was no way that after 22 hours of labour, I was giving up or letting someone else deliver my baby. It was up to me now. And so I pushed harder—through the pain. And finally, at 3:30 a.m., I delivered my baby. Myself.
As I lay back on my bed, cradling Fitz in the wee hours of the morning, a mom for the first time, I thought about how I’d always assumed motherhood meant making plans and sticking to them. But really, the best outcome of all had happened unexpectedly, after I threw my plans out the window and let my instincts take over. Turns out, being prepared and then being flexible is the golden ticket to parenting, and my baby boy started teaching me that lesson even before he made his big debut.