I was standing in our bathroom when I found out. A pretty typical place to take a pregnancy test, understandably, but with my mother visiting and the kids running crazy downstairs, it was also one of the few quiet places in the house. As I saw the lines appear, gently and slowly like like bubbles floating to the surface, I felt a release of peace, joy, and a bit of anxious anticipation. It would be our third pregnancy so there was a lot that I knew was coming. We had birthed in a hospital setting and at a birth center, but this time around, my heart whispered a fragile, sacred desire – a home birth.
As casually as I could I strolled downstairs and asked Scott to come up to the bedroom for a minute. I didn’t want to give away anything to my mom or the kids about the news of the little one growing inside me. As soon as we walked into our bedroom, I grabbed his hand and drug him through the closet hallway to the bathroom so we were as far out of earshot as possible. I showed him the pregnancy test and his smile could’ve lit up an entire night sky. We hugged and he proudly proclaimed, “I knew it!” which I think was a sideways commentary on my random, irrational emotions as of late. We chose to keep the news to ourselves and came back downstairs to join the rest of the family to carry on our normal-but-not-normal day.
A home birth is a realistic goal for many mothers around the world. In some countries and cultures, home birth is a regularly used option, while hospital birth is reserved for medically necessary interventions or monitoring during labor, delivery, and postpartum. Having birthed Madison at a birth center, I had a solid point of reference for the work of labor and delivery so the leap to home birth didn’t seem like that big of a trust fall to me. I had a good friend who was completing her doula training and was more than willing to come along side us during the labor and delivery. Scott and I prayed together and we sensed the go ahead from the Lord to check into our options for home birth.
Which is where we hit the wall.
The tall, steel, concrete-reinforced wall known as the US/Mexico border.
Mexico has a strong historical tradition of midwifery through its past. However, through a combination of influences involving governments, health care officials, statistics, and international organizations (I researched many, many hours trying to find a clear storyline here, but even with interviewing my midwife and a few other birth care professionals, I couldn’t draw out a singular, linear history), there has been a radical shift towards medicalized pre- and postnatal care throughout the nation over the past 30 to 40 years. In turn, the cesarean birth rates have shot through the roof and the long honored practice of midwifery – often passed down through generations of women learning side by side, in the trenches of the work itself – all but disappeared.
It took me awhile to come to grips with the fact that simple because of where I lived could significantly impact our choices of care while pregnant. I wrestled between fighting for what was best for our child and surrendering rights to what I wanted. Never before had I thought that being a missionary would mean giving birth to a child in a way or place that I wholeheartedly believed was dangerous or potentially harmful to me or my newborn baby.
Here is an excerpt from a message that I sent to a now dear friend (more on her later and her invaluable friendship in this entire process) about our experience with visiting a doctor to confirm this pregnancy:
Augh…coming to you to let off a bit of steam and just breeeeeathe. Sigh. We went to an OBGYN today in Rosarito so we could confirm that we REALLY are pregnant…you know, beyond the weeks w/o a period and peeing on a stick and residual nausea that doesn’t go away and how my pants just aren’t fitting as well as they used to.
Showed up on time, met the Dr. Sat behind a desk and before we even were settled, were told I had to do a blood test to prove I was pregnant. No mention of a doppler or listening for a heartbeat. So $20 later, and a bunch of pointless questions (do I rent or own my house? what was the highest grade I attended in school?) tossed my way, he informs me that yes I am pregnant and that no he won’t do an ultrasound yet and that the next appt I will have a workup of blood tests and internal exams for a plethora of diseases that I could flat out tell him I DON’T have but it’s protocol in Mexico so that’s what will happen. We left, paid our fee for the visit, and walked away $70 poorer with nothing to show for it.
We already knew we were pregnant. We wanted some sort of support – some mention of nutrition or how previous pregnancies were or our hopes for how this one will progress or something beyond just feeling like another check mark on a list of things to do. My husband is so good – he reminded me that I have rights and I can ask questions and I can say ‘no’ to anything that I don’t feel comfortable with. It’s just hard in the moment to remember that, to keep my wits about me, to have confidence to actually ask questions and defer on ‘professional medical advice.’
It was emotionally draining. I felt violated, even though he barely touched me. I felt out of control and like a specimen with a disease that needs to be monitored and controlled. Maybe my expectations are too high for doctors. I just want someone who will support us, partner with us, let us ask questions and decide things together, and treat us like healthy, normal, natural, powerful people.
After that experience it became even more clear that voluntarily birthing in a hospital – even a private, foreigner-friendly one – was an option that was pretty much off the table. Thus a journey unfolded before us like none other. Soaring emotions, crushed hopes, random emails, and joyful chance connections to would help guide our little one from my womb into the waiting, welcome embrace of our arms.