intensely trivial

Do you even know what you’re turning down?

When Dan first asked me out on a date to see the Flying Karamazov Brothers, I told him no. I had just started my first year of teaching, was completely overwhelmed with that, mild sickness, and some stressful relationships, and I didn’t see why I should go do something fun when there was so much work to be done. I explained all this to him when he called me on my classroom phone that September evening. He wondered why he was asking out such a dour, rude workaholic.
He said, “Do you even know what you’re turning down?”
I said, “Well, no.”
So he explained what the Flying Karamazov Brothers’ act was (juggling and comedy). It sounded mildly fun. Somehow he kept me on the phone long enough for me to consider that maybe a spot of fun would be just the thing. So I said, “Well, against my better judgment, I’ll go out with you.”
(I know, it’s awful.)
Turns out we had a ball. I laughed hard for the first time since I could remember. We argued about nerdy things like what’s better, the dictionary or the encyclopedia? He asked me my ACT score, and when I told him, he said, “OK, then we’re compatible.” We ate frozen yogurt.
I knew within a week and a half that I’d marry him. (I didn’t tell him that, of course.)
How glad I am that he asked, “Do you even know what you’re turning down?” I would have missed out on a lifetime. He kept me from ultimately turning down the potential of dreams coming true.

I found myself thinking about that question today in regard to homebirth. I listen to a lot of hospital-birthing families. The people who want me to be their doula often want a birth that is low on interference; they want me to stand up for them, make space for them to make good choices for their births, remind them that they have a voice. They want at least one person who believes in them, someone who is not afraid of the mind-blowing and yet normal experience that is the way birth is designed. And they might get a glimpse of it, like I did during Jonathan’s birth — because there is grace.

You see, if you want an undisturbed birth, the undisturbed hormonal process that protects, comforts, and empowers the passage of baby from inside to out, the hospital is not the place for that. In reality, most families want a normal birth, but, like me when I had my babies, they are choosing the only birthplace they know. Yes, for some of them, money is an issue. For others, it’s fear, usually the fear of the dad (“What if something happens?”). In those cases it’s worthwhile to ask some questions to see if money or fear is a true deal-breaker. But I think for most people in our culture it is that they don’t even know what they’re turning down.

Here’s what you’re turning down when you choose a hospital for a “low-risk” birth: You’re turning down the chance to be in control of your environment. You’re turning down the ability to eat and drink when and what you choose. You’re turning down the easy ability to go to the bathroom when you want to.

You’re choosing not to have
. . . privacy
. . .soft bedding
. . . familiar smells
. . . intimacy with your lover
. . . freedom to go outside
. . . freedom to move around
. . . a birthplace free of other people’s MRSA and strep
. . . lighting that actually allows your baby’s eyes to open wide as soon as he’s born
. . . a peaceful hour or two after your baby’s born so you can all imprint on each other without hurry
. . . your privates private
. . . a place where you don’t have to fight for your baby to get all of her blood after she’s born.

You’re turning down
. . . safety statistics that are just as good as or better than the hospital’s
. . . breastfeeding chances that are better than the hospital’s
. . . the ability to have your other children be a part of this major family event
. . . the tender, knowledgeable care of a midwife, should you choose to have one
. . . the chance to see just how this amazing process was designed to work when undisturbed by machines and fear-based meddling.

If you’ve only ever seen an OB, you probably have no idea what you’re missing. If you’re choosing a hospital birth because you haven’t experienced homebirth in any way, you don’t know what you’re turning down.

Honestly, it makes me sad for myself and my babies. Now that I’ve been part of some homebirths, I know what we missed out on. I wish someone had asked me the question, “Do you even know what you’re turning down?” I wish I’d asked that question of myself.


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  1. * Jill says:

    This is so beautiful, Rachel. So true. So very, very true. I love your courageous and passionate and wonderful self.

    Posted 6 years, 3 months ago

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