People have asked me a lot about how Elijah’s birth was different than Freja’s, and I’ve found the answer to be incredibly complex. I know they’re mainly asking about the differences between home and hospital birth, which was better, why, etc., which is really hard to define because each experience was the birthing of a child whom I love with all my being, and therefore each experience was one that I cherish. I think what people are looking for is a list of reason’s why home birth made Freja’s birth different, and I don’t know that I can give that to them. The truth is that my children’s births were very different, but they would have been just as different had they both been in the hospital, or both at home.
But I’ll start by trying to answer the question of what’s the difference between home and hospital birth.
I was at home.
That pretty much sums it up. My care was identical to really high quality hospital care. That is to say, it was evidence based care. I was allowed to move around freely, eat and drink as I pleased, have the support team with me that I wanted. I was monitored intermittently, I’m not sure how often, maybe every two hours, and had minimal vaginal exams. My water broke on it’s own and I was allowed to push in the position that felt best to me (which was not the position I would have expected) without being coerced into purple pushing or episiotomy or anything like that. I was not offered pain meds I didn’t want, or chemical augmentation. I was given continuous support from respecting, caring, medical professionals who are experts in normal birth.
Okay, I realize this isn’t standard hospital care, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. So when you look at it that way, the main difference between my home birth and any hospital birth I would have had for the same birth, is that afterwards I got to lay down in my own bed, take a bath in my own tub, and after the birth my own mom fixed me the best damn sandwich I ever ate with ingredients I bought myself and therefore felt good about the quality.
Realistically, the difference was that in my home birth I received evidence based care, where as in the hospital I would have received the care that makes it easier for an overworked hospital staff and increases the profit margin for the hospitals and insurance companies. The best differences in the actual birth, if you ask me, were the minimal monitoring and the ability to push however the hell I wanted to.
The real shining star in home birth care is not anything that happens in the birth it’s self, it’s the care you receive before and after the birth. My appointments with Kathryn, my midwife, started at six weeks. They were an hour long in most cases, and in them she really got to know how I was doing on an emotional, spiritual, and physical level. There was always time to ask questions, and if I ever forgot one, I could call her any time and it didn’t bother her. In fact, I think she was more bothered by those times I had a question and didn’t ask her first, instead going to the Internet or friends. There were times, I suppose, when I forgot she wasn’t an OB, and that she didn’t get irritated when clients call with questions because she didn’t have 80 women due the same month as me, and 80 other women every other month, all of whom had questions and demands on her time. I was one of a few, and therefore she could dedicate a great deal of time to me that OBs just can’t dedicate to their patients.
This did result in a very tangible benefit during my labor and birth, and that was that Kathryn and I had developed a relationship, so when she arrived at my birth, I felt good about it. In fact, it really helped me to regain a grip on the intensity I was feeling. Even though she left for a bit after she got here (essentially telling me it was still early and everything looked good so don’t worry), I immediately felt safer and happier with where I was in labor. When the doctor arrived in Elijah’s birth I couldn’t have cared less. I didn’t know her, she was the back up doctor. But even if I had gotten one of the regular doctors in that practice, I doubt I would have cared either. I hardly saw any of them, I didn’t have a relationship with them. Most of my 15 minute prenatal appointments had been spent with the nurse practitioner who didn’t attend births! The doctor was just some foreign entity walking in on my birth. Kathryn was part of my birth team.
After the birth my care was awesome too. I didn’t have many questions or issues, but had I had them, you can rest assured they would have been addressed right away, since I saw Kathryn one day after birth, three days after, one week after, three weeks after, and six weeks after. All of my visits except my last were in my home, so I didn’t have to over exert myself dragging two kids and my healing body out to an appointment. Kathryn even handled newborn checkups and screenings. I would never go back to OB style prenatal and post partum care after this. Not unless I had to because of a complication that a homebirth midwife is not able to handle.
So there it is, the difference between home and hospital birth. It’s a lot, I suppose, but it’s not really what I think about when I think about the differences between Elijah and Freja’s birth. I could have told you all those differences before I ever even got pregnant with Freja. I was expecting them. What I wasn’t expecting is what I tend to think about when people ask me about the differences.
Everyone always says every birth is different. I’ve said it too. But you don’t really know how different until you actually go through it. For starters, Freja’s birth was a lot shorter than Elijah’s. I spent two days in pretty intense prodromal labor with Elijah, then 12 hours of active labor. Freja’s early/prodromal labor was so mild I could sleep through most of it, lasted maybe 8 hours, and led up to a nine hour labor. But I expected the length of labor to be different too.
Here’s what I didn’t expect.
The idea of eating during labor with Freja sickened me. Food was all I could think about with Elijah.
With Elijah, I had a short list of tools I knew I could draw from for comfort during contractions, mainly the bath tub. With Freja, nothing stayed comfortable for very long, I was constantly having to try something new.
My contractions never got longer than about 40 seconds with Freja (I didn’t know that until after the birth, they felt plenty long to me in the moment).
My water broke with Freja, but it didn’t increase pain. My water was broken for me with Elijah, and it increased pain dramatically.
I assumed with Freja I would want to be pushing in a squating or sitting position, and that I would certainly assume that position in the birth pool, because that’s what I wanted (but never got) with Elijah. When it came time to push, however, I could not stand being in that birth pool one second longer, and sitting was about the worst position I could be in. I tried standing and pushing, but that felt terrible too. I ended up hands and knees, leaning on a birth ball, which was about the last thing I pictured, short of lying on my back.
Transition was so different I couldn’t find words for it for the longest time. At first I tried evaluating which transition was more painful, but found I couldn’t pick, they were both painful in such different ways, you couldn’t even compare to see which pain was worse. I think with Elijah the pain was everywhere, in my arms, my legs, my breasts, my vagina, my head, it was just everywhere, and never ended. It just felt like one huge contraction for the whole hour and a half between when they broke my water and he was delivered. With Freja the pain was right were it was supposed to be, in my uterus and genitals and nothing else. And the contractions definitely had a beginning and an end, and there were definitely breaks between (although they weren’t super comfortable because I was feeling so much pressure). But man, were they intense! I don’t remember pain like that with Elijah. That may have something to do with the next difference though.
With Elijah, I got that hormonal high, that surge of euphoria that is one of the biggest rewards of natural birth. I felt great between contractions, I felt heavenly! And after the birth, oh! The pain was gone and the world was so beautiful! The euphoria lasted days!
I didn’t get any of that with Freja. During labor I felt tired, and a little afraid. Afterwards I felt tired and sore, and I was just so freaking eager to get the placenta out of me and get into my bed! And all I had in my body and brain was memory of the pain, and that stupid, logic driven part trying to figure out which birth was better. Neither one was better! But I was a little sad I didn’t get that euphoric feeling the second time around. I’ve heard that’s somewhat common though.
I’m not sure that comparing the two births has done much to give me peace. After all, I intend to do this again one day (immediately after discovering Freja’s sex, I told Elijah that we would try again for a brother in a few years, and everyone laughed that the placenta wasn’t even out and I was already talking about having another one), and really examining how different the two births were has only made it all the more clear to me that I can have no idea what to expect the next time I go through this. But I do know that the next time I do, I’d like to do it more the way I had Freja. Not because it was any less painful or the outcome was any better (I got beautiful, healthy babies at the end of each birth, and walked away from each relatively unscathed, compared to the average American woman, who walks away from birth with injuries above and beyond what birth it’s self inflicts), but because it was just more … Pleasant. More comfortable. More right for me.
Guess my baby stats!
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