On my short list of people for whom I have a deep and abiding respect, I include Diana. She is on that list for a number of reasons, but I mention her now particularly for the tenacity with which she bore our sons.
From the outset, I believe, it was her intention to birth them at home. She knew that home-birthing was a time-honored tradition, particularly among Wise Women. Strong and seasoned women. Women who understood their own bodies and did not fear such a natural thing as childbirth. Women who shared their knowledge –the value of core strength, the best angles for labor and the optimum leverage for delivery, the subtleties of what to eat and when. She suspected that there were experienced women in the community who would be willing and eager to coach expectant mothers in the ways of birthing and assist them along the way. Women who had given birth themselves, generally multiple times, and who had assisted dozens or hundreds more.
Without ever having given birth herself, she believed firmly that she and her child would be capable of assisting each other in the birthing process. Giving clues to each other. Guiding. They had, after all, been discussing these things with each other all along the path. There had been ample communication. “How do you feel about this birth thing?” she had asked our unborn. “What feels right for you?”
“And for me,” she queried, “where would I feel most calm, protected, comfortable? Under whose care do I want to be?”
She wanted to continue the tradition where the birthing of children was a step-by-step process. One that required both faith in the procedure and patience in the innate wisdom of Nature. As well as the personal flexibility to change courses if required. What was Plan B? And because nothing ever goes as expected, Plan C?
One could argue this point, I know, but some would say that the ownership of this most natural and spiritual of practices has been usurped by the medical profession. So that we now have little say in the process. We do not demand it, and they do not allow it.
She had heard stories of the way babies were born in hospitals. Then more than now, but it was as a rule an impersonal procedure done under bright lights, amidst a sea of strange, unrecognizable masked faces. In a theatre of clanging instruments and beeping machines. Where any abnormality or time delay could trigger abrupt and drastic emergency procedures. Doctors were making decisions without consultation. With mothers as bystanders. Babies whisked away at birth.
So her decision to birth at home was a bold move to take back the process. It was a decision for which I am eternally respectful and grateful. The only bit of wisdom which I exhibited in all of this was to stay out of the decision. I was there strictly as part of the support team and somehow understood that the assessment about where and how to birth our babies was not mine to make. That I was out of my area of expertise and had no clear and present authority anywho.
Fortunately, however, the idea appealed to both of us. We had this big, old house which was a child itself of sorts, which we had been trying to birth for a number of years by then. We were nursing it along and had at least one room upstairs that was suitable for living and sleeping---and, yes, why not birthing! It had a semi-sorta finished bathroom with more-or-less dependable hot water. And a big, old clawfoot tub that would be just dandy for a post-birth mother-and-child bath. Besides that, it is likely children had been born here a century or so ago. The House would know The Way, we reckoned.
She fully understood of course the discomfort that accompanies unanesthetized birth, the potential pain. But she had done the practice to know what to expect. To say that she welcomed the pain would be perhaps overstating it, but she had consulted mid-wives and knowledgeable women to learn how to accept it, confront it and allow it. How to breathe through it and not to be overtaken by it. She had done the work and was confident that she could handle it.
It was then and is now almost a lost art. But it is of course a valuable metaphor. Creating Life is by its very nature intensely pleasurable and deeply painful. It just is. Living Life is tinged and saturated with both. If we do not understand and embrace the pain, we will never know the joy. Such is Life. Such is childbirth.
So it seemed a noble choice. To allow our children to have their first glimpses of light in a familiar room, the one in which they had been resting and growing all these many months. The one in which they were likely conceived. It had an appealing connectivity to it.
As it did for them to draw their first breath amongst familiar things. Among artifacts that had the recognizable scent perhaps of ancestors, inherited hardwoods, candle wax, laundry soap and running shoes. Home.
To suckle that first time in a quiet room, amidst colors we had chosen with them in mind. To first taste their mother’s milk in comfortable surroundings. There was symmetry here that appealed to both of us. Why would anyone do it differently?
But no one made it easy. The Medical Community was not encouraging. They persistently discouraged us. It would not be too far a reach to say that they pressured us and shamed us. If we were fool-hardy enough to pursue a home birth, we would bear the consequences. The risks were unknowable and innumerable, they said. And they would be ours alone.
The Insurance Providers were worse still. Instead of 90% coverage in a hospital, they would not cover any of a home birth. Despite the fact that they were much, much less. All of the costs would fall on us. And if there were post-birth medical problems, they would also be on us. Regardless of the causes. They made it clear that we were on our own in this endeavor. There was a price to pay for such “natural” experiments, and the price was that you were out there on your own. Uncovered. The expenses of this birth and the medical future of this unborn child would be on us.
It was, I recall, a fearsome decision, and we began to waver.
At a fortuitous point in time, however, we found an advocate. Fred Duhart was his name. Dr. Duhart was an osteopath on staff at Normandy Hospital who had begun his practice as a General Physician in the early 70s. He perceived early on that there were many women who would prefer having babies at home if they had a home-birth doctor with hospital admission privileges. And he became that doctor. While he continued to practice family medicine, he took on the role of St. Louis’ one-and-only home-delivery doc.
Dr. Duhart demystified the process. He reassured us that home-birth was not so radical or dangerous. Problems were mostly foreseeable, and in any event, a hospital was near-by. His home-birth practice blossomed as a result of his simple gift of perceiving childbirth as a natural process and assisting others in that understanding. Additionally, his spirit of humility was a profound and central part of his character. He was The Man.
Dr. Duhart delivered thousands of babies at home. Several on Albion Place alone. More specifically, he delivered Caleb Jolly in 1987 and Beau Baylor in 1992. Both were profound and deeply moving experiences. Life changing. Life affirming.
And for those experiences, which I personally will carry for a lifetime, I have Diana to thank. To birth is a fundamentally courageous act. To choose an alternative method and steadfastly persist and pursue it, to defend it against the powers of authority, for the benefit of our unborn sons and a world view that we believed in, was deep wisdom and fierce courage.
I am personally grateful and profoundly respectful.
Happy Mother’s Day
(and Happy Birthday to boot.)
We love you,
Duke, Caleb Jolly and Beau Baylor