Home Oriented Maternity Experience
I became a H.O.M.E. leader- Home Oriented Maternity Experience, in 1976. H.O.M.E. was a growing national organization of women like me who felt compelled to help other women give birth with joy and dignity, something we could not achieve in any hospital. I believe that no matter where a child is born, a baby deserves to be nestled in the arms of its mother right after birth. A home oriented maternity experience can occur even in a hospital if the caregivers respect the sacredness of the mother/father/infant bond, And, I do mean right after birth, not several hours later when imprinting never got a chance to occur.
H.O.M.E. (Home Oriented Maternity Experience) was born in April of 1974 when a group of mothers from the Washington D.C./Maryland area conceived of the idea of an educational organization for couples needing information and support for home birth. Expectant couples, friends and family, and any interested persons were encouraged to participate in a series of five classes held once a month. What H.O.M.E. offered was a logical outgrowth of the “natural childbirth” movement. Couples with a heightened awareness of the importance of the birth process were in increasing numbers assuming the responsibility for full participation in non-medicated labors and births.
Many couples came to these meetings as a result of having had unsatisfactory prior hospital experiences. Their instincts, intelligence, and feelings had been totally ignored in deference to the rules and regulations of the hospital. H.O.M.E. recognized, as I did, that birth has the potential of being one of the most meaningful events in a couple’s life. It cements the bonds of family love. We had a deep and abiding commitment to those who came to us for help, information, and support. We hoped that their own positive experiences would, in turn, lead them to help others.
I began attending more and more home births as these monthly meetings grew in numbers.
The sudden increase in home births (from 20 to 60 that year) began to cause some concern in the medical community in Las Vegas. A meeting was initiated at the Clark County Health Department, presided over by its’ head, Dr. Otto Ravenholt. He had invited me and a few doctors from the county hospital to this meeting so that we could discuss what the hospitals could do to make them a more desirable place to give birth in. We discussed what parents were looking for, which led to Dr. Wixted, a local Obstetrician, to establish a birthing room at Women’s Hospital. The county hospital followed his example resulting in most of the rooms becoming both labor and birth rooms in place of the sterile delivery rooms of the past.
As all this was taking place, I was contacted by the local established group of childbirth educators who felt threatened by the way I was going about making changes. I, in turn, felt that they were too complacent in maintaining the status quo to the obstetricians for their “business”- the birthing couples who the doctors referred to them for classes. They invited me to attend a meeting with them at the public library on Flamingo Road.
There were ten women sitting in the library waiting for me when I arrived. I could see by the expressions on their faces that they weren’t pleased with me and my independent attitude. I had tried earlier to get involved with their group, but it was an elite group and, like a secret club with a secret password, I wasn’t invited to join. However, this wasn’t a game we were playing. Lives could be changed by what we could teach and do for others. I felt the message was too important to be put on hold, so I did things as I thought best- catch babies and educate through H.O.M.E.
The ladies at the meeting were polite to me at first, but they couldn’t contain their true feelings about what I was doing. Irate, one lady began, “Do you know how hard it has been for us to establish credibility with the medical establishment here in Vegas?”
“Yes,” added another woman, “The doctor’s trust that we will teach their expectant mothers what they need to know without being rebellious. It takes time to convince the doctors that there are certain procedures that need to be changed. You’re interfering with what we’re trying to accomplish!”
“Oh?” I said, with raised eyebrows. “Perhaps some of us are tired of waiting for change! Do you honestly think that you’re going to get anywhere with that attitude? The doctors stay complacent when you don’t demand change. When do you think that change should come about? Our babies are being born right now, not ten years from now. We women have a right to get what is rightfully ours anyway. Doctors have no business denying us anything that strengthens us and our families!”
“We agree,” a few muttered in response, “but, we still think you’re going about it all wrong. What do you know about being a midwife anyway? What you do is dangerous!”
“How do you know what I do?” I asked, beginning to get irritated at their judgmental attitude.
“Well,” asked one, “What qualifies you to be a midwife? Are you a nurse?”
I answered, “No, I’m not a nurse. Just being a nurse doesn’t qualify one to be a midwife. Nursing is a curing profession, whereas midwifery is about being “with woman” during a completely natural function of her body, mind, and soul during pregnancy, labor, birth, and parenting. When it deviates, of course, a good midwife will transport the pregnant woman to the hospital for further care from a doctor.”
“By the way,” I added, “I didn’t call myself a midwife until I had delivered at least 100 babies. Even now, I’ll grant you that my experience is limited, but where else do we start from?”
“Are you prepared to handle emergencies?” asked another.
I replied, “I don’t provide my clients with prenatal care. They go to doctors for that. I go to them when they call me in labor. My contact with them is through the monthly H.O.M.E. meetings which I conduct. If someone is high risk, they don’t opt for a home birth. And should I encounter a problem, I immediately send women into the hospital when their labors cease to be normal. It doesn’t take a genius to know when things are wrong. The idea is to have joy, not a disaster. As a matter of fact, I send more women in than I need to because I acknowledge my limitations at this point.”
The women were softening somewhat in their approach to me as they listened to my answers. I knew they basically just wanted what was best for all women. Their point of view was just different from mine.
“Don’t you understand that these women are going to birth at home whether I help them or not? Don’t you think that it’s better for me to help them than leave them entirely on their own? I know how that feels because that happened to me and I don’t think that’s fair to women.”
It was hard for these women to accept my reasoning, but in the end they had to agree a little bit with my philosophy. It was time for a change and we were all in agreement with that fact. In time the childbirth education group disbanded, but the home birth movement kept growing. We became the subject of much attention, not just with the doctors, but with the news media as well. AM/PM Magazine filmed a story about me and home births in Las Vegas in 1982. Television channels Three, Five, Eight, Thirteen and PBS also did documentaries on my midwifery. I was also featured in both the Las Vegas Review Journal and in the Sun newspapers. The papers and television were bringing home births to the attention of the public to the point where I was getting more and more requests for assistance at home births. I needed help because I couldn’t handle it all by myself as I had been doing until now, so I began teaching and/apprenticing several women whose babies I had delivered to help at births and assist me. All in all, I’ve apprenticed approximately 10 other women, some who are now actively practicing midwifery.
I had recently encountered a home birth situation which clearly taught me that I needed to learn how to give prenatal care to the women I was attending in birth, whether or not the client was also seeing a doctor. Most of the women were forced to be secretive about their plans for a home birth because when the doctors found out what their “patients” were planning, they usually refused to give them any more prenatal care. I naturally assumed that all of the women who were planning a home birth and who called on me to assist them had been given a clean bill of health by their doctors, but this wasn’t the case with one lady. I got a call one night from another midwife in town who had started attending births at the same time as I. Denise was also dedicated to helping women have the kind of birth experience they wished for.
She had spent hours with this laboring woman who was trying to give birth to her first baby. The woman had been getting prenatal care from a Chiropractor, but he obviously didn’t check her urine during those appointments she had with him or take her blood pressure. Mostly he instructed her on nutrition and adjusted her bones. He really wasn’t trained to be an obstetrician. But, she didn’t have much option as no one else would take care of her.
After laboring for hours, she finally reached 9 centimeters dilation of the cervix when Denise called me and asked me to come over and help her. No sooner had I gotten there when this mother began to convulse with epileptic seizures- the grand mal type. Unbeknownst to either Denise or me, this mom was really sick with toxemia, also known as pre-eclampsia. Her blood pressure was dangerously high!
I couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched this pregnant woman suddenly and violently arch backward with her eyes rolling back in their sockets, revealing the whites of her eyes. She was frothing at the mouth and her legs and arms were twisted inward in the most grotesque posturing I had ever seen. I yelled at Denise to run next door where there was a telephone (I still didn’t have a cell phone back then) and to call the paramedics immediately, while I listened for a heartbeat on the baby. Thank God the baby was okay, which was truly a miracle. I didn’t know what to do for this woman other than to pray and wait for the paramedics to take her to the hospital.
She had an emergency cesarean, one of those truly needed ones that saved both her life and that of her son. It was a major eye-opener for me and for Denise. We both knew that we had better figure out exactly what was involved in giving mothers prenatal care or we would face this again with someone else. Ignorance is definitely not bliss.
The ever-present question of how to begin offering prenatal care was on my mind when I met Lynn. She was a thin woman with short, reddish-brown hair. She sported a dash of freckles across her nose giving her an impish look that belied her serious nature. Lynn and her husband, Mack, first introduced themselves to me at one of my H.O.M.E. meetings when she was 6 months pregnant with her fourth baby. Her other three children had all been born in hospitals. It surprised me that she wanted a home birth because she was a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).
In time we became friends and she eventually became my partner for a little while. She taught me what supplies to buy and how to give prenatal care to the pregnant mothers. Dr. Wixted, the friendly doctor who worked with me and established the first birth room in Las Vegas in a hospital, signed for us to get a laboratory account so that we could order lab work on all our clients.
When it was time for Lynn to give birth, she had been to a couple of home births with me and felt secure enough to try it at home herself. It was understandably difficult for her to totally let go of her fear and the resulting distrust of natural birth that medical training had instilled in her. However, despite some reluctance she did well in her birthing. She had invited interested reporters from both newspapers to come to her birth and take pictures and publish her story.
Lynn and Mack lived in a nice house which he had built himself several miles from the outskirts of Las Vegas. Many alternative birthing couples are self-sufficient in other ways besides their independence in birthing. Mountains surrounded their property, the desert cacti dotting the landscape all around them. Tumbleweed rolled by in the late afternoon breeze the day that she called me to her labor/birth. As I got out of the car, I stopped for a moment and took in a deep breath of air, enjoying the sweet scent of pine drifting down from the nearby mountains. Barry, my husband, and I had lived on one of them, Mt. Charleston, for a year and a half with Paul and Kim, our first two children, in a log cabin complete with fireplace and snow. However, driving back and forth into town got tiring, so we eventually moved back into Vegas.
I reflected a moment on how much I love the desert and the mountains of Nevada as I pulled my birth bag out of the car and headed for Lynn’s front door. Mack, her husband, answered my knock and welcomed me into their cute little kitchen with the old-fashioned potbellied stove over in the corner contrasting quaintly with the yellow ruffled curtains hanging at the window.
Lynn was in the bedroom talking to the reporters when I arrived. She was in early active labor. The two female newspaper reporters chimed “hello” in unison when I entered the bedroom, both excited about being allowed to witness a birth for the first time. They asked a lot of questions of Lynn and me pertaining to midwifery and home birth while enjoying a warm cup of tea and some home baked bread that Lynn had made in advance in preparation for her birth.
Lynn walked around, utilizing gravity, breathing deeply with the contractions, but chatting amicably with us in between. I had expected her to birth more quickly since this was her fourth baby, but she was slow in dilating until she reached five centimeters. Then, all of a sudden, the contractions came one right after the other. Slow breathing no longer worked for her- now she was panting like a puppy. The reporters got wide-eyed.
“Slow down a little, Lynn, you’re breathing too fast,” I said.
Lynn paced the floor in the bedroom, walking quickly to and fro as though she wanted to run away from this as fast as she could. In between contractions, she sat down on the bed to rest. After each contraction, I listened to the baby’s heartbeat with my Doppler. He was always okay.
In less than a half hour, Lynn was ten centimeters and ready to push. One of her invited guests ran quickly out of the room looking for Mack. Promptly, he came running into their bedroom, wiping his hands on a small towel which he threw into a corner. “I was out washing the car, honey!”
Lynn was squatting on a clean sheet placed by the bed on the floor. She was grunting audibly through clenched teeth-“Get over here and help hold me up,” she muttered hoarsely. The two reporters sat on the edge of their chairs, their hands clenched tightly in their laps. They were mesmerized by an event that was once a common occurrence in everybody’s home, but now was a novelty, worthy of headlines.
“The baby’s coming,” yelled Lynn, grunting loudly.
Her husband was holding tightly onto her, she squatting between his legs; he was sitting on the bed. I slipped on sterile gloves and knelt in front of Lynn on the floor. I could feel the baby moving down in her birth canal, noting a brown tuft of hair on crinkled scalp when I massaged her perineum with olive oil.
“Your baby’s almost here, Lynn. Relax your bottom,” I said encouragingly.
The next contraction brought the baby to a crown. Lynn was pulling up and away from the awesome pressure, crying out in pain.
“You’re doing great, Lynn! Relax, honey! That’s it…breathe slow and deep and allow the head to come out slowly so you don’t tear!” The baby’s fat head cleared the perineum without a tear, revealing chubby baby cheeks and light brown hair. Everybody cheered! I grabbed a piece of sterile gauze from beside me where I had already set up my instruments, bulb syringe, cord clamps, and gauze pads in preparation for the birth. I gently wiped the baby’s face while waiting for the next contraction to birth the shoulders. But the next contraction came and went without releasing them; they were firmly impacted behind the pubic bone- locked in tight.
Lynn pushed doubly hard with the following contraction, but still no baby. I was still pretty new at being a midwife and didn’t know then what I have since learned. When the second contraction passed without delivering the baby into my hands, I knew that I had better figure out how to get him out before the third contraction passed. The final contraction started in less than a minute. In desperation, Lynn’s husband instinctively responded by pushing very hard on the top of his wife’s stomach while I worked feverishly to loosen his anterior shoulder from the bone Lynn pushed doubly hard with the following contraction, but still no baby. I was still pretty new at being a midwife and didn’t know then what I have since learned. When the second contraction passed without delivering the baby into my hands, I knew that I had better figure out how to get him out before the third contraction passed. The final contraction started in less than a minute. In desperation, Lynn’s husband instinctively responded by pushing very hard on the top of his wife’s stomach while I worked feverishly to loosen his anterior shoulder from the bone which kept him from being born. The baby finally dislodged and slid out quickly once his shoulder was free. The baby was limp and purple, but with some massage and oxygen he came around in a minute, yelling lustily in the early evening hour as the moon came up.
“Thank you, God,” I prayed silently as I handed Lynn her son, a whopping ten pound baby. Lynn received her son with a smile, sweat pouring down her face, water glistening all over her body from her hard work. She leaned back against the bed and took a deep breath, then sighed from exhaustion. Her husband smiled at his new son and squeezed his wife’s shoulder with love. One of the newspapers ran the story the following Sunday, complete with pictures done in good taste. Lynn thought they dramatized her labor a little but was otherwise pleased with the publicity.
It was dark when I left their house that night. I was tired but felt that familiar thrill and sense of accomplishment that follows every new child’s arrival into this world. The music from the car’s stereo always takes on a new meaning every time I drive home from another birthing, as though each song playing was meant just for that new baby in celebration of his/her arrival. The lights of Las Vegas stretch ahead of me in the distance, looking ever so much like lights on a Christmas tree, flashing by me as I head for home. Tourists clamoring around slot machines, crap and roulette tables hoping to strike it rich have no idea that normal people live just beyond the twinkling lights and that a new baby has just been born amongst them.
Lynn and I eventually parted ways. She never did adapt to the home birth way and got a job in a clinic with a Nurse Midwife. I appreciate what she taught me though!