Home Birth Buddies, and Family Birth Stories
So, I was just looking back at pictures from last year, marvelling at how much my baby has grown. I came across this picture, with my then-three-month-old son and my Aunt Mary, and I was struck by the fact that Marcus and my aunt are home birth buddies: Aunt Mary, my mother’s older sister and the second child of my Sicilian-immigrant grandparents, was the last person in my family born at home until I had my homebirth last year.
Of course, when Aunt Mary was born, in 1925 in the family’s railroad flat in Manhattan, there was almost certainly not a lot of angst over the decision to give birth at home. I heard the story from her older sister, a then-three-year-old girl to whom (clearly) nothing was explained. Aunt Grace recalled neighboring women rushing into the apartment, running in and then out with blood-stained sheets, and not stopping to talk to her. She remembered her father holding her tightly in the hallway of the apartment building, not letting her go back into the apartment, while she heard her mother moaning and vocalizing inside and just wanted to run to her mother.
By the time the next child was born, it was 1930, and the family had enough money that there was indeed a choice about where to give birth–home or hospital. My grandparents chose the hospital, in the new modern way, and my Uncle Sal was born. My grandmother was given Twilight Sleep for that birth, which must have been a drastically different experience than the community-centered, midwife-attended births of her two older daughters. In fact, my grandmother insisted until she died that she gave birth to twins that day in the hospital, but that the second child was born dead and the doctors took it away without showing her or telling her and her husband. She insisted that although she was drugged, she saw it hazily, and according to my mother and her sisters, she was absolutely convinced of this. Who knows, really, what happened? She could have been hallucinating because of the drugs, but it’s also not beyond the realm of probability that a paternalistic doctor might have decided it was better for this immigrant woman not to know.
It’s funny thinking about the birth stories of the generation above ours–I like thinking about how I came full-circle in 83 years, giving birth on my bed with a midwife, and an old black-and-white photo of my grandmother hanging on the bedroom wall.