Friday, June 6, 2014

A Birth with The Farm Midwives, Part One: Initial Visit to the Clinic

It's been years now that I've planned and dreamed about giving birth at The Farm. The Farm began as a hippie commune in 1971, located in a tiny rural Tennessee town called Summertown. Their midwives were all regular women, untrained medically, who began assisting at the births of commune members out of necessity. Over the last 40 years over 2,000 babies have been born at The Farm, the midwifery program has become world-renowned, and The Farm midwives have become advocates for the natural ability of women to have healthy, safe births without unnecessary medical intervention.

Maggie's birth in 2007 was far from natural and had plenty of interventions. I went into labor at 33 1/2 weeks and over the course of three days was administered magnesium (to try to stop labor), steroids (to develop Maggie's lungs quickly in utero), and IV painkillers (I was extremely sore and having contractions for all three days). The labor never stopped and on day three the doctors decided to let Maggie come out into the world. At that point I was exhausted from very little sleep, as I was in a lot of pain during those days bedridden in the hospital hooked up to a catheter and IV, so I got an epidural as soon as they allowed my labor to start progressing. I took a nice long nap before waking up to push Maggie out. 

I was thrilled to meet my daughter, but her two week NICU stay was very hard. All of the interventions during her birth, coupled with the fact that she was whisked to the NICU minutes after birth and I didn't see her until 8 hours later (I simply didn't realize I was allowed to get out of bed, walk down the hall and see her in the NICU), made it difficult to emotionally bond. I felt lost, floundering, let down, and helpless, with little guidance from hospital staff. I didn't know enough to be an advocate for myself and my daughter and this led to a sad and difficult two weeks. The hospital experience was not one I was ever eager to repeat. 

As soon as Josh and I got married, we began talking about the possibility of having a baby at some point. I was very vocal about my desire to have a natural birth, preferably at The Farm, which is about an hour and twenty minutes away from our home. At first Josh had a lot of hesitations and when we found out about this pregnancy I thought he'd still have reservations about having a birth outside a hospital. To my surprise, he was okay with having a midwife-assisted birth! Not only okay with it, but he had come to understand some of the dangers of hospital births and the huge benefits of home birth.

We had our first appointment at the farm in mid-May (I was about 8 weeks pregnant) with Joanne Santana, a midwife who has been a part of The Farm commune since it was founded in 1971 and has attended over 1,000 births. We were excited and nervous, with lots of questions. Maggie was especially thrilled to be along with us to see where our baby might be born and learn more about the baby.After following a winding path past The Farm Welcome Center, driving a couple miles through lush pastures and lots and lots of greenery, we pulled up to the Clinic, an unassuming building tucked back in the woods. The clinic interior is very laid back, with the waiting area set up like a casual living room. Maggie made herself comfortable with some of the children's books and toys that were tucked into a corner. 

My exam was in the next room and most of it was conducted with the door open to the waiting area so Maggie could come and go as she pleased; she would occasionally pop in to ask Joanne some questions or to talk about what she knew about pregnancy and birth.  Josh and I sat on a comfy couch and talked to Joanne, answering her questions about my health and pregnancy and asking her plenty of questions about how births usually go on The Farm. After about an hour, Joanne took us on a tour of a few of the birthing cabins, most of which are right down the street from the clinic. Many of the birth houses are owned by midwives and some are in the midwife's backyard.

After my appointment had ended, we explored the common areas of The Farm a bit, wandering into the store where the community sells soy dairy products made right there on The Farm, and enjoying an outdoor amphitheater with a playground under it. On our way out of the community we passed horses grazing on the side of the road. 

Our tentative plan now is this: to have a baby at one of The Farm's birthing cabins. We will likely use the cabin that belongs to Joanne -- it is right next door to her house, which is about ten minutes away from The Farm. Joanne's birth home is perfect because there are no other births planned to be there in December, and since we're not at all sure when this baby will arrive (the due date is December 22, but since I'm at risk for preterm labor it could be born much earlier) it is good to know we'd have a place to go even if the baby decides to come at 36 or 37 weeks.  If preterm labor happens we have contingency plans, part of which involve a nearby hospital in Columbia, TN that is fully equipped for premature babies, but if I can hold out to 36 weeks I can deliver the baby in the birthing cabin (barring any other complications). Maggie was born at almost 34 weeks, so I'm hoping and praying that this baby will stay in for just two weeks longer than that!

I'm excited to share the process of this pregnancy and birth with y'all in this space. I've been eating up birth stories and love hearing women's positive experiences with natural labor, particularly with midwife-assisted home births. To me it is so affirming to hear how nurturing a midwife-attended labor can be, especially with midwives who fully believe in the strength and capability of a woman's body during the birth process. 

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