“CHILDBIRTH IS NOT AN ILLNESS BUT A NORMAL HUMAN PROCESS.”
This was the simple sentence I heard for the first time during a presentation at Illinois Masonic when Brooke and I went for a tour a few weeks later. A attractive mid-thirties woman with an ambiguous European accent and short blonde hair led the tour. These were some of the first few sentences she spoke. She didn’t say it in all caps – that just how I heard it. She said it like – this is an obvious premise of the field in which I work – nurse-midwifery – and also, since it’s obviously true, I thought I should tell you. She moved on then to talk more about the Labor and Delivery area of the hospital, and then the Mother and Baby area, and what went on in each. But the whole time I was thinking about this claim – I still believe it has profound implications, implications which imply a whole host of institutional and structural changes that need to happen.
While waiting for the tour to begin, Brooke and I sat awkwardly in a small conference room on the hospital’s first floor – awkward because there were only 2 other people in the room until just before the meeting started and we didn’t know them (Brooke always insists on being very early to anything like this).
Once everyone got there and some a question and answer session began, there was a little bit of “let’s all try to out-liberal each other” – a game I’m used to in situations like these. One woman asked whether you could bring the placenta home (we weren’t interested), another about whether they did any home births (no – apparently, as I’d later find out, my mother had worked with one of only a handful of doctors who did this around Chicago, and they had now just about all retired). Someone asked if you could bring in your own birth implements (no). Brooke and I looked at each other as if to say “why the hell would you want to do that?” but then also perhaps to wonder “is that something we should have thought about?” (but mostly the former).
In spite of the out-liberaling game, this meeting for me was a powerful experience. I walked around with a lump in my throat, realizing somehow for the first time what I was about to be a part of. Not just that we were going to have a child – that was a big deal too – but also, that we were going to have a child a good way, a way that would respect Brooke’s body, and the baby’s, and all three of our minds. This was also the night on which I learned that 90% of Europeans did it this way. I started to wonder whether this wasn’t somehow at the root of our differences regarding whole ranges of social-welfare policy. They saw health as a set of natural processes to be augmented by shared experience, we saw it as some strange consumer product for which you ought to be prepared to spend gobs of money, and get loads of services in kind. Theirs is a midwife society; ours an ob-gyn one. This suddenly seemed to have metaphorical value in so many other realms.
As the tour reached its end, we stood in a mother-baby room. It had a hospital bed, a convertible couch, a bathroom, some adjustable curtains, a sink, and a little mini-OR-looking thing in the corner, with a baby scale, some modest medical implements, and a bright light. Our guide pointed all of these out to us and again I felt deeply, earnest moved. On the way out I was overwhelmed with the urge to think our guide – the attractive, Eurpoean-accented one with blonde hair. I don’t think she knew exactly what I wast thanking her for. I don’t think I did either.
We had a sequence of further prenatal visits in the early part of the pregnancy. After meeting with Mary once more, during which we heard that baby’s heartbeat for the first time, we met with a really odd duck named Missie. She was one of those older women you find somewhere, perhaps the one with whom you work or are related that is somehow just out of joint with the world, doesn’t seem to realize it, and also doesn’t seem to think you realize it.
She looked at us and said, new-agey style “I can just FEEL the love between you.” This was probably false. It was getting towards winter, Brooke had just had her first really severe pregnancy-related cold, I was exhausted from work and travelling here just in time to get to the appointment. I mean we do love each other, and we were feeling hopeful about our future, but Missie did not “feel the love.” She couldn’t have. It just wasn’t exuding from our pores on that particular day.
She had a bunch of really odd tics. She insisted on calling the baby “shim,” to avoid making a sex-of-the-baby assumption, and as big of a James Joyce fan as I am, I could not accept this portmanteau word. She asked us some awkward and as far as I could tell pretty much unnecessary questions about our sex life, and also insisted on offering even more awkward commentary about our answers, as minimal as they had been. We left and both shared our earnest hope that when the time came, she wouldn’t be the one on call. I sort of wondered whether she was new and also on her way out. She seemed like the sort of person who couldn’t really hold a job. She made a couple of administrative mistakes and didn’t have answers to logistical questions we really could have reasonably expected answers to.
There was also a woman named Elise – left-handed (I always notice these things, being left-handed myself) and generally very helpful. She didn’t leave as much of an impression, but it was a positive one overall. I went to almost every single appointment, which made me feel as involved as I could have, which is ultimately not that much.
One of the overriding lessons of this whole time in my life was that sexual difference is real. I was not the one having the child. As supportive and present as I was, I was still just more or less a useless adjunct, and biologically speaking, that’s pretty true too. My contribution had ceased months before.
As winter approached, we were due to begin our Bradley Method classes. There were to be twelve of them, on Monday nights from 7-9pm in Logan Square.