The Common Good
December 2010

Being There

by Matt Hildreth | December 2010

A reluctant uncle witnesses the home birth of his nephew.

It was Sunday morning and I was late -- really late. Of all the mornings to oversleep, this was by far the worst.

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When my sister and brother-in-law decided to have a home birth, she wanted two very special nurses, my aunt and my mother, by her side. A few months ago, when they created their birth plan, it seemed like a great idea to have me drive my aunt from the airport -- now it seemed that my tardiness could ruin everything.

I had never planned on attending my sister’s home birth. To be honest, I didn't really understand why someone would give up the comforts of modern medicine for a natural birth. It wasn't that I wanted to miss it. It was just that a home birth and the lack of a waiting room in her tiny apartment pretty much guaranteed that I'd be uncomfortably close to the action.

When we finally got to my sister's place and my aunt asked if I was "coming in," I had nothing to say. I had to go in. We arrived just in time. The midwife, my mother, my sister, and brother-in-law were in the bedroom and had filled a birthing pool with water using a garden hose connected to their bathtub. While I didn’t dare go into the bedroom, I could pretty much hear everything through the paper-thin walls.

Except for the constant text messages sent back to family in the Midwest, I felt as though I had stumbled onto a scene from Little House on the Prairie or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. The midwife, my mother, and my aunt assuredly bustled around the apartment as I sat helplessly on the couch eating some crackers I found in the kitchen.

While I waited in her living room, I thought about family. I thought about a time, not long ago, when sterile hospital rooms and surgical masks didn't cover up the raw, powerful experience happening in the room next to me. While modern medical developments have, without a doubt, saved many lives and improved birthing conditions, I began to wonder if we haven't lost something in our search for modern conveniences.

My sister had told me many times about how the child-birthing industry no longer empowers the mother, but instead favors the convenience of doctors. With Caesarean-section delivery rates at an all time high, childbirth has become a major industry in the United States. In my sister’s apartment I realized that babies should not come with a neatly tied ribbon, despite what our industrialized culture tells us. In order for me to feel true, unmediated family, I needed to get uncomfortably close to the action.

I don't think anything could have prepared me for the feelings I had once I heard that tiny voice crying in the adjacent room. My nephew had arrived. I realized then that something this grand and life-altering had to feel this natural. Indeed, I cannot think of anything more innately human.

Matt Hildreth, a former Sojourners staff member, works as an online organizer in Washington, D.C.

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