Birth Junkies and the Not-So-Junkied
A few weeks ago I blogged about the changes to Washington state birth certificates that would allow my name to go on our daughter’s birth certificate as a “natural” parent from day one. Well, that blessed event has happened–my wife Kris gave birth to our daughter Alexandra on 2-23-11 at 10:07 AM, and the two moms have been blissed out, sleep-deprived, foggy, and mildly alarmed (“Is that what baby poop is supposed to look like?” “Do all babies bray like a goat?” “Could her head fall off if I don’t support it properly?”) ever since.
At our initial childbirth class a couple of months ago, our instructor described herself as a “birth junkie.” After she had her first daughter ten years ago, she said, she walked the streets of our small city seeking out listeners to whom she could tell her birth story. She would impatiently allow said listeners to share the story of their birth experience, waiting for the moment when she could launch into a full-blown, dramatic, too-much-information recounting of her child’s entry into the world while her audience looked on, a polite smile masking their slightly horrified expression.
One thing I know after my daughter’s birth: I am not a birth junkie. In fact, when the 34 hours of labor were over and my wife was lying in her hospital bed spent and thankfully painless due to the epidural she finally allowed us to convince her at hour 30.5 to have, I looked around at the room full of people who had assisted in Alex’s birth and wondered aloud, “Why the ?#$% would you want to go through this every day?”
I’m not saying the experience wasn’t magical, or life-altering, or deeply moving. Watching Kris draw on reserves of seemingly impossible strength, observing the amazing teamwork and dedication among the two nurses and doctor at the hospital where we transferred after it became clear that the baby was facing the wrong direction and couldn’t be born at our local birth center, witnessing that final moment after Carrie, the charge nurse, told Kris to point her pelvis ceiling-ward and aim the baby at one of the sprinkler heads and Alex came shooting out into the doctor’s hands, squirmy and slick and already screaming–these were all unforgettable, life-changing moments to be sure. But I can honestly say I would rather never again spend a day and a half watching Kris eventually vanish into the waves of pain overtaking her while I stood helplessly by, or rail at the first nurse we encountered at the hospital who insisted on holding a faulty baby heart-rate monitor to Kris’s abdomen for an hour straight and intoning that we should be prepared for an almost certain C-section, or call Kris’s mom and my parents and tell them we were at the hospital and things weren’t looking so good.
We thought we were prepared for whatever could happen, but once our beautiful birth center plan went out the window and we ended up in a local hospital known for an extremely high C-section rate, events began to collide in intersecting “what-if” moments of hope, heartbreak, fear, anger, cautiously renewed hope, heartrending joy, terror, and relief, as we were forced to make major decisions on five hours of sleep in the previous 48 hours. But I guess that’s a good precursor for parenting–trying to stick to a plan as life throws its usual curve balls thereby granting you the questionable privilege of experiencing the full range of human emotions in the space of a single day.
When I raised the question of why anyone would want to make childbirth their daily work, our midwife and her assistant, the two nurses and the female doctor (a company of women, fitting for we two unintentionally separatist Smithies–even our dogs are female) all exchanged puzzled looks as if the question had never occurred to them. Maybe it hadn’t. Maybe, like our childbirth instructor, they’re birth junkies, too. Kris and I are both glad they are, because that group of women saved us, in a way, and saved our baby, too.
Birth Certificates and Bureaucracy
The day our daughter was born, the nurses handed us a packet of papers that included a “Paternity Affidavit.” When I asked the nurse about the Female Domestic Partnership form that would replace the traditional paternity form, she offered to get in touch with the records department at the hospital. Being my mother’s daughter, I picked up the phone in our room, dialed 0, and was put through to the records department myself. A very nice youngish woman admitted she didn’t know anything about the form but thought this development was “really exciting.” I agreed, and we hung up after she promised to find us the correct form. A half hour later, our nurse brought the form–the nameless records department employee had tracked it down, made extra copies for future use, and walked our copy over to the childbirth wing in person.
This positive customer service experience made the phone call I received a week later from an oldish woman in the hospital’s records department all the more disappointing. When I answered, the caller asked if I was Kris, as had been happening all week in calls from the hospital, visiting nurses, and others. I once again explained that I was her partner, and there was a long pause at the other end.
Then: “I can’t put your name on the birth certificate because you’re not married.”
Technically, we are legally married. But the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ensures that Washington state has the federal government’s blessing to disregard our Massachusetts marriage license. I didn’t bother to share this fact with the grouchy hospital records department employee. I simply informed her of the state Health Department’s new policy regarding female domestic partners and offered to put her in touch with our lawyer friend if she had any questions. This apparently did the trick. When I contacted the local county records office the next day, the clerk confirmed that my name indeed was on the form the hospital had sent to them. And only a single vague threat of legal action was required to enforce our newly recognized rights!
One last note–the day our daughter was born is the same day the Obama administration announced publicly that it would no longer be defending DOMA in court. Fate? Kismet? Karma? Either way, February 23, 2011, will be doubly celebrated as a historic day in our family.