Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Meandering Rant on Car-Free Childbirth

There is still a post on bike camping waiting to be written, and another on finally finishing the rear axle assembly on the Mundo. Both are pending my locating the cable to get the pictures off of the camera, which got cleverly stashed somewhere in our move, and hasn't gotten un-stashed yet.

But we HAVE moved, and while there are still piles of boxes here and there, we feel wonderfully at home. Great house, great neighbors, and close enough to things that I'm actually biking less for everyday things, because they are in walking distance.

Today was my 28-week midwife visit, and my regular midwife was out, so I was meeting with the rest of my birth team, who I don't yet know as well. And there was a tense discussion at that meeting that left me bothered, that I wanted to think through here.

One of the many reasons we love our new place is because it is about a mile from the birth center, which means that it is an easy bike ride, and even a short walk, to get to appointments. We were talking about the recently-learned fact that the fine print of our insurance covers birth-center births but not home births, and so the decision of where-to-have-the-baby, which we had not yet resolved, had been sort of made for us. And the midwife said that we could still go home as soon as we wanted to afterward, and I agreed, saying that at this distance, I could practically walk it.

I wasn't entirely serious; frankly, I hadn't yet given much thought to how we'd get home from the birth. But she turned icy, and said "We're going to have to veto that one." I wasn't sure exactly what she was vetoing (my walking, or walking with the baby, or what) and so I asked, now a bit testy myself, "How exactly do you expect us to get home?" She remembered then that we were car-less, and immediately suggested borrowing a friend's car, or getting a rental, or having someone else drive us. And there was brainstorming, and peacemaking, and the tone in the room relaxed a bit.

But Dave kept pushing: what was wrong with walking? Well, they told us then, there was no way to know what condition I'd be in after the birth: how much blood loss, how much tearing, how long a labor, how much exhaustion. Which is fair enough, labor is taxing. And so they didn't allow their mamas to walk out. Which seems a bit arbitrary, given that the whole point is that we don't know, but fine. It's not like I've given birth before, and I believe them when they tell me that I'm not going to feel like walking a mile afterward.

Ok, Dave pressed, so what modes of transport would be acceptable? At this point, they allowed that anything that didn't require my propulsion would be ok-- he would be welcome to bring me home in a bakfiets with the baby in a sling, or to hire a pedicab for the three of us, or rent a bike surrey and have the whole family pedal me & baby home.

Dave's pushing made me uncomfortable in the meeting; I tend to try to keep interpersonal peace and don't like confrontations. But in retrospect, I really appreciate that he was willing to push the subject beyond the default get-a-car response. Because, frankly, it's pretty fucked up that we can choose run our whole lives without cars, in part because more cars on the road make the world less safe and less joyful for everyone, including this little babe we're working on, and yet these really wonderful, smart, good folks assume that the best, safest thing to do as soon as this little one comes into the world is to take him/her away from me, strap him/her into a car seat, and drive that metal cocoon a single mile down residential streets to our home.

We're not extremists. We use zipcars a few times a month, either to get out of town to see friends or go on trips, or for things like furniture at Ikea (which we could do on the Mundo, but it's far and I don't have the energy these days) or to do something or see someone out in the suburbs. And I was impressed with the way Dave redirected the conversation: yes, we could borrow a car or ask a friend for help, but the point was that we preferred not to use cars, that we tried to avoid them, that we would like to find another way if that was possible. Because surely the only way to move a tired mama and her new baby home wasn't in a car. Surely not.

Now, I don't know if we'll have a car-free birth. There are certainly higher priorities: a healthy birth, first of all, and also a joyful and loving one. I don't know how long into this pregnancy I'll be able to continue biking myself around, though I expect to be ok on the bike for at least another 6 weeks, and if the geometry stays on my side, maybe longer. Assuming there comes a point when cycling no longer works for me, I don't know how comfortable I'll be on the back of the Mundo. I don't know how we'll want to get to the birth center when the time comes, nor, honestly, whether my health and the baby's will cooperate to allow a birth center birth at all. Because it is childbirth, and it is unpredictable, and shit happens that we don't get to choose.

But I feel grateful, and very lucky, to have a partner who is willing to stand up and insist that there are options. So that if we can choose, if we don't have to compromise, then we won't.

If you're in Portland in late November, and you see a tired-looking woman in the bucket of a bakfiets in SE with a baby on her chest and a proud-looking pilot... I hope you'll wave.