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.


Jim said...

Wonderfull times... We have 3 kids now, and each birth is different.
Also I am a man so my observations are from a spectator point of view. But I remember distinctly my wife being pretty mobile (could easily walk a mile) pre birth for the first 2 kids, and very sensitive/fragile/uncomfortable with bumps jolts in the car for number 3 child (We lived 30 miles from town then). But compared with the first 2 he was a big bruiser of a baby too..

Post birth Mrs Yuba was usually pretty fragile and tired. Walking, even across the room, was a big deal.

I suppose you need to think about your comfort/pain threshholds as a woman, and put in place quick plan B's if you need rapid backup.

Alot of people will think you are nuts if you go home in/on a bike. But people probably already think that when they pass you in their SUV's today ! So what...

We wish you to have all the joy we had with our births.

keo8128 said...

I am totally inspired by you and your enthusiasm for alternate transport options, even post-childbirth. Sometimes, I think, it is difficult for people to understand the difference between an *irrational* car-free zealot and someone who just looks to other options first. It is truly freeing to have so many other options, and although I haven't sold my car yet (it is on its way out, soon), I rarely find the need to drive it if I think about alternatives first. Usually biking.

I'm also quite glad that you don't immediately default to "ride from a friend". This is an option that seems easy, and some who go car-free but aren't quite ready for it depend on it a bit too much. It is definitely not a sustainable option -- we can't all be car-free and have friends to drive us places. Plus, it is no fun to be a burden on friends. My friends are all too generous with ride offers, but I usually politely decline.

Long comment, but in short: I'm proud of you!

Dottie said...

This was a really interesting read. I'm car-free and also currently kid-free, so have not had to deal with issues like this. It's good to get started thinking about them early and hear how others before me resolve them. Like you, I dislike the default option of cars. There are plenty of other options that you mentioned, which all seem more suitable for a one-mile trip.

I look forward to reading about your progress!

Bikejuju said...

I love this post - such great issues to think through, both on the level of practicality, and also on the level of considering where and when to advocate, with what degree of stridency, etc. You seem very level headed yet questioning the car bias with the right degree of push-back. Kudos.

I wish you the best for your remaining weeks (and for your impending parenthood!).

She Rides a Bike said...

No babies. No plans for babies. I expect that you just need to be prepared for anything. Some women ride throughout their pregnancy and good for them. I can honestly say that if it were me, my husband would probably make arrangements for a car rental during birthing week or to borrow a friend's car. I'd love to live in Portland for the progressive bike commuting culture but all things have a time and place and for us the trip to and from the hospital would be the time for a car. I'm sure the two of you will make the best decision for you at time. Don't sweat it.

Dorea said...

Every labor is so different. When our first was born, we lived only three blocks away from the hospital, but there was absolutely no way my wife would have been able to walk home. I put my wife in a cab, but didn't want to install a carseat for a three block drive, so I walked our new baby home, nestled in my arms. It was very sweet.

For our second (this time with me birthing), we were farther from home, and had aspirations of taking the bus, but again, even that amount of walking would have been too much. Even the bumps during car ride from our dear friends was a lot to handle.

We'd had aspirations of taking the bus to the hospital (38 week induction due to late term complications, so it's not like I was in labor), but then it started raining, and our neighbors were super excited we were going to have the baby and really wanted to be the ones to drive us, and we gratefully accepted their offer. It was actually quite nice. They were so thrilled to be helping, and it helped turn the birth into a neighborhood bonding thing, even though it did mean a car ride. A different neighbor (with a pre-installed carseat) drove us home.

But Angela did some biking to/from the hospital after the birth, and our daughter visited with her Grandma via bus.

You should also know that, depending on the laws, that you may not be able to leave without putting the child in a carseat. Seriously. Here in MA They make you put the kid in a baby bucket no matter how you are getting home.

BusChick took the bus home, which I find absolutely inspiring.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

What kind of a carseat do you car-free families buy, if any? Neither my partner nor I can drive, but we do anticipate occasionally taking our little one (due in 3 months) in friends' cars or cabs. It is so strange to me that there's no mainstream carseat marketed to car-free families.

Rachel said...

Love the blog and I love the post and I feel pretty silly for just having noticed the new blog. Hurr.

Max said...

If factors such as weather and terrain (sidewalks, crosswalks, hills, etc) are all fairly ideal, then maybe a wheelchair could be found on freecycle or rented?

It would also be great to see the pedicab companies compete with the auto cabs, and be less of the novelty (as they seem to be here in DC area, at least).

inkandpen said...

Anon: We haven't bought a car seat yet, for just that reason. We'll also surely carry our kid by car for family visits and the like, but all of the car seats seem to be marketed to be easy in-and-out once you have installed the base. What about if you're carrying the base with you? I haven't found a good answer yet.

sara said...

It's great you keep asking the questions & trying to find the solutions that work best for your family. I am all for planning ahead but also for understanding that some flexibility may be involved since one cannot totally predict how it will go. Sounds like you got that balance happening.

Best of luck. Happy Birth and most importantly, Happy & Healthy Baby!

MamaVee said...

( RE carseat. If you do plan on buying one I'd buy the kind that converts from rear facing to front facing. It will work for an infant up to a 3 or 4 year old depending on size. It has no base and no bucket. However there aren't two pieces to hold and noo need to buy a new one when the bucket is too small ( often at about 6-9 months of age honestly))

The bucket seat is kind of a pain anyway- heavy to carry where a sling is so much easier. People like it b/c they can take kid from car to out of car without disturbing the kid. But if you don't have a car- there is no need for that right? The kind I have is a Britax which is $$ but I think there are other brands that do the same thing. Main thing is rear facing and front facing for the longest lifespan. If you have storage for it in a closet etc as it is big.)

good luck. I'd love to see a pic of you riding in the bakfiet!