So my sister had a baby. With me. At my house on an island in the Gulf of Alaska. One of the most remote towns in the US.
Last spring called me, exhausted and exasperated. In a few months she would be giving birth. Her previous postpartum was miserable after a traumatic birth of a preemie with no adult to help her as she drove back and forth to the NICU, trying to pump milk and care for her family. Her husband runs his own business and can scarcely get away. Last time his business was in a legal dispute and he had to be in court the day after she delivered. She was pretty distressed at how she was going to survive the rest of her pregnancy and postpartum with baby #4. Especially if baby came early.
I am always bantering about how women in pregnancy, birth and postpartum need mountains of support and rarely receive it. My sister called for help and it was time for me to walk the walk. I couldn't leave my clients and travel to her, so I invited her to come to my house to stay for the summer and have her baby. We joked about it at first. Fly up here, the cousins can play, we'll go to the beach, I'll cook and you can "plop your baby out" downstairs. At some point she took me up on the crazy offer and bought 4 tickets heading north.
With a history of preterm and near term birth, we weren't sure she was going to make it to the 37 weeks she needed in order to have her baby at home. Her OB okay'ed her plan to fly up as far as Anchorage at 34 weeks. There she would be close to the NICU at Providence Alaska Medical Center just in case baby came early. It also happens to be a "Baby-Friendly" hospital, offering a high level of breastfeeding support, something she didn't receive much of after her last birth. Plus, she had my mom and a number of old friends to help her out while she cooked a little longer.
When I told my clients I wouldn't be available for awhile and why, some were pretty sad. They said no one ever gave them much support. They only got an hour with the midwife here and there, a visit from a friend or two and a couple of casseroles. The reality is that women in this country need much more rest and nurturing to have healthy babies to recover completely from childbirth. Most cultures give women a full 40 days free of household duties to recover postpartum and plenty of help leading up to birth. The sad reality here in the US is that if you don't have close friends who "get it", a strong church network, family nearby, or lots of cash to hire help, postpartum and pregnancy can be really, really hard. If you know someone who is pregnant and want to learn simple ways to help, read this article. Then share it. With everyone.
By 37 weeks she had flown down and we were in full summer-kid-fun plus "getting ready for baby" mode. I quickly realized I was in over my head. The workload was too much for one person, so we called for reinforcements. Our mom flew down from Anchorage with Dad coming a week or so behind her. I was up at 5:45 am every day to play with the toddler so my sister could sleep in. Then at 8:00 I'd get the big kids ready for day camp, pack lunches, then pick them up and take them on beach adventures in the afternoon. Late afternoon we'd be home and our mom would be cooking and doing laundry. After dinner my sister and I indulged in Jane Austen movies and ice cream and bonded like we never did before.
By this point my husband made himself as scarce as possible. With 9 females and baby fever in our house, he had to escape. He took the big girls out on some golfing and fishing adventures and brought the camper home most nights so I could hide out and get quiet time with him. I'm glad there was no shortage of outdoor fun for him nearby while I stayed home and waited for baby to come.
Finally, at 40 weeks and one day, our 9 pound 2 ounce beauty entered the world in water after just two hours of labor. It worked! Our plan worked! She weighed almost twice what her other sisters weighed at birth. The milk came in beautifully. Our preterm-labor-prevention-support plan worked so well that my mom suggested I do it for ALL of my clients with a history of early labor. Um, mom.... No. Just, no.
I can't do this for everyone. What we need are fully staffed maternity and postpartum houses so we could support a number of women at any given time. In France women get to stay in the hospital based suites for a week. In Holland a nurse comes to the house every day for over a week. Maternity/postpartum houses or comprehensive in-home support are part of the health care system or done privately by relatives in almost every culture throughout the world since the beginning of time. From China to Finland to Argentina, women are accustomed to having this basic health care necessity, which we foolishly consider a luxury. Learn more about these practices here.
These 5 weeks of TLC for my sister, a healthy baby and this peaceful, gentle birth would not have been possible without the help of:
- My patient and supportive husband willing to give up his wife and his house during our prime summer weeks.
- My girls for sharing their rooms, clothes, toys and their mom's attention.
- Our parents who are in their 70's were willing and able to come and help with driving, babysitting, cooking and paying for overpriced Kodiak lodging and groceries.
- My other clients that had to be on the back burner for awhile.
- Lactation support from the KINDNESS program sponsored by Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center.
- Jen Hoadley CNM, Mary Ann Baul LM, Beth Claxton, MD, for prenatal care and consultation.
- Jen Hulse, Judy Hamilton, Miranda Stohl and Emily North for meals and labor support.
- The prayer warriors. You know who you are!
Great work everyone. Thank you!