J and I met four years ago today. I was a grad student, and I guest taught a couple of Hemingway stories in my mentor/friend MD’s class. J was just finishing up her BA and was one of MD’s students. When I opened our discussion by asking the students what came to mind when they thought of Hemingway – what his public persona was – she was the first to answer. Thus the first thing she ever said to me was “hypermasculinity.”
We’ve had a stressful few days work wise, so we decided to take this afternoon off to celebrate our great fortune of meeting. We had lunch at our favorite lunch spot, finished eating just in time to grab a movie at our favorite theatre, and then headed to my midwife practice to fill out some necessary paperwork. We were having an incredible day, but when we pulled into that parking lot, we both felt the weight of all that had happened in that space. The act of parking there is traumatic. Though we did nothing wrong, the staff sees us (or it seems to me that they do) as high maintenance. Though they did nothing wrong, we don’t quite feel safe there. The trust is broken. Even the smell hurts.
Because we’ve come to realize this in our recent visits, J has been in correspondence with a doula in town, who has recommended that we give the local Catholic hospital (and their practice of midwives) a try. We had never considered them before because, unlike our other hospital, they don’t include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy. If they wanted to exclude the non birth mother, they could. Legally. Also, it’s a much older hospital. Less sexy. Less flashy. But the doula we know said that in her experience (which is substantial; she’s attended a number of births at both places), they’re actually wonderful with same-sex couples. In fact, one of the practice’s midwives is a married lesbian with a daughter. She also said that they’re a lot better about natural childbirth. Far fewer c-sections. More allowance for women’s own bodies to determine the pace of labor. A less invasive overall approach.
Encouraged by this, and saddened by our trip to our old practice, we decided to check out her suggestion. The hospital itself looks like this, which I find both lovely and threatening:
Our experience there was unexpectedly great. It isn’t as new as the other hospital. It lacks that bright, modern cleanness. While that would probably bother lots of people, we’re pretty okay with it. (We share an ability to love old, broken down things. To find charm in the outdated. Or at least I have that ability, and J humors me.) Also, it features a small kiosk of our favorite local coffee shop. And there’s more racial diversity, which makes us both feel comfortable. Most importantly, when we made our way up to the Birthing Center to ask if they had any literature about their facility, we were offered an impromptu tour. With no notice, the nurse manager met us within five minutes, and she spent an hour showing us around, assuaging us of our fears, introducing us to various staff (who she told to remember us, and who wished us luck conceiving), and regaling us with tales of her thirty-year nursing career (which began at Charleston’s medical school, of all places!).
We learned that they encourage women to labor in water (they have big tubs in every room), as research shows that doing so cuts down on medicated births. They have one of this state’s only skin-on-skin specialists, whose job it is to help families connect after birth. She assured us that I would be fully included as a parent, and she said that if I ever felt that I wasn’t, I should contact her immediately and she’d fix it. She showed us several labor rooms (which are more like hotel rooms than hospital rooms). We even got to see a new baby, a little girl born early (33 weeks) last week. She was doing great, dreaming and kicking away. The nurse manager then took us to the wing we’d go to if they were too full to let us stay in our labor room (which is their normal practice). And then she walked us all the way to the other side of the hospital, where we would go for our check-ups throughout the pregnancy.
So I think it’s a good fit for us. I had to fight back tears of joy about a thousand times. The pain of losing Emmett will be there with us when we bring another child into the world, and we’re not trying to avoid that, but if we’re blessed with another baby, the space and people surrounding his or her emergence in the world should bring more joy than sorrow. These people made us feel loved and supported. We can’t know if we’ll be blessed with a baby through J’s body, but if we are, I think we’ve found a birthplace.