(Updated September 9, 2018 to replace mater mea’s use of the phrase “natural birth” with “home birth”—all birth is natural.)
When Maeling Murphy decided she wanted to give birth to her first child at home, her Google searches didn’t bring up many results with other Black and brown women who had made the same choice.
Even so, Maeling (better known as Mae, founder and editor-in-chief of natural hair blog Natural Chica) still wanted to add “creating a home birth experience” to the longer-than-average list of things she had to do before her son’s arrival. (When Mae found out she was pregnant, she was in the last year of graduate school at Georgia Institute of Technology—her doctorate in material sciences and engineering well within her grasp.)
Amidst finishing up the last of her experiments, writing her dissertation through morning sickness, and successfully defending it almost five months before her son Anthony III was born, Mae was also researching and preparing for a water birth at home with the help of her husband, a midwife, and a doula.
I feel like that experience showed me how much strength I had.
The experience of giving birth at home is one Mae treasures.
“We had the water tub set in our bedroom, so even when I’m going to sleep at night, it’s just like, Wow, my baby was delivered right there, and now he’s a big boy running around!” she says in awe. “It’s really amazing and I feel like that experience showed me how much strength I had.”
Looking back, while the dearth of brown mothers having home births didn’t dissuade her, it did give her pause. Why is this not something that we talk about in our community? she wondered.
“I would talk to people and find some women here and there who did natural childbirth,” Mae says now, “but if you look online, we’re really not represented at all.”
That’s why Mae wanted to share her home birth story with us. She tells us how she and her husband decided to have a home birth, what she found in her research, and what happened when she went into labor—a story she’s sharing for the first time.
“If there’s someone else out there who looks like me [and] is looking for this type of information,” she says, “I want them to see that yeah, Black women are doing this too.”
Deciding to Have A Home Birth
What made you want to give birth at home?
Before I got pregnant, my husband and I watched a documentary called The Business of Being Born. I had never considered natural childbirth, but it just really opened my eyes to alternatives. I decided to have a natural childbirth because I knew [that] I’m a person who’s afraid of hospital settings and I just knew I wasn’t going to be comfortable in that setting. I even hate getting shots.
When I did become pregnant, I told my husband, “I think I really want to investigate this further and start talking to midwives and other women who have gone through natural childbirth.” I watched at least 100 videos on natural childbirth, and I was fortunate to find an amazing midwife who had a working relationship with an OBGYN for backup. I felt very, very secure in who I was working with. I was able to have a doula as well for the emotional support, which is also so necessary.
Were you nervous or scared at all about giving birth at home?
I went to get bloodwork done [and] I told the nurse who was drawing the blood that I was going to have a natural childbirth. When she pulled out the needles, I turned into a total wuss. She was like, “So… you’re having a birth without medication? Oh. Ok.”
[But] that strength kicked in big time. I turned into total warrior mama. It was an amazing, amazing experience.
Did you get any pushback from family or friends for wanting to have a home birth?
I wouldn’t say pushback, but there were lots of questions. They hadn’t done the research, so they didn’t really know how safe it was. People initially think you’re having a baby, you’re going to the hospital. We had to do a lot of educating.
We actually didn’t share with a lot of people what our plans were because I didn’t want any negativity surrounding my pregnancy, especially from people I didn’t love and weren’t connected to. They didn’t need to know. [It’s] why I didn’t share it on my site during my pregnancy; I knew if I started giving that kind of information, it was just going to cast a negative energy over my pregnancy and I wanted to remain as positive as possible.
We just told my parents and some close friends. No one was like, “You’re doing a horrible thing.” They just wanted more information.
What was your research process like?
I started my search first by looking for certified midwives—CMs—because you want to get someone who is certified in emergency procedures, like doing resuscitation and being able to do minor surgery like suturing.
You want to see how many births they’ve had underneath their belt, if they work with assistants… I also wanted a midwife who had a relationship with a doctor who had a hospital nearby. That was very important to me because you never know what can happen—you want to be able to have that backup for sure.
This is something that I wasn’t sure I wanted in the beginning, but [I got] a doula. It wasn’t until people started telling me their experiences with doulas that I said I had to have one. They [do] things like massages and aromatherapy, but for me the biggest thing was emotional support.
When I went into labor, the doula was actually the first one to come. My contractions weren’t that close together, but the pain was so intense. My husband was like, “Do you want to call her?” And I was like, “Please. Call her. Now. She has to come now!” (Laughs)
Just having her there was amazing. My labor was almost two days—she slept on my [bedroom] floor while I was in bed trying to get some kind of sleep during the night. Just knowing that she was there… It was really amazing. Having both—the midwife and the doula—was so necessary for me because I’m a very emotional person and any kind of encouragement and support is going to do wonders for me.
Having a Home Birth
What was your birth plan before you went into labor, and what did it actually look like when you were in labor?
My birth plan was very simple. It pretty much looked the same before and after I went into labor. I knew that I didn’t want a lot of people in the house. I just had my midwife, my doula, and my husband. He was such a trooper.
I worked with Kenya Engram of Nurturing Notes Music Therapy, one of my great friends [who is] a music therapist. We did exercises with music therapy before the labor, so she helped me create a playlist that went with my different stages of birthing.
I really kept it simple because I knew everything can’t be planed to the T. But those were the two main things that were important to me. And of course being at home.
Walk me through your labor.
I started getting contractions and I didn’t even really think I was going into labor. I said, “You know what, babe? Let’s just time it.” We did that for a couple of hours, and [it was] starting to really hurt.
This was in the middle of the night, so we waited until the morning. I called my doula and she came over. She started doing some breathing exercises with me to help me calm down and relax. It wasn’t until my contractions were closer—like about four minutes apart—that we called my midwife.
I didn’t expect to go into labor that day. My husband was already supposed to meet up with her to get the birthing tub for the following week, [but] we were like, “Actually we need to get this started now.” He went over, got the tub, and started filling up the water. She couldn’t come until later because she had another delivery [and] my contractions were still far enough apart.
[When] she got there, she checked how much I was dilated. I thought I was going to be way dilated, [but] she said, “Oh, you’re only 1 centimeter.” I was like, “Are you serious? Only 1 centimeter? I’m going through so much pain, you can’t be serious!” (Laughs)
This is where the doula came in handy, because I started to get discouraged and really frustrated. I had been laboring for pretty much a full day at that point. The midwife stayed for awhile in the evening, [but] she ended up going back home and the doula stayed over. [I] basically kept laboring throughout the night; [I] tried to lay down and get as much sleep as I could.
We called the midwife back in the morning and she checked me again. I was only 4 centimeters, and again, I was like, “Are you serious? This is the worst! I can’t do this anymore! I don’t want to have this baby inside me anymore. Just get it out, get it out!” (Laughs) It was very intense.
They had me walking up and down the stairs to help with movement of the baby. I remember coming downstairs and my midwife made me a smoothie. It was so delicious, lifted my spirits, and then [I] immediately threw it up all over the floor.
It was weird because at that point something transitioned in my head. Up until this point, my doula was trying to get me to do different exercises to help me dilate further. It would be so painful—I would do it gingerly and not fully because I just couldn’t take the pain. But at that point, after I was throwing up, I was like, No, we’re doing this.
Whatever they told me to do, I did it with all of my might. I didn’t care how much it hurt because I knew I wanted to see my baby.
I remember walking back upstairs. They told me that when it was time to push, I would feel this urge that I couldn’t control. I was in the shower waiting [and] I finally got the urge. They brought out a birthing chair, and it was at that point that my water actually broke.
After that I had my doula helping me. I was on all fours [and] starting to push the baby out. I remember my midwife telling me, “You can touch his head!”
I remember being so scared because it felt so weird: My baby is actually coming! I was touching his head, and I was like, Oh my goodness, this is real.
At that point we had the tub set up. They [said], “We know you wanted to have a water birth. If you want we can help you get into the tub.” They’re trying to help me into the water, my baby’s trying to come out, and finally we get into the water. It wasn’t even like five minutes of pushing in the water.
They [said], “Grab your son.” I [thought], What? He’s out?
I remember pulling him up from underneath me and seeing this baby’s face. It was just a beautiful experience, and I just couldn’t believe that it was done.
That was so beautiful! How did you feel after you pulled him out and you were holding him and looking at him?
Oh my goodness. It was the most unreal feeling. You’re interacting with them from the outside for nine months and feeling their little kicks, and now you’re seeing their feet kicking from the outside. And it’s like, How did we create this human being?
I remember looking up at my husband after I pulled him out of the water. I [said], “This is your son! This is your son!” [In] the pictures from then you can see my face is in total shock. I just look so surprised about everything! (Laughs)
What was really amazing was after I pulled him out, we were still in the tub. I remember cradling him and him looking at me for the first time. It’s indescribable that feeling, that bond that you already have and you’ve only seen them for five minutes: This is my child and I’m going to love them forever and do anything for them.
Is there any difference in the recovery time for a home birth versus a hospital birth?
That’s a little harder to say. Even during natural childbirth, some women may go through other complications, or they may tear more and things like that.
My recovery was really great. My midwife [told] me I couldn’t go downstairs for two days, so I had everybody do everything for me, which was great. But after that, I was walking around just fine. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe how much my body recovered. Of course, it’s not 100% recovery—your body is continuously recovering because you had nine months of your body changing tremendously. But after two days, I was good to go.
What were some of the things you were surprised to learn about home birth that you think other women should know?
I remember initially being surprised about water birth. I would wonder how the baby’s going to breathe, not thinking, “Duh, he’s been in fluid the whole time he’s been inside of [me]. It’s going to be fine, it’s totally safe.”
And by the way, labor feels totally different in water. It’s so much better. You feel less pressure, and pressure is where the pain—at least for me—really came from. Remember when I was describing how I was not following their instructions completely because I [didn’t want] to deal with the pain? I had actually begged to get into the pool before it was really time and that kind of slowed down my contractions. I felt amazing. I just wanted to stay in there forever, but of course that delayed my labor. I pushed on the outside and in the water and I would’ve definitely chosen the water more than anything.
Another thing that was surprising was learning that women would keep the baby connected to the placenta for an extended period of time. There are a lot of health benefits for doing that. I actually ended up doing that with my son as well—they had him connected to the placenta [for] over five minutes. My husband cut the cord right before we had to weigh the baby.
…Whatever you decide for your birthing process, [make] these decisions with you and your baby’s best interests in mind…
Placenta encapsulation was another thing that I discovered during my natural childbirth searches. There are so many hormonal changes [happening] and it can affect your mood. I had read and found out from my midwife that [placenta capsules] were helpful to take when you started to feel that [mood shift] and even [for] getting energy. So I had capsules made and took some when I needed to, and they worked wonderfully.
Is there anything else you’d want to share with women considering having a home birth?
For anyone considering a [home] birth, I would encourage them to continue to read as much as they can about it and to talk to women who’ve gone through this process before. For me, it was incredibly empowering to read the beautiful natural childbirth stories of others, and it especially calmed my spirit as my son’s birth neared, knowing there were countless women before me who had given birth naturally and had beautiful experiences. Some of the books I enjoyed reading during my pregnancy were Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin and Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz.
I would suggest starting early when it comes to building your birth support network, whether it be researching a birthing center, OBGYNs, midwives, or doulas. This is such an intimate experience, and you want to surround yourself with not only knowledgeable people, but people that you know you will feel comfortable with as they provide your care throughout your pregnancy and birthing experience.
Lastly, make sure that whatever you decide for your birthing process, that you’re making these decisions with you and your baby’s best interests in mind and not solely because of the opinions of others.