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Go home

On the yahrzeit of my grandmother, Rivka Keyndl bas Tzivia.

Sometimes, I am uneasy, walking in haunted places.  Perhaps not literally haunted, but places that carry memories – intimate memories of birth and death.

Every morning, I wake up a foot away from where Gavriel Zev was born.  A foot.  It’s not always an easy or comfortable place to be (even on different sheets!).  Those are weird, mixed-up, surreal, intimate memories.  And sometimes, you just want to get up and put one foot in front of the other, but the place is haunted and the memories come.

And then, there are our Sunday dinners, in the dining room of my mother’s house, ten feet or so from where my father died.  I could measure the distance, but I know it well already – about four good quick strides, like when he was in the bedroom dying, and we were in the dining room gathering for dinner as usual.

My mother, of course, still sleeps there every night, although in a brand-new bed.  Her old one, which wasn’t very old, has gone to a grateful new owner.  My father had a hospital bed in their room, which has likely gone to several grateful “owners” in the years since his death.

You can certainly see why people would want to sterilize these passages – to cleanse our homes not through some superstitious smudging ritual, but with a more thorough exorcism:  the hospitalization of birth and death.

I was born in a hospital, and so were both my parents.  That’s just where babies came from.  But two of my four babies were born at home – they came from… well, me.

Four of my grandparents died in hospitals.  That’s just where old people went. 

But one of my two parents died at home – he went… well, partly, he stayed.  Is he more present in the house because he died there?  I don’t really believe that, but I do believe something.  I believe it left an imprint, just as birth does – and it doesn’t always let you just get on with your day.

Growing up, driving on the 401, every single time we passed North York General Hospital, we’d point and say, “there’s the hospital where Eli was born.”  After a while, it was also the hospital where Sara and Abigail were born.  I was jealous - “my” hospital is in Montreal, and I’ve only passed by it a few times in my life.

And my grandparents?  In my head, quietly, secretly, I point those out as well -“There’s Toronto General, where Grandma died.”  “There’s Mount Sinai, where Papa died.”  Out loud, I say, “There’s Mount Sinai, where Yerachmiel Meir was born.”

When YM came home after Naomi Rivka’s birth, his first question was, “you didn’t have her in MY room, did you?”  Like babies pop out just anywhere.  Like I might have been partying in his room, or straightening his sheets, when – hello! – a baby.  I said no, she wasn’t born in his room.

A friend posted today about women who fear birth, which is a huge concern, though not necessarily something we’re in a position to do anything about.  Doctors are the prime offenders:  offering women a backhanded message of fear and reassurance - “don’t worry about giving birth; you’re in good hands with me.”

Which strikes me as somewhat hypocritical, when all it took 100 years ago was somebody telling the menfolks to WASH THEIR HANDS AFTER EXAMINING CORPSES for women to stop dying of childbed fever.  Midwives didn’t do autopsies, so they had never spread the disease; only doctors.

But of course, there are so many positives of a medicalized delivery:  Schedule your own birth!  Take control!  Maximize maternity leave!  Avoid pain and unsightly "stretching" (and they don't mean your belly)!  And why horrify your husband when you could just sigh and lean back comfortably in his arms with your nice epidural? 

(yup, I had two - they're very nice!)

But there’s something more here – there’s something about HOME that is exactly and totally the opposite of the kind of control that the medical establishment offers. 

At home, if you can, you wear your own clothes, eat off your own dishes, rest on your own pillow, wake to your own clock radio or the buzzy hum of insects in your own backyard, and in some way you are strong, even if your body is weak.  Even if you are bleeding, fainting, dying.

The only REAL solution to women’s fear of birth is HOME. 

Midwives here in Ontario have mandatory guidelines for transfer to an MD’s care.  If your baby is breech or your placenta is in the wrong place, for example, they must transfer you to an OB for care. 

What we need is the reverse:  we need to force OBs to tell some women; many women, "Look, your pregnancy is normal, totally low-risk; go home and have your baby."

And at the other end of life, force doctors, perhaps sooner than they would like, to tell patients, “Go home.”  It’s not always giving up; sometimes going home is about taking back power, even while relinquishing control.

So “haunted” is probably not exactly the right word – because there’s nothing to fear, and tremendous power in these ancient ways.  In having our family, friends, music, objects, love, surrounding us in these moments that we slip in and slip out of this world.


  1. Good post! I agree that in a lot of cases it is far better to be at home for either coming into or going out of this world. I have not given birth at home and would've liked to. I wound up having them in the hospital because I thought at my "advanced maternal age" that I needed to. We also didn't have many midwifes in our area at the time. I wound up never having an epidural though, so I have no idea what that was like (I wonder if I horrified my husband?). I think more doctors should refer their patients to midwives for normal, low-risk pregnancies. Too bad they won't.
    I thought the part about YM asking if you had Naomi in his room was funny!

  2. You've brought to mind a snippet from Anne of Green Gables (or one of those books, probably the one where Anne gets married): Marilla repeats an age-old adage that a house is not a home until it has been consecrated by a birth, a wedding, and a death.

    Of course very few people stay in the same house long enough to make it a home in *that* way...

    Anyhow, I basically agree with you - although I think choosing to give birth at the hospital is a legitimate choice (for many, many reasons) and it can certainly be attended by midwives rather than by a surgical specialist (which is what OB-GYN is - a surgical specialty).

  3. Nice quote!
    A hospital birth with midwives is, in my opinion, a "next-best." There are a lot of positives, including (sometimes) privacy, not having to clean the bathroom afterwards, and the possibility of more one-on-one "babymoon" time.
    (in Israel, there are apparently special convalescent homes for mothers and babies - wow!)
    But I distrust hospitals because of the big bad bugs that are there these days. For years, it wasn't a concern because of antibiotics. Now it is.
    YM was in the hospital as a newborn and within days had acquired staph, just a skin infection floating around the hallways. These days, it could be MRSA, clostridium difficile or necrotizing fasciitis. Sadly, these are not bizarre, overblown fears; they are in our hospitals, which is why I wouldn't want my baby there unless I had to.
    Perhaps Ontario should rethink the birth centre option, like in Quebed?

  4. This is a beautiful post--I know I'll a little behind on my reading here, but I just wanted to say I enjoyed reading this.

    I have two kids who were born in a freestanding birthing center and two kids at home--this home, in fact. That room is still very peaceful for me.

    I'm into bringing a lot more things back into our homes now--birth, yes, but also school and just more family time. The memories are priceless.


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