Whether to give birth in a clinical hospital setting or in a more natural home environment has been a topic of debate for years. Following is one woman’s story of natural childbirth.
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Mindy Goorchenko knows in her bones that the time is near. Bring it on.
She’s still in pajamas: loose gray sweatpants and a light blue tunic that barely covers her massive belly, stretched 80 pounds larger than usual. It’s early. Her husband, Alex, and their 2-year- old, Wolfgang, are barely awake.
It is two days into her 40th week of pregnancy. Just after 7 a.m., labor begins.
They do not rush to the hospital.
Instead, Alex spreads a navy blue towel across the floor of the little bathroom in their modest Torrance condo — a welcome mat for their new arrivals.
The twins will be born at home.
He attaches a garden hose to the kitchen sink and brings it outside to fill what looks like a green plastic kiddie-pool (really a birthing tub) with warm water. He grabs the digital camcorder the couple got as a gift after Wolfgang was born.
“We’re about to do something that isn’t captured on film that frequently,” Mindy says. “Whatever the outcome, we want it captured.”
The couple doesn’t realize the video will also capture the attention of producers at The Discovery Channel, who will include it in their upcoming “Amazing Babies” program. It will find its way to birth educators around the world, become required viewing for midwifery programs and make Mindy a hero in the home birth movement.
For now, they are simply documenting the birth of their children.
Mindy, 26, turns off her brain and tunes into her instinct. The contractions are so intense, she surrenders, swaying with pain. With eyes closed, she leans over the bed and rests her weight on an exercise ball. Her giant belly grazes the beige-and-blue bedspread. A flicker of fear enters her mind: What if one of our babies dies? What if I do?
When Mindy found out she was pregnant, she planned for a home birth and began prenatal care with a certified nurse midwife. But 20 weeks in, she learned she was carrying twins and the midwife had to quit. Her license only covered traditional births — no twins, breeches or preemies.
The couple searched for other midwives and briefly considered going the traditional hospital route. But Mindy wasn’t comfortable with that. She feared surgery and intervention. Giving birth in a noisy room full of strangers would be too stressful a start for her children’s lives. The babies were conceived and gestated naturally, so they should be delivered that way, too.
In the hospital, she’d be like “a disaster waiting to happen.” She talked with Alex, she talked with doctors and she wrote in her journal. Deep in her soul she knew it would be safest at home.
She fills a sports bottle with water and sets it by the bathroom sink. Then it’s back to the exercise ball, swaying and moaning with her eyes at half-mast. The pain is a drug of its own, telling her how to move, inviting her to breathe deeply. She remembers working as a childbirth educator and labor supporter. Flashes of her past education pass through her mind, then fade. Birth is instinctive. Her body knows what to do.
An hour passes. Mindy takes off the tunic and sweatpants and staggers to the bathroom. She sits on the toilet. Her moans could be mistaken for sounds of pleasure, not pain. Wolfgang wants to nurse. He holds on to mommy’s huge belly and reaches up toward her breast.
“He’s my little helper, providing nipple stimulation,” Mindy laughs.
The couple wanted Wolfie to be born at home, too. But he came early, at 35 weeks, and his birth was complicated. Born with a rare bacterial infection, he spent his first 11 days of life in intensive care. He was whisked away from Alex and Mindy just seconds after he was born and carted off for examination. They felt powerless.
A home birth would provide autonomy and calm. But Alex, 27, wasn’t convinced it was a good idea until just a few weeks before Mindy went into labor. With no midwife present and no one to help in an emergency, the birth would be entirely their responsibility.
“There’s my bag,” Mindy says. She reaches beneath her and pulls out a bulging, white, mucousy sac that deflates as soon as she touches it.
“Close the sink,” she says, then drops the bag in.
She checks herself. “The baby’s still way up there.”
Mindy’s interest in birth began when she was 17. She found an old book called Spiritual Midwifery that told stories of birth as a natural, even spiritual experience. It was instantly clear that “part of our birthright as women is this amazing process of pregnancy, of life-bringing.” Yet it never seemed that way on TV or in movies.
Those women were always shown demanding drugs and screaming in demonic voices. It was doctors who knew what to do, not pregnant women.
‘Birth is naturally safe’
“We’ve put birth in the same category with illness and disease and it’s never belonged there,” said Carla Hartley of Redondo Beach, founder of Trust Birth and the Ancient Art Midwifery Institute. “Birth is naturally safe, but we’ve allowed it to be taken over by the medical community.
“Our bodies were designed to finish what we started.”
Mindy feels the baby’s head descend. She gets on her hands and knees and lets out a guttural moan.
She reaches beneath her to feel his head emerge, and she holds him as the rest of his tiny body glides out, covered in a sheer whitish slime.
The umbilical cord is a thick, wavy blue braid. It is 8:55 a.m., Jan. 25, 2004. Psalm Victor is born.
Mindy immediately brings her new son to her heart. She lays him on the towel that covers the floor and gently strokes his chest.
“Oh, big boy,” she says with relief, love and exhaustion.
One down, one to go.
In 2001, one in 33 births was a twin, according to Barbara Luke of WebMD.com. About half of all twins are born vaginally, she said. But when one is in a breech position or the second twin is larger than the first, the babies are usually delivered via cesarean section.
Taking a risk
“Twins are very complicated,” said Dr. Jeffrey Cowan, chief of obstetrics at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. Delivering twins safely at home, unattended, is “way out as far as an exception,” he said.
After 15 minutes of bonding with Psalm, contractions begin again. Mindy clamps his cord and uses a shoelace to tie off her end. It’s white but dotted with blood.
She sits on the toilet and holds onto the sink, swaying her upper body back and forth. Her thick brown curls fall against her face.
She stands, huge belly dangling, then sits again. She sips from the water bottle, tearing off the cap, and moans loudly.
“Want to get in the tub?” Alex asks.
“I’m going to stay right here,” she says, her voice heavy with breath. “I’ll get in the tub after they’re born. It’ll be nice to be relaxed.”
The contractions intensify, and she knows it’s time. She braces herself against the tub as she crawls onto her knees.
The water in the toilet is red with blood. The shoelace dangles from her body.
She reaches inside to check herself. What is that she feels? Is the baby’s hand near her face?
A foot comes out, along with a few drops of blood.
The foot emerges
“I see the foot. There’s the foot. What do you want me to do?” Alex asks.
“Nothing,” she says. “Just film.”
The baby is kicking her way out.
In her mind, Mindy knows that this type of breech birth is considered risky, especially in twins. If she was in the hospital, right now they’d be wheeling her into surgery.
My body knows what to do, she reminds herself.
She groans. The second foot slides out.
The body follows.
Mindy moans loudly as she pushes out the head. Her daughter is born with a splatter of blood. A train roars by outside.
“Oh, big girl, big girl,” Mindy says. “Oh my God. Hi baby. Hi precious girl.”
She caresses the nearly 9-pound newborn body and lovingly strokes her face.
“Look how big you are,” she says, turning to her husband. “Oh my God, they’re here.”
It is 9:22 a.m.
“You came out a funny way,” she tells Zoya Olga. “Mommy’s so proud of you. You did a great job.”Find out more
* Go to: www.earthbirthproductions.com; www.trustbirth.com.
Want to go?
* Mindy Goorchenko will lead a 10-week Birthworks childbirth education series beginning at 7:30 p.m. June 23 at The Path, 813 Torrance Blvd., Redondo Beach. Cost is $275 per couple. For information, call 310-809-2287.