having a baby

Having a Baby My Way

by Pat (1972) A woman describes having her baby at home with the help of the Chicago Maternity Center, the legendary home birthing center formerly located on Chicago's Westside. by Pat (1972)

(Editor's Note: Pat describes having her baby at home assisted by the Chicago Maternity Center, the legendary Westside home birthing clinic. The clinic was closed after a long struggle with Chicago's male dominated health establishment. This story is from the February 1972 Womankind.)

I decided to have a child— my way. Ideally, I would have liked to have all my friends gathered together while my child’s father delivered it up into the world, and afterwards we could have all sat watching the afterbirth blazing merrily in the fireplace. However, I did not know a doctor or a nurse or a competent midwife who would assist at the at—home ceremony.

So I chose the next best thing: the Chicago Maternity Center. I was determined that nobody was going to direct my show but me. Nobody was going to get me into a hospital (hospitals are for the diseased, not the pregnant), and nobody was going to take my newborn screaming in the first trauma of life to some sterile nursery, deciding when I could see it and feed it— at the institution’s convenience.

Initially, I chose the Maternity Center only because it was the only place I knew of which would assist at a home delivery. I did not even know at first that the mother’s home environment is naturally the safest place to have a baby (for unlike in the so-called “sterile” hospital room, where the risk for catching a disease is shockingly higher, the baby will be born already as resistant as its mother to the particular elements of her bacterial environment) and that home babies have a significantly lower mortality rate than hospital babies. The Chicago Maternity Center has a much lower mortality rate than all of the hospitals belonging to the American Medical Association. I knew only that home was the only choice for me, regardless of, in spite of and perhaps because of modern obstetrics.

For nine months I went for regular adequate prenatal checkups taking a number each time, waiting my turn with 100 other women. During the long monthly sessions(toward parturition weekly) I met many women, including a ten year old mother, a mother of thirteen children on welfare, and a Radcliffe graduate— all coming to the Center in order to have their babies at home, either by choice or by poverty.

Throughout the nine months I gathered my stash of supplies for the grand ceremony: a two foot high stack of newspapers; one and one half yards of plastic sheeting; a dozen safety pins; a roll of toilet paper; a dime for calling the Maternity Center, a kettle with a lid for boiling water; a wash basin; a strong electric light; four dozen sanitary napkins; etc.

The day of the breaking of the bag of waters finally occurred. I thought, “Today is the day”, and had my dime ready. But nothing happened that day. On the night of the second day I thought, “Perhaps I’m having contractions and don’t know it!” So I called the Center to ask their opinion, they asked if I would please come in that night for a checkup. My man and I scrounged up carfare from neighbors and made our way to the Center. One drawback of the Center is that you cannot choose from month to month or even at the finale from whom you will get treatment. You get whomever is on duty. In this case the doctor I had was excellent. The young, Filipino woman doctor was beautiful and gentle. She said, “Your bag of waters has in fact broken, nor have contractions begun. We will induce labor. Do you wand to have your baby tonight or tomorrow?” I could not wait for the morrow. Two student nurses shaved my pubic hair and pumped me with enema water to flush out my midnight dinner. Then the two nurses, the doctor, a male resident, my man and I all drove back to our house with a few bags of equipment. Being a novice, I merely sat down on the couch wondering if we would all just sit around until the baby popped out.

The two student nurses laid plastic sheeting and newspapers on the bed, put the kettle of water on the stove to boil, cleared the table, set up the large electric hospital lights they had brought with and locked my nervous cat in the closet. The doctor set up an intravenous unit of oxytocin (the natural hormone which our female bodies usually produce to start labor) to run into my veins. I laid on the bed while the contractions gradually increased in time and my cervix dilated to six centimeters. Most of the two hours the Filipino woman sat on the bed beside me stroking my engorged uterus with a rhythmic lulling, while my man sat opposite her stroking my head. Mr. Resident, whose job was to watch the woman and learn from her, was conspicuously irritated and irritating in his role. He was offensively rough and insensitive, jabbing his fingers into me every few minutes and carrying on about how I should be given ether and be done with it. When the baby was ready to move down the birth canal I got out of bed, walked table and climbed up on it. The instruments on hand in case of necessity were boiled and waiting. After a few minutes, the small woman instructed the resident to call Dr. Beatrice Tucker, for she is often on hand at the Center to assist at complicated births. Dr. Tucker arrived within minutes to instruct in her specialty— breech deliveries. When her concern was no longer necessary; she left just as quickly.

The baby finally slurped from my womb still covered with the dark purple—veined placenta. First the infant was handed to me, then to his father who took him in the bedroom with one of the student nurses to be cleaned of mucous and given some water to unplug its air passages. The resident kept me on the kitchen table, sewing my slightly cut uterus. When he mumbled, “Whoops, I dropped a stitch,” he was politely informed that such things are not said in front of the inaccurately labeled “patient”. I was jealous that I was made to stay on the kitchen table for a half hour until the excessive bleeding stopped while everyone else was in the bedroom getting first crack at my baby. After a while I was able to walk back to the bedroom; where I could hold and fondle and feed my child to my heart’s content.

In very little time the two students nurses, the tired resident and the lovely Filipino woman I will always remember with joy, packed up their equipment, cleaned up the blood-covered newspapers and left (leaving behind them the services of a visiting nurse who came each morning for two weeks to check on the baby and me ). The people from the Chicago Maternity Center were the most important people in my decision to have my child my way —at home— and I never even got their names.


(Editor's Note: Although the Maternity Center no longer exists, we have included its old address and phone number as a tribute to its staff and the many women who had their babies with its assistance.)