Home Birth Scripted by the Marx Brothers

Living in an apartment has certain advantages. You have no yard work, someone comes and shovels the sidewalk, and all it takes to fix the plumbing is a phone call to the landlord (at least sometimes). However, there are slightly deaf neighbors who endlessly watch cartoons, 350 pound people living above you who walk with the delicacy of a teenager's rattling sub woofers, and "friends" who feel that if your door is not bolted they are welcome to come in unannounced. Sally had interrupted us on several occasions, when, though clothed, we would have preferred privacy. She cavalierly disregarded our requests for a small knock before entering. Born to the wrong family in the wrong century, she would have made an excellent queen. She was oblivious to other people's desires.

Having a planned home birth gives parents control and beauty that is unavailable in a hospital. The ideal birth takes place in a serene environment, full of nature, peace, and relaxation. Quiet music serenades the participants as they soothingly ease a new human into a sometimes hostile world. During preparation classes, parents fantasize about the calm but exciting day. Birth, however, is often messy, confusing, and exasperating. Despite planning and preparation, it isn't as cozy as hoped or as smooth as planned.

Our 1980 home birth (our second) took place in an apartment, and thus subjected us to the same environment we experienced daily. Thus, while it gave us power, it also demonstrated that there is a limit to that power. It was a cold and snowy Monday. Dr. Dick arrived late that evening, summoned by the midwife. His bushy moustache was frosty with snow, his eyes twinkled like Santa, and he proffered a large thermos of coffee. An examination immediately established that things were as described. We expected a quick delivery, as she was dilating rapidly. We prepared the implements, turned on the stereo, turned up the heat, and waited.

And waited. We went to bed. We woke up. We had pancakes for breakfast. We had omelettes for lunch. The baby had decided that it was a more hostile world than he was ready for, and he clung tenaciously to the inside with whatever nails he had grown. No water breaking, no more dilation, no activity of any kind other than random and not very strong contractions. The conversation grew strained. The stereo was silent. We sat, irritated, restless and impatient (especially the mother-to-be). How to proceed?

Dick gave a homeopathic medicine that was supposed to encourage labor. We eagerly awaited something. But got nothing. After another hour of waiting he said "Well, I've never tried this but I saw it in a book once. It s how Indians stimulated labor." Hey, sounded good to us--anything to get this process moving. He had my wife stand with her arms on the back of a chair while he stood behind her. Because he was a comparatively short man, she had to lean forward so his arms could encircle her protruding abdomen. He embraced her and applied a sort of Heimlich maneuver to her belly, gently but firmly pushing down with both arms. The midwife crouched on the floor, peering up for any sign of activity. My wife's nightgown kept slipping into the midwife's view, so it was removed.

Sally opened the door. She began to speak. But she looked ahead and beheld a naked, hugely pregnant, woman being hugged by a strange, fully clothed, older man. Another stranger was on the floor looking up at the intersection of these two. Only a portion of the first syllable was uttered before she shrieked with a volume that Jamie Lee Curtis (who apparently was somewhere in the neighborhood, listening intently) used later to such acclaim. It was not just a yell. This was at least five seconds of complete terror: one long, unmodulated right jab of sound. The three participants in the tableau glared her way with a mixture of puzzlement and disgust. Something important was going on here. Who was this rude intruder? They never did figure it out, for she rapidly retreated, slamming the door behind her. The tension collapsed. Everyone laughed. The water promptly broke, showering the midwife who was as confused as she was surprised. The baby came soon after. Was it the squeeze or the scream that got things going? We'll never know. But Sally never did enter without knocking again.