Heidi Julavits


My first child was born in a sparsely populated Maine county, where the nearest hospital is considered more hindrance than help in matters of mortality prevention. Many of the doctors who work at this hospital give birth at home. So do many of my friends. Despite compelling evidence against the hospital, however, my husband wanted to go to the hospital. “If something happens to you or the baby, everyone will blame me,” he said. This might sound paranoid, but it’s actually just true, and a fine-enough reason to choose a bad hospital over a good home. Birth makes people blame other people. Even when nobody dies, there is blame galore. You should have waited to go to the hospital. You should have gone earlier. You should have said no to this and yes to that. I hope you’re happy with your healthy baby, but you fucked up, you seriously fucked up!

We said no to home birth and yes to the hospital. When we arrived, we were told that the only available room was a large supply closet. The outlets in the supply closet were so distantly and inconveniently located that whenever the nurse tried to measure my daughter’s heartbeat with the electric heart monitor, the plug was yanked from the socket. He repeatedly attempted and failed to angle the monitor on my stomach without dislodging the plug. Finally, he gave up. “I’m sure she’s fine,” the nurse said. Throughout my labor, random people came in to peruse the shelves of the supply closet for gauze or whatever. I was never offered an epidural because this hospital didn’t stock epidurals. For pain relief, they typically administered an analgesic that was popular in the eighties. Neither was this offered. My daughter, when born, cried. This was considered so unusual that the doctor asked if I had taken any weird drugs during labor, like weirder, I guess, than the eighties-era analgesic no one had given me. (To be fair to this doctor, there’s an oxycontin problem in this part of Maine, and the people who end up giving birth in hospitals tend to be drug addicts uneducated about their baby’s health—otherwise, duh, they would stay at home—which precipitates signs on the hospital walls such as PLEASE DO NOT SMOKE DURING YOUR ULTRASOUND.) The doctor could not tell me how to breast-feed, because she didn’t have any children and had never breast-fed and so (according to her) possessed no information on this topic. She’d spent the entirety of my labor in the hallway, reading a Sue Grafton novel.

When I was finally moved to a proper room, I found a pair of gigantic bloody underpants on the bathroom floor.

My husband said, “I guess we should have stayed home.”


For our second child, we stayed home.

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