The water birth of my daughter

May was born September 2012. I wrote this when she was three days old.

That morning, my two-year-old John woke up at 5:30 am. I was not a happy camper. But I took the morning shift, then took a nap from 8 to 10:30, so I was feeling better after that. I started the day as usual. As normal as any day can be, being eight and a half months pregnant. We ate pancakes as a family. We played some games with him at the table and I played with him outside for a bit. During John’s nap, Marshall and I napped in bed together.

At 6 o’clock, I gave John his dinner. While running around the kitchen, washing and putting away dishes, I began noticing some cramping, particularly in my back. This was different from the weeks of cervical pains that I’d been feeling over the past weeks. Those had been momentarily sharp, but went as fast as they came. These lingered for a while. I didn’t want to startle Marshall, since he was looking forward to going to a friend’s house to watch the Michigan-Nortre Dame game. I was still twelve days to my due date (though John was just about two weeks early), so I just told him I had light cramping. He was worried and began to put the birth-pool supplies together. He realized that the hose he had bought couldn’t connect to the kitchen sink, so I told him to try to find one at the hardware store and just go to his friend’s because surely this was false labor!

I decided to make some dinner for myself; John had eaten some ground beef, so I made myself a hamburger with tomatoes with potato chips (my favorite) and a bowl of my homemade pudding that I made the day before. I knew I’d need my strength if this was the real thing, but knew I might be seeing this food again, too….

Marshall left around 7:30, (and he did find another hose, with the proper adapter at 7:55, minutes before they closed!) and I began quieting John down for bed. The pains were every 10 minutes, but lasted about 30 seconds. I knew something was up, but concentrated on spending time with John and giving him a normal evening. I took pictures with him, just in case, to have a couple last belly shots with my precious only-child-two-year-old. He went down around 8:20, after too many kisses and hugs and I love yous. During these two hours, I couldn’t stop running to the toilet, as my bowels began to empty and prepare. This is how I really knew I was in labor, because that is how my labor began with John. I couldn’t stop going on the toilet, until nothing was left to come out.

Marshall called to check in around 8:45, and I had to tell him that this was the real thing, but I was still guessing at this point. Contractions were still mild, thankfully not in my back, but they were about ten minutes apart, and only lasting about 30 seconds. He called his mom to explain the night’s events and that she should probably plan on getting John. She had her other two grandchildren over, so she left as soon as they were down.

Marshall arrived back home around 9:15, and I think that is when my body was telling me it was beginning to be “go time”. The contractions started to be 5-6 minutes apart, but still mild, controllable, and only about 30-40 seconds long. Marshall began preparing our kitchen for the birthing area. He blew up the pool, set the birth supplies out, and made sure I had enough juice and I was comfortable. I spent my time in our bed upstairs, on my side, or in the living room (catching the last of the horrible Michigan game) rolling around on the ball.

Cathy, my mother in law, came at 10:30. I was well enough to come give her a hug, but I had about three contraction sets while she came (closer than five minutes apart at this point). I hid in the bathroom, so John wouldn’t see me, which broke my heart, but I knew he had to get in the car with as little drama as possible (we later found out that he didn’t fall asleep at Grandma’s until two in the morning)!

After they left, my body was really ready to do its job. I could be uninhibited, groan as loud as I needed, and let my body loose. My contractions became so intense. Every couple minutes, and lasting at least 45 seconds to a minute. Marshall squeezed my hips and rubbed my back through every one. He was very sweet, telling me what a great job I was doing and kissing my head. He was on and off the phone with the midwives, but we kept thinking that they should hold off coming by. John’s labor was through the night, lasting until 5:29 the next morning, so I figured this labor would take at least that long. My waves of pain were progressing quickly enough, unstifled by any movement other than my husband and I trying to get through them. I enjoyed this time him and I had together. We had a closeness that I can’t describe. He kept giving me my juice with a straw, and at one point I wanted an apple, but I ate one slice and felt sick. I had a bowl close, but none of my food ever came up, which was a relief for me.

I spent my time kneeling on the ground, with my arms on the couch or on the big birthing ball. This was the best position for me. Marshall played the “birth play list” that I created a couple weeks earlier, just a compilation of soft praise songs and love songs that I knew would be comforting. I kept asking him to replay “I Need Thee Every Hour,” an old hymn, redone by Jars of Clay. This song gave me strength, as I was reminded of my weakness in God’s Strength and Glory and Wisdom.

I also spent some contractions on my side on the couch. This is how I spent a lot of my time during my first labor, and again, the contractions became so intense in this position. I couldn’t stay there for long, because though I kept trying to breathe and low groan my way through, I sometimes began to lose the battle to screaming. I told Nathan, around 12:30 that the midwives should probably come. He called again (though he had been updating them every hour), and they said they were on their way. Contractions were sometimes 3 minutes apart, sometimes 1 minute and sometimes 30 seconds long and sometimes a minute long. I was a bit frustrated with this inconsistency because I saw it as a sign that I wasn’t in Active Labor yet, that my body still had a long way to go. I didn’t let it get me down, but I was mentally preparing myself for at least 4-5 more hours of intense contractions.

After calling the midwives, I announced I had to go into the pool. Nathan had been filling it up, but it was only about a third filled. I climbed in and felt relief with each wave of contractions. As the water filled, I felt more stable and more strength. The room was quiet, the lights were down low, my praise music was on in the background.

The midwives came in, but I couldn’t even greet them. My job was to lean against the edge, holding Marshall’s hands, and just try to keep breathing. I spent my time on my knees, but also sat down a few times. Over the next minutes, the contractions became increasingly intense. Unbearable. I could not take the pain that I was feeling. I couldn’t groan or breathe; I began to scream and I remember flailing around in the pool, water splashing. I started the contractions on my knees, but ended on my side, lying down for each one. I came back to Nathan who kept encouraging me, and Amanda and Anna kept telling me how great I was doing. I began to feel out of control. My body was doing this, not me. It was not up to me. Marshall grounded me, holding my hands, kissing my forehead. He later told me that I pushed him away. I began to feel so hot and cold wet cloths on my head felt wonderful. I kept sipping juice between the long intense pains. The midwives kept checking the heartbeat with a doppler. It was strong; at one point it was faster than normal, but I moved positions and it went back to normal. This was done in a way that didn’t panic me, but was explained that the baby’s head was being squeezed and I had to move to relieve it.

The last 4 or 5 contractions were the worst. I remember thinking, “I can’t do this”, but Marshall and the midwives assured me I could. I was just thinking in my head that I had hours to go. But after a brief break, which I now know was transition, I began to push. My body was releasing this baby through and I had to finish the job. I waited for the contractions and pushed slowly. I felt her head come with my hand, which was so amazing. Touching my baby for the first time. I kept pushing, and patiently waiting for contractions. Amanda massaged my perineum as I waited, and this also gave a bit of relief. I was happy to be active, not passively letting my body open for the baby, but having to work to bring my baby into the world. As I pushed, the ring of fire was intense and horrible, but I can still say I liked it better than that last round of contractions. I felt the head come. My baby was coming to greet me. The head came, then I felt the arms, then I felt the legs. Eight minutes of pushing brought you here at 1:49am.

“Take your baby, Amy,” Amanda said. I reached down and picked my baby up. I leaned back in the pool and stared at my baby. “You’re here, you’re here.” Gray and blue all over. There weren’t cries yet, but the midwives were rubbing while the baby was on me, and one got the oxygen tank ready. They kept reassuring me that the baby was fine, heartbeat was fine, and the lungs just needed time; still attached to me, through her lifeline, the cord, oxygenated blood was coming to the baby just fine.

Anna told me later, that some water-born babies don’t even realize that they are outside and it takes them some time to liven up. And after a minute or so, I began to hear gurgles, and I was so relieved. I lifted the baby up to see, “You’re a girl!” I couldn’t believe it! I was certain I was having another boy, so this was such a big, wonderful surprise. My baby girl. You are here. Welcome to the world. We love you more than anything.

I was guided up, out of the tub, and into our guest room. I laid on the bed with my precious girl in my arms. She and I had blankets and towels on, and the midwives took a look at my perineum and waited for another contraction to bring the placenta. With a couple small pushes, it came. Cramping came soon after, with more groans. But happy groans, my baby was in my arms. “Her name is May.” We said, “May.” We watched the placenta and the cord pulsing to our baby, bring the last of her blood to her body. I kept her close, skin to skin. She was alert, looking around, interested in the breast, but didn’t latch. Amanda and I tried to begin breastfeeding, but it seemed the she was too content to be here to try to nurse. She did latch a couple hours later, and though it has been a bit painful, I am so grateful for my tough little girl, rooting, latching, and nursing.

Next, Amanda looked at my tear to assess if she could repair at home or not. (With John, I had a significant tear, so I was prepared in knowing that my scar tissue would tear again.) Thankfully, the tear was much less, and Amanda felt very confident in repairing at home. She numbed me up and got to work. It did take her quite some time, and I am thankful for the care she took in repairing me. Next, Marshall held the baby, while I slowly walked to our bathtub, now filled with a healing, herbal bath. It was so wonderful to clean my body while the herbs worked. Marshall was in there with me, holding our baby. After getting out, our baby was weighed and measured. 8 pounds, 4 ounces and 20 inches long. She is perfect.

I am thankful that I could birth my baby in a safe place, a comforting place, with love surrounding us. I was never fearful. I knew I was safe. She was safe. I never feared someone violating my body with cervical exams. I felt protected. I felt strong. I am strong. May and I did it together.

John was brought over a couple of hours later. He met his little sister, “Baby!” and seems to be adjusting well and loving her and wondering where she is. Our parents and siblings came, but we held her tight, not letting anyone hold her – this won’t come until we’re ready in a couple of days. We were home and comfy and loving becoming a family of four.

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And Thy rich promises, in me fulfill

I need Thee, I need Thee,

Every hour I need Thee

I need Thee, I need Thee,

I need Thee every hour.

(Annie S. Hawks)

Here is John’s birth story.

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Childbirth in Prison

NPR covered an extremely disturbing story a couple of weeks ago. It studied the treatment of pregnant women in prison and their childbirth experiences. Certainly it would be understandable for a convicted murderer or a serious violent offender to have possibly one handcuffed hand during their birth experience, but what about for other crimes such as theft, fraud, etc? This story opened my eyes to the horror that these women experience in the United States prison system. Some women talked about their guards not believing that the women were in labor and delaying their travel to a hospital. Some remained shackled until it was “time to push”. Only ten states outlaw this practice: IL, VT, CA, TX, NY, NM, CO, WV, PN, according to Unsilent Generation and Prison Fellowship. In 2003, Illinois was the only state with this law, and since then, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, this issue is coming to the forefront. A historic case was just won by Shawanna Nelson, prisoned after committing a non-violent crime, who was shackled during her labor and birth.

After childbirth, the majority of states do not make special arrangements for the care of newborns in prison. After birth, mothers and babies are separated within hours and the baby is sent to live with a family member or goes to foster care. New York, Ohio, California, Indiana, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Washington are exceptions; prisons in these states have nurseries in which infants are allowed to live with their mothers for up to 18 months. (Here and here are accounts of mother-infant bonding in jail.)

Thankfully, there are many human rights organizations, not just the ACLU, fighting for these mothers. Gail Smith, executive director of the group Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, equates the shackling of laboring inmates with torture: “I think that there is a general attitude on the part of some people that they don’t deserve to be treated with full human rights, and I find that appalling.”

Devastatingly, jailed mothers are not given equal protection under the law. There is sure to be intense mistreatment if the mother is not informed and is not taken to a facility of doctors and midwives who will fight for a woman’s right to birth, even in the states that have banned shackled birth. The Chicago Tribune recently wrote an article, emphasizing one woman’s horrific ordeal. My prayer is that human decency will prevail and women will receive protection for the most sacred act they can perform: childbirth.

I am committing myself to discovering the laws in my own state, researching what organizations are fighting to protect jailed women and their babies, and writing an op-ed piece in my local paper to expose this monstrosity. Would you do the same? We must fight for our most basic human rights and stop treating women in a manner that can be equated to many Muslim nations.

Vagina Therapy (aka: postpartum pelvic floor physical therapy)

On the happiest day of my life (besides every day after), my baby boy was born. I had a very smooth labor, at home, as I had hoped. After about 10 hours of intense contractions, I began pushing. His head was barely crowning for about an hour and a half of pushing, and then, in his grand way, John made his entrance; in one push he came out. He tore my vagina as if he had done a cartwheel out of my womb (through my cervix, almost to the anus). He was excited to arrive. The pushing, as they say, was indeed the “ring of fire” that so many women describe. However, my “ring of fire” moment did not end after he came out. The burning continued…. thus the dreaded tear. My midwife examined me and saw that my tear was much too intense for her to repair on her own, so we went into an OB/GYN to get repaired (she later told me it was the worst tear she had seen, pretty impressive, don’t you think?). My doctor did a fine job. However, five days later, I re-tore and had to go in again. Lots and lots of stitches. Now, some may argue that an episiotomy would have improved my tear situation. I disagree. My body healed naturally (in a zig zag) rather than straight down. This way, hopefully, I will not tear in the same place (or at all, can a woman hope?) for my next births.

My tear took more than the usual 12 weeks to heal. I had a lot of scar tissue and I was in pain. Sex? Out of the question. Of course I felt horrible about this. Not only did I want to be close with my husband, but I felt so bad for him as well. Could nothing be done? I thought so. I thought I was plagued until my next birth (and re-tear). But alas, my doctor referred me to a type of physical therapy that is done for women. Pelvic floor physical therapy. She said that she had had it done herself. I was willing to try anything.

I went to “vagina therapy,” as I so affectionately call it, for 12 weeks. The physical therapist uses a heat ultrasound to loosen the scar tissue and then massages the area. Then, she shows me how I can continue to massage the area at home. At the beginning, I was not optimistic. Now, I am a believer. This woman has changed my life. My vagina no longer hurts, sex no longer hurts, and I (and my husband) could not be happier.

I talk openly about this experience because, in conversation, I have already talked to women who say: “Wow, that sounds amazing, I never heard of that, sounds like something I (or my sister or my friend or my aunt) may need.” Us women have a lot to go through to have our wonderful babies, and we need to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly, to support one another. Ask your doctor for a referral to your local physical therapy department (I, luckily, went to one of the greatest hospitals in the country). My physical therapist works on vaginas all day. This is a real thing, and not just for postpartum issues, she also works on older women and their issues with urinary incontinence. I could not speak more highly about this. There is hope.

The home birth of my son

I had restless sleep, again, and woke up around five in the morning, nine days before my due date. I went to the bathroom, in the dark, and as I was wiping, I felt something very slippery. I turned on the light and looked down at the tissue and saw a bunch of mucous. My mucous plug came out! There was quite a bit of yellow-y mucous and I was so happy that this baby was getting ready. After washing up, I went to my books to read how much longer it would be. At the last stages of pregnancy — I think that is the hardest part – not knowing when you will meet your precious little one and waiting on God for his perfect timing. I was disappointed to read that the mucous plug leaves the cervix opening hours, days, or even weeks before labor, so I knew that I could still be pregnant for three or more weeks.

I had a midwife appointment at ten in the morning and Amanda checked me out. She was encouraged that my mucous plug came out but cautioned me against becoming too excited. I left feeling very happy and looking forward to meeting our little one! I stopped by the grocery store to pick up juice, fruit, some frozen food – items the midwives advised that I have on hand.

Then I was off to my sister-in-law’s house. Jenny is an amazing photographer and offered to take some pregnancy shots of me. I was still nine days from my due date, so we both thought it was time. It was so nice to see her son, my nephew Gavin, and hang out for a bit. I went to the bathroom to change into some nice white clothes and sat to go pee. I finished, but then the “pee” kept coming…. Did my water break? I called Jenny in and we both thought it did, but I still was not certain. I called my husband, Nathan, who was out of town on business, but was coming back home that night. He said that he would leave as soon as he could. I then called my midwife, Amanda, to let her know what happened. She was trying to figure out if my water really did, in fact, break when, a gush of water went down my leg onto Jenny’s kitchen floor. This was definitely it. The midwife told me to calm down and start heading home to relax and prepare for my impending birth. I was going to meet my little one today (or tomorrow!) I just couldn’t be more thrilled. I began to feel confident that I could do this. God made my body to do this.

Since I was at Jenny’s house and had not started feeling contractions, we decided to go ahead with some pregnancy pictures. I am so glad we did. It was a chance for me to relish in my pregnant body one last time and reflect on what was about to happen. I’m so thankful to Jenny for that time and her support throughout these early stages of labor.

Around 3:30pm, my contractions began. The first thing I felt was in my back. I knew my baby was in the ideal position, that is, back towards my belly button, so I was surprised I still felt a jolt in my back. Then the contractions began to feel like period cramps. We decided it was time for Jenny to drive me home. In the car, we chatted, but every 5 minutes or so, I felt intense cramping for 15 to 20 seconds. “Woh, I can do this, this isn’t that bad,” I remember thinking. By the time I got home it was about 4:30pm. Things were still very mild and my spirits were lifted because I was so excited. Jenny helped me move the kitchen table, set up the birth supplies, and she even began blowing up the water pool.

At that point, the contractions were five minutes apart, but only lasted for 30 seconds or so and were pretty mild. I was on all fours during this time, mostly upstairs in my bed. One of the midwives arrived at 6:00 to see how I was doing and she determined that things were still pretty early. While she was with me, things became a bit more intense and I found that it was hard to concentrate on what she was saying while they were rushing inside me. While she was talking, I heard another voice, my husband, Marshall, had arrived home from Indiana. (He later told me that he was speeding the whole way home.) It was such a comfort to see him and kiss him; “Okay, little baby,” I thought, “now we can do this.” Jenny stayed for a little while longer, helping Nathan with different things while I concentrated on opening up. My cervix felt about the same and I kept telling it to open up during the contractions; “the baby is closer, I will get to see my baby soon; I am closer to my precious little one!”

Marshall helped me into different positions. Early on I really liked being on my side on our couch. At around 8:30, we called the midwife to let her know my progress. Contractions were now 3 minutes apart but still only 30 or 45 seconds long. She said she would be over within the hour, but that things were still progressing.

Once Amanda got there, Marshall had already brought me over to the shower. I went in the bathtub on all fours and let the hot water spray down my back. The baby was in the right position, but I felt it very intensely in my back during contractions and this gave a lot of relief. I was getting so excited to see my baby and I groaned with each contraction. In my head was, “the baby is closer, the baby is closer.” I told them that I wanted to get into our big kiddie pool that was in our kitchen, but it was not quite filled yet.

The next couple of hours were excruciating, I tried different positioning and liked the shower and sitting on the toilet the best. My midwife encouraged me to lay on my side on the couch because there is where I felt the most intense rushes. She kept saying, “soft and slow.” I thought of my cervix softening and opening and she knew that that position told it to keep opening for my precious little one’s head. During each wave, now at least one minute long and only a minute or so apart, I concentrated on the baby and breathing deeply and heavily. Sometimes I could not control myself and began to shriek, but the midwife and Marshall kept encouraging me to do lower grunts which I tried, sometimes to no avail.

Finally, after several hours, I told them that I was going into the pool. Certainly they could not stop me. I got in around 2:00 in the morning. It felt wonderful all over my body. After about a half an hour, the contractions seemed to slow down and I had a few minutes of rest. I welcomed the break and did not realize that the next contraction would give me an overwhelming urge to push. As I began my first push, Marshall turned to Amanda and said, “she’s pushing!” and she encouraged me to do what my body told me to do.

I was so happy that I chose to not be checked for dilation; the labor progressed fairly quickly because I was thinking of the baby and not a number. At that point, she also checked the baby’s heartbeat again and it was still very strong. With each contraction, I faced the edge of the pool, holding onto Nathan’s arm and the side of the pool and brought my legs underneath me. Water was pouring over the sides with the movement, but I just couldn’t stop. The other midwife, Jamie, had arrived and rushed to get more towels to save our kitchen floor. The movement made it easier to push and Nathan stroked my back with each one. After about an hour of these intense pushes, I felt my baby’s head coming through. I was hoping he or she would be getting closer, but the head was stuck and seemed to retract back. Amanda sensed my frustration and suggested we change positions. She knew I liked being on the toilet, another upright position, so she asked if I would be okay to walk there.

It felt like I ran to the bathroom because when I got on the toilet, everything progressed smoothly. Marshall was to my left and Jamie to my right and I just kept pushing. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. “Baby, come on, baby,” I kept talking to my little one and telling him/her to come out. I pushed for another 30 minutes, and with every one, I felt the head coming out even farther. The bluish-gray head with bits of hair scared me a little. I knew my baby would be blue, but when you see that color for the first time, you know that the only important thing in life is to birth this baby. Amanda had to keep telling me to stand with the pushes and Marshall and Jamie were helping me the whole time. Jamie checked the heartbeat every few minutes and Amanda rubbed oil on my perineum to prevent tearing and said that I looked very good. I felt a burn that I had never felt before, but I still felt calm, I knew that this was the process: “Baby, come baby!” I was yelling for my baby to come.

Finally, in one push, my baby arrived in the world. I saw the blue body in Amanda’s arms and I just kept saying, “Baby, baby, baby.” They looked him or her over and gave some type of homeopathic in the mouth and once Amanda started pumping the cord with her hand, the body changed from blue to a beautiful warm pink; my baby began to cry. She handed me our baby, and in awe, I finally looked, “Oh, you’re a boy, Nathan, you have a son, we have a son!” My precious little boy.  I looked at him, his little hands, his precious feet, his nose, his eyes, he is perfect. Thank you God, he is perfect.

Amanda was massaging my belly and telling me to tell my body to stop bleeding, and within minutes, my placenta popped out – it truly felt like a pop! Amanda wanted me to go lie down, so Marshall took the baby and I slowly walked to the bedroom. Amanda was concerned because I lost a bit too much blood and with the final push, she knew I had torn in that instant. As I lay down, she checked me out and determined that the tear was too intense for her to repair by herself. She called my OB/GYN, who supported my home birth, and had three home births herself, and made an appointment for 10:30am. Our son was born at 5:29am (at 8 lbs 5 oz), so we had time to snuggle him before piling up into the car. I am so thankful for Amanda’s discernment in choosing to bring me in. While at the doctor’s, I was stitched up and also given a glucose IV because I had lost a bit too much blood. I felt a lot better and we called our family on our way home.

Back home, we waited for immediate family to arrive and then leave so us three could enjoy the time together. We snuggled into bed together, no doctors, no nurses, no fear of him catching any bacteria or having someone take him away. My birth felt normal, safe, comforting. It happened, not as I had imagined, because life always brings you surprises, but with more joy than I could ever hope for.

Why would you have a home birth? Don’t you want your baby to live?

“What hospital are you going to?”

People ask me this question almost immediately after they see I am pregnant. (8 1/2 months pregnant!)  I usually respond with a lie, stating that I will be going to my “back up hospital,” which is one of two excellent hospitals in my area.  I don’t want to deal with peoples’ thoughts or opinions about my choices.

I think I will be more vocal once I have my labor and birth, but since before I was pregnant, I have been very deliberate about my choices for my pregnancy.  I know that, in the United States, home births are “controversial.”  But all of my research (studying both sides of the aisle) have pointed me towards letting my body take control rather than giving my birth over to nurses and doctors.

Here are some basic reasons why I will have a home birth:

1. Birth is not an emergency.  If I need to be transferred (my midwives have a 10% transfer rate and a 3% cesarean rate) because there are extra-ordinary circumstances, then I would welcome going to one of the best hospitals in the nation, just 20 minutes away.  But the majority of births don’t need hospitals and medical equipment; birth is a natural and normal process.

2.  The US ranks 28th among industrialized nations for healthy births, at 7.0 infant deaths per 1000 births.  Home births are associated with lower rates of electronicfetal monitoring (9.6% versus 84.3%), episiotomy (2.1% versus33.0%), cesarean section (3.7% versus 31.8% in 2007), and vacuum extraction(0.6% versus 5.5%).

3.  I want to be able to move around, eat and drink as I please, and be in different positions that support gravity during my labor and not be tied to a bed because of a glucose IV (unnecessary) and an Electronic Fetal Monitor (also unnecessary for most low-risk pregnancies).

4.  Progression will be on my time and no one else’s.  I want my body to be comfortable, aka, let the spincter reflex take its course.

5.  I do not want my baby’s first breaths to be filled with chaos — washing, stamping, weighing, sticking with needles full of antibiotics and Hepatitis B vaccine — I prefer to hold my baby close to my chest, help h/h become warm and begin those first precious moments with gazes and breastfeeding.

6.  I do not want my baby to catch any unnecessary bacterias or viruses in a dirty hospital.  Newborns can catch Staph infections and MRSA from hospitals.