Stephanie’s Story of Birth on Two Continents

Stephanie's exercising

Exercising while pregnant in Europe

Stephanie shares her unique story of motherhood. Stephanie is not only an advanced maternal age mother of two, but also a reverend and a doula in Austin, Texas. Founder Sharon had the pleasure of meeting her in person.  

I gave birth to my children at age 36 and 38, and it wasn’t until halfway through my second pregnancy that I experienced a health professional treating me differently because of my “advanced maternal age.”  This is because I did not go the traditional OB route of care.  I chose to birth my babies at home, under the care of a midwife.


My first pregnancy and birth happened while I was living in the Netherlands, where my husband and I were pursuing master’s degrees.  The Dutch generally have a very different view of birth than Americans.  They see birth as a normal event.  Painful? Yes.  Inherently dangerous? No.  In the Netherlands, student OBs must first train with midwives to learn about normal birth before they go on to study its possible complications.  Midwives attend most births there (since most births are uncomplicated), and the parents-to-be have the choice of giving birth in the hospital or at home (about 20% of Dutch births are home births).

midwife at home

Stephanie’s dutch midwife weighing her baby

I was all set to give birth in a Dutch hospital, until I realized, at about month 8 of my pregnancy, that I would be a lot more comfortable at home.  I knew I didn’t want to use drugs for pain relief, and, after getting loads of encouragement both from my midwives and from my prenatal yoga class, I had become more and more confident in my body’s ability to give birth.  I continued to walk and ride my bicycle right up until I went into labor. 

In short, I had adopted the Dutch view of pregnancy and birth as normal.  

However, I was sensible enough to realize that I my family back in the States had not been on the same journey that my husband and I had, so we chose not to tell them about our change of plans.  My dear mother arrived about a week before my due date, and we had every intention of sitting down over dinner the evening of her arrival and talking her through our homebirth plan.  Only…my water broke on our walk back from the grocery store.  I had no contractions at first, so we calmly informed my mother of our intention of staying put and called the midwife.  My mother was totally supportive, as I knew she would be.  The midwife came by and advised me to go to bed and get some sleep—contractions would likely start in the night, and there would be plenty of time for activity tomorrow.  She did not do a vaginal exam, because she did not want to risk infection.
In fact, during my entire pregnancy, I had not had any vaginal exams.  Nor did I ever pee in a cup.  I had never set foot on a scale, either.   At every appointment, the midwives had checked my blood pressure, palpated my belly, and checked the baby’s heart using a hand-held doppler.  

Twice they pricked my finger, to check for gestational diabetes, and something else I can’t remember.  That was it.[/pullquote]

So, after the midwife left, we all settled in to bed.  I was having a few mild contractions, similar to menstrual cramps.  My husband was reading aloud to me, when all of a sudden it was like someone hit a switch.  I jumped up out of bed with contractions that were very intense and maybe a minute apart.  After about 20 minutes of this, I insisted that my husband call the midwife and insist that she come over right away.  She came, checked my cervix and found that I was 9cm dilated!  I’ve never seen anyone move so fast!  From the start of those crazy contractions to finish, my labor was 3 hours.
People will sometimes say that I am lucky to have had such a fast labor, but I’m not so sure.  I have almost no memory of it, only sensory impressions.  I somehow managed not to panic.
I credit that to the very high level of confidence I had in the birth process, as well as the calm and capable people—my husband and mother, my midwife and her assistant—who surrounded me and supported me.   After my daughter was born, the midwife and her assistant cleaned up, tucked us all in bed, and left.  To me, this is one of the best parts of home birth: sleeping in your own bed afterward.  The next day (and for a week afterward), a postpartum doula came to care for us.  The midwives came and checked on me a couple of times, as well.  
None of this cost me a dime.  My insurance (which ran me about 50 bucks a month) covered everything, including the postpartum doula.

Shortly after we returned to the U.S., I became pregnant again.  I knew that after enjoying such supportive, nurturing and hands-off care, I would not be able to use an OB and give birth in a hospital here.  I found a wonderful midwife (whom my insurance actually covered!) and prepared for my son’s peaceful birth at home.  I was surprised at the number of interventions my midwife here used prenatally, including urine tests at every visit, glucose screening, and at least one vaginal exam, but I went along.  She also sent me for a 20-week ultrasound at another office.

This was where I encountered my one and only experience of being treated differently as AMA. 

Because I was over 35, they told me at the front desk that I would need to undergo genetic counseling for all the things that could possibly be wrong with my baby before they even did the ultrasound exam.  I found this completely ludicrous.  How could they have any idea about my baby’s health without even looking?  I asked whether I could decline this, and the clerk grudgingly handed me a waiver to sign. Everything was, in fact, normal, and 21 weeks later I gave birth to my 9lb 4oz baby boy, at home, after another superfast birth—which I was at least prepared for this time!  
Baby Dory

Baby Dory