Article by Oliver Berger
We had everything set up: birth pool, vapour barriered floors, hoses, heaters, towels, and music.
We are pregnant and making the choice to have a home water birth. It felt right, and luckily for us we had just received Cariboo Midwives to the region, and they took us on.
There is a lot to plan. Mentally, you must be prepared to use your space for something that is usually reserved for a hospital. Firstly, you order a birth pool. Which one? Next, you better make sure you have a hose with access to hot water because you ain’t filling that pool with your outside cold-water tap. Now, you want to protect your flooring. You have hundreds of litres of standing water in an open pool. Who knows what could happen? Your mattress, couches, chairs, Swiss ball, yoga
mat, and any other potentially useful areas should be prepared for liquids.
Normally, many of the items used during home birthing are considered one-time use and get immediately disposed, even towels and sheets. Luckily, our midwives were super accommodating to our zero waste home birth plan and supported our concerns.
I created solutions for each one. The birth pool could be reused, for us or another pregnancy. I used end-of-the-roll pieces of vapour barrier I had collected over the years from construction jobs. Amazingly, I had just enough to cover what was needed. Any other spillage concerns would be handled by a collection of towels we acquired from friends and family.
Of course, I had to have a waste diversion station too: a large bin for the textiles we would wash and reuse, a recycling box for all the plastic packaging from the medical devices that the midwives might use, and finally, a small can for unknowns. That was it. Feeling pretty confident with my set up, I could now focus 100% on my partner and her needs.
It was a long, very magical evening. Supporting my partner’s upper body with my arms as she floated in the pool with exhaustion is a moment I remember well during all the other duties of tracking contractions and keeping warm tea and hot water bottle and ice on tap and massaging shoulders and adjusting lighting and keeping the music going and holding hands and steering clear…
It was not for lack of trying, alas, the call had to be made to pack up our go bags and head into the hospital.
After a painstaking wait for the epidural to set in, we could both get some rest. It is funny, the term ‘rest’; it is just the lower swell of the next wave, the calm before the storm, you could say. It was during that bottom swell that I had a good chance to look around the delivery room.
Among the piles of machinery and monitoring devices, my trashy mind spotted the garbage cans. ‘Black Holes’ we call them—looming vortexes sucking in all kinds of things never to be seen again.
I know hospitals create a lot of waste. Everything must be kept sanitary to the utmost standards; everything must come packaged and sterile. I get it.
What really blew me away, though, was how fast we filled those two significantly large garbage cans within the next six hours. Plastic package after plastic package, disposable absorbent pads the size of small blankets, and soiled tissues like an army of meteorites kept getting drawn into the gravitational pull of the mighty garbage cans.
Where were our reusable towels now?
These garbage thoughts were not at the top of my mind during our key moments, buuuut… I would be lying if I didn’t tell you they crossed my mind a fair bit. We had put a lot of effort into our home birth to make sure we would not create any more-than-necessary waste.
After hours of heavy breathing and concentrated awkward bodily movements, we had a beautiful baby girl to hold in our arms. Nobody understands that moment until you feel it. It is amazing.
Now, she rests.
Food comes in later and once again my brain tweaks towards Styrofoam bowls with plastic lids, single use cups for drinks, and those tiny I’ll-never-use-them condiments that will get thrown out whether you use them or not. I wonder why in a building with a full commercial kitchen we cannot have real dishes and cutlery. So, I load up the packaging and extra food in our bags to take home to reheat, reuse, and recycle. Those black holes had enough, as far as I was concerned.
Currently, this is the way we provide a healthy birth. The nurses and staff are seriously phenomenal; it is the waste creation part we need to work on. It is up to us to ask the system to do better. Did you know our local hospital is one of a few in Western Canada that does its own laundry service on site?
As for the two heaping piles of trash that were created for our birth, we now have a tiny human who eats the zero mile diet straight from mom with zero packaging. She is already setting the bar.
Oliver Berger has a 39-year degree in life, enjoying school from birth to the present in the Cariboo area. Constantly venturing around this Earth on a quest to learn new skills, Oliver’s priorities include dedication to and education about the management of society’s leftovers.