It’s true, you don’t generally need electricity to give birth. Women have been giving birth since the dawn of time, and in many parts of the world off-grid home birth is the norm. Home birth under any circumstances requires planning and preparation.
When we talked to our midwife, she wasn’t the least bit concerned. It was all the same to her, but after having gone through the experience, there are a few ways I wish we were more prepared.
Distance to Emergency Help
Let’s face it, most off-grid homes aren’t two blocks from the nearest hospital. If something does go wrong, you need to have a plan in place.
Do you need to alert the local emergency service squad? How about having your rural fire chief’s number on speed dial just in case? If you’re a long way from help, know how to get help to you faster.
Our home happens to be about 15 minutes from a hospital, but that particular hospital is antagonistic towards home birth. They do not allow doulas or midwives to be in the room, and they have very strict controls around your husband or partner’s access to you during the birth.
They are not by any means a “woman-friendly” option for birth, and their OBGYNs have a widespread reputation for being rude and ill-tempered. Needless to say, this was my last choice for a transfer.
The next closest hospital is an hour away, on narrow dirt roads. We knew that this option was a stretch, so the decision to transfer would have to come early.
Access for Midwives or Doulas
While it may be hard to get to the nearest hospital, it might also be hard for help to get to you. Our driveway is long and steep. Winter ice makes it perilous, and spring rains sometimes wash out portions.
Our midwives knew that there was a good chance that they’d be hiking up, and they planned ahead. Supplies were already at our house, minimizing what they’d have to carry.
For ourselves, we parked one vehicle at the base of the drive so we knew we could always get out. In the worst case, I could be hauled down to the bottom by sled or tractor and then loaded into the car in an emergency.
Still, it was nerve-racking. My daughter arrived a full 3 weeks late, and spring had sprung.
The week she was due, we were iced in and the driveway was mostly impassible. My husband spent a lot of time out working to clear it, but I’m glad my little one waited.
If you clear and tend the access to your property yourself, consider getting extra help. My son was also born during a blizzard, of course, and having a plow guy on call would have saved a lot of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion.
Depending on the season, the temperature might be a big issue. When my son was born in February, average daytime temperatures were well below freezing.
If you’re in prolonged labor, keeping the woodstove stocked can be tricky. Make sure you have extra help around to handle the day-to-day operations of your house.
While you’re actually giving birth, your partner has a lot of responsibilities, but their primary concern should be looking after your wellbeing. Take a little weight off their shoulders and have a relative, neighbor or older child in charge of household chores and heat.
In warmer climates, you have your own concerns. As a Vermonter, I can’t help you, it’s winter 6 months of the year here. Think about when you’re due, and make adjustments accordingly.
Tending the House Alone and Pregnant
Planning for heat is also important well before your birth. I remember being 7 months pregnant, and it was -20 outside. My husband had to be out of town for a few days, which couldn’t be avoided.
Then, an ice storm coated the panels, and the generator was down, so no backup heat. I burned through all the wood in the basement and was slowly carrying wood from the shed, piece by piece, over ice and down the basement stairs. I was so big I could barely get myself down those stairs, let alone carry wood.
Nonetheless, I managed to keep the house at a toasty 45 degrees F for a few days until my husband returned. An experience I’m not eager to repeat.
Don’t make that mistake. Plan ahead. Make sure everything is where you need it months in advance.
If you have to be alone and pregnant, make sure you’re all set for the worst contingency. It’s worth the extra effort ahead of time.
Unless you have a gravity well, water access can be an issue. If you’re hauling water, make sure you have plenty on hand and ready to go. If you’re using a modern well pump dependent on electricity, assume that it may be down at the worst possible moment.
Water is a huge source of comfort for a laboring mother, and the ability to take the weight off in a tub can make a big difference.
Beyond that, sanitation before and after the birth needs water. There is a lot of mess and nasty even in the best of cases, so be prepared with plenty of water on hand.
If you’re off the grid, you already know that you need to have a plan for backup lighting. Headlamps can be enough for normal day-to-day use, but make sure you have a plan for whole room lighting for the delivery.
Before my midwife knew we were off the grid, she asked if we wanted a candle-lit delivery. Apparently, those are all the rage these days for setting the mood. I laughed, and said, “Not if I can avoid it.”
If you do end up with a candlelit delivery, make the most of it. Know that you’re enjoying something that people dream of these days.
Even if you’re planning to use cloth diapers and avoid disposables altogether, allow yourself a bit of leeway in the beginning. A pack or two of disposable diapers can help ease the transition to new parenthood. Would you rather spend your first-week bonding with a newborn, or with one of you scrubbing an endless stream of diapers?
Every baby is different. Doctors say that a baby will poop anywhere between 7 times a day or once every 7 days, and both are totally normal. My first child was 7 times a day baby, and handwashing diapers took a toll on both of us right when we were most exhausted.
My son was just the opposite, but you never know.
We also found out the hard way that the cloth diapers we chose wouldn’t line dry. The manufacturer actually says that they must be dried in a dryer or they’ll stay moist in the inner layers and mold. Days of hanging over a wood stove and they were still wet.
What other concerns do you have about giving birth off the grid? Leave them in the comments below.