I was a candy striper for all of 5 hours. And… i think i remember becoming a feminist, a naturalist, and a home birther that very day.
My mother got it into her head that it would be great for me to volunteer at a local hospital. She got many such ideas. I was in a girls’ summer science & tech camp. I spent many a weekend in a bowling league. She’s got quite the imagination. In any case, this candy striper business was all her idea. I didn’t even know what the term meant (I wore my regular clothes) or what they’d have me doing, but if you’ve ever met my mother you’ll know that I didn’t have a choice.
It’s the morning. This hospital is on the Portuguese and Puerto Rican side of town. I’m assigned to the maternity ward. There were just a few names on the white board. Next to them were times and the names of prescription drugs. For example, 4:15am Petocin. Let’s just say, it was 9:00am.
I sat at the desk with a quiet nurse for a while and I accompanied her on her next set of rounds. I only saw one patient. She was pregnant. I now know she was in labor. She was disoriented, in obvious pain and clearly drugged. She was alone in her room, save the nurse and me. She woke up to moan. The nurse did something for less than 30 seconds. And then we left her room. We left her alone. It was then that I remember thinking 1) this is my last day doing this candy striper crap. And then i think I remember thinking 2) I’m never delivering my baby in a hospital. Last, I recall knowing 3) no woman in her right mind would want this for herself.
I’m not sure if this was before or after the candy striper incident, but i think I remember watching my very first reality tv show, Brandy’s “Special Delivery.” I watched then with the save avid intensity as I currently watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop every city in America, so on and so forth. This is to say, I was addicted. I distinctly remember watching Brandy cry as she toured hospital maternity wards, saying how she too didn’t want to have her baby in a hospital. (Though, she ultimately did. And we later found out that she totally lied to all of us about being married! So, I blame her for the beginning of fake reality television…alas…) I remember being disappointed that even the most famous, wealthy, positive, female, Black icon of my generation (Don’t you dare contest me: see Moesha, Thea and ‘the Boy is Mine‘ music video as proof) didn’t find a way out of a hospital birth that she didn’t want. This was just the rich & famous version of the woman I left writhing in drugged up pain in a lonely labor room in New Jersey.
I think I remember shortly thereafter deciding that I would be unapologetic about NOT delivering my baby in a hospital. And I think that might have been my first declaration of feminism. It was the beginning of setting boundaries on my health and well-being that would mean that, in the future, my adult self simply couldn’t be trapped by modern medicine, conventional wisdom or popular belief to enter into a situation where I too would cry as I toured hospitals and imagined myself as that lonely woman trapped in pain purgatory.
I did tour a hospital. And I tried to do it Brandy’s way, but I refused to see the likes of Pitocin and I kept feeling that I’d be pressured to accept in the moment. Ultimately, my inner compass guided me swiftly away from the hospitals and doctors, who I feared would do to me just as I had done many years before – leave a scared, helpless woman to fend for herself against nature and her own body, with not so much as half a care to holding her hand, reassuring her, or letting her know that she was not, in fact, alone.
People now ask me how it is that I managed to have a home birth. And for a while I really didn’t know where the conviction came from. But looking back now, I think it’s because… i think i remember knowing from a very young age that women deserved better care and that children deserved to enter the world in a better way. So, really, I didn’t have a choice.