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Becoming Home

A Memoir Of Birth In Bali

Becoming Home unfolds against the backdrop of contrasting cultures—eastern and western, traditional and modern. It braids together my experiences of Bali, of pregnancy and birth, and my own very personal shifts in the process.

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Memoirs
Bali, Indonesia
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Traveling the world with a backpack in my 20’s felt so simple and carefree. Eventually, I found another person. Then we found an island. Then I got pregnant. As Americans living in Bali, we asked ourselves whether to return to the USA to have our baby or to stay put… or to go anywhere else in the world.

What do you do when you are thousands of miles from home and the stakes are suddenly higher than ever before, with a whole new life in your hands?

Where do you look for answers? Who do you listen to? Parents? Friends? Doctors? ‘Experts’? Your fears? Your gut?

I recalled my mother’s story of having me, always accompanied by the refrain, “I almost bled to death.”

How about that still, small voice inside? Facing big decisions about where and how to have our baby, we researched options, heard advice, consulted ‘experts’, and wondered how far to trust the answers in our hearts. Perhaps that voice of knowing has been whispering our truth all along, nudging us in a direction we still hesitate to trust. Why do we hesitate? What are we afraid of?


Why I wrote this book

When I tell friends from the USA, my home country, how we chose to give birth, they always say, “You’re so brave!” What would possess an educated, middle-class, thirty-something American woman to choose to give birth in a bathtub in Bali, rather than ensuring that she had the most advanced medical care in the world at her disposal, just in case?

Friends and family at home in the USA followed their cultural cues and ob/gyn’s advice. American culture prizes rationality, efficiency, risk mitigation, comfort and convenience. Most people take their doctors’ advice, have extensive pre-natal testing, give birth in a hospital, experience numerous interventions, and do not consider low-tech alternatives. Without the cultural tethers of ‘home’ and family, we faced a daunting freedom and sought our own way. I had always been one to do my research, and the pregnancy research revealed polarized opinions about how and where it’s best to give birth.

In over 30 years on Earth, I had never seen a birth - not of a farm animal, a pet or a person. My mom has four children, including two who appeared when I was an adolescent. Presence at their births could have been a marvelous bit of sex education! But in my home culture, birth is kept behind closed doors, a mysterious event fraught with pain, risk and fear. I hope that sharing my story will strip away some of the mystery and reveal some of the magic.

This is the story of how and why we decided to bring our baby into the world as we did, how it went, and how it changed my outlook on life. The answers we found in Bali and within ourselves paid off in a personally transformative experience. On the journey from head to heart, I found strength in loving support and empowerment in surrender. My experience of birth has become a touchstone of feeling more at home in the world, and in my own skin.

Becoming Home unfolds against the backdrop of contrasting cultures - eastern and western, traditional and modern. It braids together my experiences of Bali, of pregnancy and birth, and my own very personal shifts in the process.

My fears about giving birth arose from growing up in a culture focused on pain, inconvenience and risk mitigation on birthday. It was hard to trust that everything might be just fine. As a child, I had also felt vulnerable and unsafe, even in my own home. This was due to early experiences with divorce, drug and alcohol addiction and sexual abuse. From a child feeling unsafe, I grew up to be hyper-vigilant adult. These influences made it doubly difficult for me to surrender to the unknown and trust my body’s innate wisdom.

This also made it doubly worthwhile to do so. The fear that focuses on preventing worst-case scenarios often prompts interventions - even in healthy, normal pregnancies like ours - that also numb the potential of best-case scenarios. Our water birth at a small neighborhood clinic in Bali was a sacred experience that put me more in touch with myself and my sense of the divine as well as with my husband and our baby.

Becoming Home teases out the potential for birth to be more than birth - even a beautiful, gentle, empowering, loving and healthy one. It can be an opportunity to reach deep inside oneself and find the comfort of Home within. Our story also illustrates the contrasts not only between cultures of birth (modern and medicalized / gentle and natural) but also fundamental cultural contrasts between the cultures of Bali and the USA (east and west). There are some stark contrasts here that are no more vividly represented than in the context of such a precious and vulnerable experience as pregnancy and birth.

While modern medicine has a crucial role to play in emergencies, our pregnancy and birth were textbook normal, without pathology or complication. I believe that if we had chosen a hospital birth with many interventions, as is common in contemporary America, we would have forgone a huge opportunity. I hope our story inspires others to take their own leaps of faith – in birth or in life. Growing up in Iowa, I always dreamed of traveling the world, but I never imagined I would give birth in a bathtub in Bali.


Who is this book for?

Are you pregnant?

Are you thinking about having a baby?

Does childbirth scare you?

Are you considering having your baby in Bali, or any country or culture not your ‘home’?

Are you living outside of your home culture or considering giving it a try?

Are you intrigued by different cultures?

Do you wonder what it’s like to live in Bali?

Do you enjoy reading stories of personal growth and transformation?

Does your family ever think your choices seem a bit crazy?

Do you ask yourself, where is my real Home?

Do you feel at home both everywhere… and nowhere?

Do you find yourself on the move in search of answers?

Do you consider yourself a cultural nomad?

Do you always do your research?

Do you trust your head more than your heart?

Why go home when you can become home?


Who is Melinda Chickering?

Melinda became a journalist and freelance writer in 2002. In the same year, she began traveling and living outside her home country, the USA. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with Honors in Philosophy from The University of Iowa and studied philosophy and public policy at the graduate level at the University of Maryland. She worked in research, program management and communications in non-profits in Washington, DC, before turning her focus to writing and journalism. She has taught philosophy at the university level and English as a second language in three countries.

Melinda’s work has been published by The Associated Press, The Jakarta Post, WEEKENDER magazine, Jakarta Globe, Expat/Kabar, Asia Dreams, Reason magazine and local newspapers across the USA. In 2002, she won 2nd Prize in the Felix Morley Journalism Competition and in 2004 traveled to Africa as a Global Prosperity Initiative Journalism Fellow. In 2007, she earned a Master of Science degree in International Development from Tulane University and became a Fulbright Fellow in Indonesia the following year.

Living in Indonesia since 2008 has afforded Melinda myriad opportunities to explore her favorite topics in writing - including the nexus of culture, nature and economics as well as that of the head, the heart and the flesh.

Melinda also loves dancing, diving and being with her family.

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Melinda Chickering

Melinda Chickering

Melinda’s work has been published by The Associated Press, The Jakarta Post, WEEKENDER magazine, Jakarta Globe, Expat/Kabar, Asia Dreams, Reason magazine and local newspapers across the USA. In 2002, she won 2nd Prize in the Felix Morley Journalism Competition and in 2004 traveled to Africa as a Global Prosperity Initiative Journalism Fellow. In 2007, she earned a Master of Science degree in International Development from Tulane University and became a Fulbright Fellow in Indonesia the following year.

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