When you say “home birth” most people just raise their eyebrows, nod their heads and say “interesting,” as they really aren’t sure what to make of the whole concept. The idea of having a midwife and giving birth at home is often looked at as scary, dangerous or even witchcraft. The initial reaction of some of our family and friends that my husband and I told we were planning a home birth was, “why, are you crazy? Why would you NOT want to have your baby in a hospital in case something bad happened?”
First and foremost, let me just say that a home birth isn’t for everyone. It’s for low-risk pregnant women who haven’t had any complications during their pregnancy or a previous pregnancy. It’s for those women who want a natural, non-medicated birth, as midwives don’t carry any pain medication, i.e. epidural. I need to be clear: I’m not encouraging every low-risk pregnant woman to have a home birth. If someone isn’t comfortable with a situation, and can’t relax or allow herself to let go and fully engage in the birthing process, she shouldn’t chose a home birth, regardless of being risk- or complication-free. I chose to have a home birth because it made sense for us. It needs to feel right.
To be honest, I’m not sure why so many people fear home birth. If you take the time to research actual birth statistics, the numbers paint a much different picture than what is portrayed by popular belief. Providing another human face for the statistics, Mayim Bialik (the former “Blossom” star and current actress on “The Big Bang Theory,” who also has her PhD in neuroscience) is doing a great job of informing women about home birth, debunking the myths and providing the realities of what can go wrong with hospital births after having her son at home. As Bialik says, birth seems to be portrayed as this horrific painful event in our society, especially when you see it in films.
For hundreds of years birth was actually done at home and by women (midwives). Home was a safe, secure and quiet place, thus the best place for women to labor in and give birth. Women’s bodies are built for birth, so why not let them do their thing, instead of administering unnecessary interventions? Giving birth isn’t easy, and I like to look at the intensity of it as the most intense workout your body will ever endure. A previous colleague of mine told me to think of birth that way–to think of each contraction as an interval, and the ultimate reward when you are finished is your baby. She was so right! I kept this in mind for both of my births, and it helped me get through each contraction until the end. As for coping with the intensity, I’m a big proponent for educating yourself on various pain management techniques. My husband and I took the Bradley Method when I was pregnant with Keenan and we used several of the relaxation techniques for both of my births that helped tremendously.
To answer the question, “what if something bad happens if you give birth at home?” there are a few things to keep in mind. Most importantly, midwives are highly trained to handle all kinds of complications, and carry equipment and medication to handle an unexpected situation if it should arise. There can be surprises with any birth, and being ready is key. Also, no professional midwife will approach a birth with limited information (they utilize ultrasounds and prenatal tests, the same as physicians), and will not continue a planned home birth if the mother’s or baby’s health dictates otherwise. Just as our midwife told us that she doesn’t like to take risks, midwives know when to transport to a hospital or to not even attempt a home birth if things change over the course of a pregnancy. Another issue to consider when discussing unexpected complications during a home birth is the distance and availability of emergency services and infrastructure. If you’re birthing at home and are transported to a hospital, and the hospital doesn’t keep specialists on 24-hour call (like our local hospitals), then the time it would take a specialist to arrive on-scene can be the same whether you’re birthing at home (and they meet you at the hospital), or birthing at the hospital (and you have to wait 20-40 minutes for the specialist to arrive). That situation is specific to our area, though. It’s important for mothers to realistically weigh ALL options, and keep safety a priority.
When I found out I was pregnant with Keenan I made an appointment with my OBGYN at the time and followed the normal doctor visits, not really knowing there were other options until my prenatal yoga instructor recommended the film, The Business of Being Born. I immediately rented it that night for my husband and I to watch. As soon as we finished watching the movie, we both had the same look on our faces and knew we needed to look into other birthing options and a better healthcare provider for the rest of my pregnancy (I was 20 weeks along at the time). The next day, I started researching other hospitals in the area that had midwives on staff, and offered alternative birthing options, such as water birth, the ability to labor freely and give birth NOT lying on your back in a bed. Luckily I found a great little hospital only 25 minutes from our house, Sutter Davis Hospital, that had a birthing center run by Certified Nurse Midwives (who did 98% of all births), and they did water births, which is what I wanted to try. I immediately made an appointment with the midwife clinic that was associated with Sutter Davis and got seen the next day. As I thought, I fell in love with the office. Our initial visit with our midwife was an hour. She took the time to listen, answer all of our questions and truly be interested in the well-being of me and our baby. After that visit I switched providers and no longer saw my OBGYN. I never looked back and I am so glad that I made the switch.
I had a wonderful birth with Keenan (three and a half years ago already!). It was everything I had imagined and planned for. I had a natural, non-medicated water birth in five hours, and my husband and I can honestly say that we brought Keenan into this world by ourselves (we’re the ones that delivered him!). Even though our midwife, nurses and doula were there, as soon as Keenan’s head crowned, our midwife prompted my husband (who was behind me, as I was leaning against him for support) to reach down, pull Keenan out and place him on my chest. It was a beautiful experience that I’ll always treasure.
After having such a beautiful birth with Keenan, I wanted to recreate that experience when we found out I was pregnant with baby #2 (Mirella). Since we had just moved back to my hometown, I knew it would be hard to have that same birth experience in a hospital-like setting like Sutter Davis, because none of the local hospitals offered alternative birthing options or had midwives on staff. On top of that, I had heard about several negative birthing experiences at a couple of our local hospitals that made my decision to have a home birth even easier. Since my family was not so keen on the idea of having a home birth, I did make appointments with a few OBGYNs in the area to possibly entertain the idea of a hospital birth and see what their policies and protocols were. But, after each visit, my mind was definitely made up. None of the physicians were advocates for any alternative birthing methods, aside from laying in a bed. They all had protocols for continuous fetal monitoring, immediate heploc for an IV no matter if you didn’t want an epidural or not, limited walking and movement during labor, induction if baby goes past due date by three days (and don’t even think about natural forms of induction).
No way did I want to be confined to or conformed to those protocols. After all, those “standards of care” for pregnant women in labor is what starts the vicious cycle as The Business of Being Born states–being given Pitocin to start labor, then contractions get so intense a woman gives into pain medication, which slows labor down, thus nothing progresses for a period of time and the baby’s heart rate plummets and boom, an emergency c-section needs to be done. It’s no wonder that the national c-section rate is 32% and California is right above that at 33%! I know not all c-sections happen that way, but there are a great majority of them that do, because physicians have timelines and women are put on a time clock as soon as they enter that hospital door.
With that being said, my husband and I interviewed three local midwives as soon as we moved back to my hometown. If we lived closer to Sutter Davis, we would have delivered our second baby there in a heartbeat–no questions asked–but being that Keenan came fast and the drive is an hour and a half with no traffic, we didn’t want to take any chances. After interviewing the third midwife, my husband and I both knew we wanted to go with her. We both connected with her and she had been practicing as a midwife for over eighteen years. Throughout the rest of my pregnancy, our midwife came to our home for most of our visits with the occasional visits at her office. All visits were an hour long; our midwife took the time to listen to all of our concerns and questions, making us feel like people, not just another patient. We did all of the normal routine lab tests and ultrasounds as you do in a regular OBGYN office, so aside from having hour long appointments in the comfort of our own home, most everything was the same (to an extent!).
On the day I gave birth to our sweet baby girl, everything went as smoothly and perfectly as I had hopped it would. Our midwife and her assistant were there, along with my husband and mom. We had another beautiful, natural water birth as we had with Keenan. This time, I was able to pull Mirella out by myself and welcome her to the world. It was truly the most magical and emotional experience of my life. I couldn’t have asked for a better birth. I’m truly blessed to have had two amazing, natural births with my children. Their births are experiences I’ll always treasure and I only hope that more women can have wonderful births, too (whether in a hospital, birthing center or at home).
For all of you veteran mommies, did you take any childbirth education classes when you were pregnant?
Did your birth(s) go as you had planned?
Do you feel birth portrayed on television and in films is a good representation of it?