As if nearing your due date or just having a child isn’t enough of a conversation starter, try mentioning that you’re having, or had, your baby at home. Childbirth is exciting, and pretty much the only thing a first-time pregnant woman thinks about, so the discussion of birth planning comes up authentically and often. Although the rate has risen in recent years, still only about 1% of births take place in the home so it’s definitely a novelty when someone mentions they’ll be doing it.
Since late 2011 when I began considering a home birth, having had one in April 2012, and now being pregnant and planning one again, I have had countless discussions with people who are curious, or baffled, by my experience. Some people are all ready interested in home birthing and would like to hear my story, while others have their interest piqued by hearing about an option which many people may not even have otherwise considered. Of course, others plainly think I’m insane and are fascinated by why such a seemingly normal woman would do such an outrageous thing, (OK, maybe I don’t seem that normal). Whatever the reason, the factors that led my husband and I to make this decision, both personal and those rooted in the mountains of research we have done, have led to endless conversations which I somehow manage to never tire of having. By and large, most of these conversations can be summed up with the following questions so I’ll answer them for you now.
1) What if something goes wrong?
There are two versions of this question. The first is a totally legitimate concern which I suppose should also be in the back of our minds every time we step out of the shower with wet feet or get behind the wheel of the car. The bottom line is that it’s an extraordinarily unlikely eventuality in the case of a healthy mother who has done her due diligence and is surrounded by supportive people and laboring in a safe environment.
The second sounds more like “What if…what if….what if….what if….?”
Well, I have a rant about that. Hospital births are the default. You can choose to largely ignore the fact that you’re pregnant and stumble into a hospital at the last minute and someone there is going to rally around you, bark some orders, and the baby is going to make it to the other side one way or another. It may be a bad day, but for some reason, society doesn’t encourage us to expect empowering or beautiful birth experiences so no one is surprised when it’s miserable. I’m not even remotely suggesting that this is what most mothers do, but in general, “planning” a hospital birth does not in fact require much planning. On the contrary, deciding to deliver at home is a very conscious decision and one which is not met lightly. Research is endless. I don’t know any mother planning a hospital birth who has spent as many hours understanding childbirth as someone who plans to do it at home. Although there are most certainly exceptions, on average, doctors don’t encourage education or provide resources and they don’t spend the time to know their patents on anything more than a physical level the way midwives do because for some reason, they aren’t expected to.
The fact of the matter is that compared to other Westernized countries, the US has one of the worst maternal and infant mortality rates. If you look at the charts I’ve attached, we might look like we’re far down the list, but if you examine who is above and below us, we’re not in very good company. I don’t think a single European country ranks worse than the US, nor does Canada, Australia, or Japan. Also, our rate of c-section is right around 33%, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization recommends that it should be lower than 15%...that’s 15% for any country, including those with unsafe drinking water, lack of access to medical care, inadequate food, and other conditions which are not optimal for a healthy pregnancy. Let alone the United States which you would think is in a prime position to educate and empower women to have healthy enough pregnancies that unnecessary medical interventions and surgeries do not happen.
The medical community, for whatever reason, has perpetuated the myth that women are not capable of laboring on their own. A due date is a deadline, the baby is too big, you’re not progressing quickly enough, it hurts so you need medication, and on and on and on. All of those things are myths, plain and simple. If a woman wants to make the choice to use the interventions available such as induction, epidural, etc., let that be her choice. I advocate informed consent and it should be the responsibility of our medical professionals to let parents-to-be know that all of these things do come with risks and these risks are contributing to our nation’s high rate of c-section, as well as infant and maternal mortality. Not to mention, we could all be having birth experiences that we look back upon fondly, as I did, but instead, many of us are made to feel pushed around once they sign their laboring body into the care of a hospital.
In short, a healthy baby, in a healthy mother, who is left to come out on their own time, in their own way, is unlikely to experience any “emergencies.” Many, (probably most), “emergencies” are created by interventions which could have been avoided. Of course, there are exceptions, but very few of them which aren’t detectable ahead of time by monitoring the heart rate and growth of the fetus. Midwives are trained to monitor these and refer us to a physician at any sign of a problem which means that if my pregnancy progresses normally and I take care of myself, we should know about problems before I go into labor.
2) Who is going to deliver the baby?
Ladies, stop giving other people credit for this! You’ve had a heck-of-a ten months and a painful delivery and now you’re handing off credit to some dude who swooped in for the catch at the end…and you paid him for it?
The answer is ME! Me, me, me, me, and me! I will be delivering my baby, out of my body. My husband will support me mentally and physically and in every way other way he can figure out. My midwife will provide us with her experience and her wisdom. My mother will clean my house while I’m in labor (again). But I, and I alone, will deliver my baby.
3) You had your baby at home…on purpose?
A great big thank you goes out to TLC for convincing the general public that it’s normal for people to deposit a child into the toilet when they were trying to expel a burrito and had no idea they were pregnant. In real life, that’s not terribly common.
One of the really amazing things about our country is that we have so many options available to us and I just hope that in my lifetime, home birthing becomes one of those mainstream options instead of sounding peculiar. I don’t suggest that home birthing is for everyone, but I know so many women who have regrets about the day their child was born and that’s very sad. By providing mothers with all of the information available, more of them can make decisions which fit their needs and wants and more women will be excited for the upcoming birth of their child and look back as fondly on the day as I do.
4) Did it hurt?
Seriously, yes, in the big, huge, gigantic, intense way that it was supposed to. Then, I got a baby and it was all worth it. I don’t pretend not to remember, (they’re lying), but I don’t mind it and it in no way taints my memory of that day. It is called labor after all.
We should be expecting childbirth to hurt and having our heads in the game when we go into it. There’s nothing wrong with pain. Our bodies were made to do this and they can. Instead, we’re told how easy it is to get an epidural, and nothing about the risks, so that has become the norm and women are scared of actually experiencing the birth of their children.
Again, an epidural is an option, but there are a lot of natural options for pain management which aren’t addressed in mainstream medicine. Water birthing is one which actually has been gaining popularity recently. Also though, simply having a supportive and safe environment so mothers are mentally prepared has been shown to reduce the reports of pain. So does massage, hip support, walking around, and other things that can be done with your body or with the help of your partner or doula. Positioning does wonders. While the traditional supine position is really convenient for the person catching, it actually makes it harder for the baby to work it’s way through the canal and a great deal more painful. There is also calmbirthing or hypnobirthing, naturopathy, aromatherapy, heat, breathing exercises, hydration, eating, (yes, this is not only allowed, but encouraged in out-of-hospital births when the threat of c-section isn’t constantly looming), and many others.
Furthermore, none of these pain reduction measures carry with it the following side effects, (according to Americanpregnancy.org): drop in blood pressure, severe headaches, slowing/stopping of labor, shivering, ringing of the ears, backache, soreness where the needle is inserted, nausea, difficulty urinating, difficulty pushing, numbness for several hours after birth and difficulty walking, permanent nerve damage, increased risk of additional interventions (Pitocin, forceps, vacuum extraction, episiotomies, or cesarean), difficulty breastfeeding, fetal respitory depression, fetal malpositioning, and fetal heart rate variability.
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