What comes to your mind when you hear the term “home birth?” Fear? Disgust? Happiness perhaps? How about if I throw a statement like “having an epidural is practically like giving your baby drugs” at you? If you’re anything like most childbearing families in America, one of these has struck a chord and you probably need a glass of wine to calm yourself down right about now (go ahead, no judgment here).
No matter which end of the spectrum you fall, I’m willing to bet you had some sort of a reaction. It’s interesting how those topics bring out an opinion in all of us, isn’t it? You’re probably saying “well now that you’ve got me all riled up, what’s your point lady?!?!”
My point is that birth is personal.
I have 4 children. The first two were unmedicated hospital births with a midwife. The second two were born at home.
When my husband and I were pregnant with our first child, the idea of home birth didn’t even cross my mind. I didn’t know anybody who had done it, save for a woman whose daughter I attended school with in my small North Dakota hometown - and she was known as an “eccentric hippy.” When I was 8 1/2 months along, our neighbors across the street had a baby with the help of a midwife in their home. I remember the mother gushing about how wonderful this birth was compared to her other two hospital births. I honestly thought she was clueless - me, the mother of none, to her the mother of three. When she asked why I wasn’t having a home birth I rattled off something about safety and medical equipment and my midwife…blah, blah, blah. Iʼm amazed when I look back on how opinionated I was about home birth - and birth in general – even though I had never experienced it.
My mom gave birth to 7 children, including one breech baby, all naturally. Iʼm so thankful to her for instilling in me faith in my body first and faith in what everyone else can do for me (insert medical intervention here), second. I believe if more women understood childbirth and were taught to embrace the pain (which is extremely different than “liking” it, by the way), more women would value their birth experience instead of loathing it.
The pain of childbirth is unlike any other pain a human being experiences. It’s not like a toothache that needs to be soothed or an infection that needs to be stopped. The pain tells a woman how things are progressing and leads her to react as her body dictates. For example, while laboring with my first and third, I had back labor which made me want to be on my hands and knees. As it turns out, both of those babies were posterior, or face-up (hence the back labor) and my instinctual position helped them turn and relieved the pressure. In other words the type of pain I experienced, led me to do what was needed to safely delivery my babies. Being medicated via epidural takes away a woman’s ability to read her body’s cues, because that is what the pain really is - a message. Delivering a posterior baby is harder and often leads to the need for intervention (Pitocin to speed labor or C-section to deliver). Does this mean that women who have epidurals never have posterior babies that turn during delivery? Of course not, but the incidence of posterior position is indeed higher with an epidural.
In my first two deliveries in a hospital, even though I was completely coherent and listening to my body, there were still people telling me how to manage what I was feeling:
“Donʼt drink that!”…But, Iʼm thirsty!
“Lie down so I can check your blood pressure!”…But, Iʼm trying to concentrate and lying down slows my contractions!
“Donʼt mind the two residents in the corner with clipboards – they’re just watching.”…Total strangers just watching me get naked and do the most intimate and humbling thing Iʼll ever do?!? Awesome.
“Push!”… But Iʼm not ready to push!
“Donʼt push!”… But I have to push! Seriously?
We all know that animals tend to go to the darkest, quietest place around to deliver their young. Having a midwife attend my third and fourth births in the comfort of my home that was exactly how I wanted it – and that’s exactly what she did: facilitate a delivery that worked best for me. Not one that worked best for everyone else.
When people learn that Iʼve had a home birth, one of the first reactions I get is defensiveness. Weird, right? Birth is not a contest, ladies. Itʼs not about who can tolerate the most pain or who can do the most dangerous things without consequences. Did I win a gold medal for delivering my 11lb. 3.5oz boy at home? No! (Although, I do think heʼs a bit of a first-prize-at-the-county-fair-blue-ribbon-type-of-baby, I mean 11+ pounds…sheesh). Home birth is not for everyone – but remember, neither is hospital birth.
Natural birth vs. medicated birth vs. C-section vs. home birth, this will probably always be an ongoing debate. Itʼs rare (though not impossible) to find a doctor supportive of home birth, maybe because few have ever witnessed one. And although studies all over the globe point to the safety of home birth in low-risk pregnancies, American doctors (for the most part) favor the medical model of childbirth. This leads to many parents, especially first-timers, not being told all their options!
A dear friend, who is newly pregnant, recently asked what advice would I give a first timer. Without hesitation I said “Do your homework!” And not about which drapes match the crib sheets. Know your options, know why you want what you want, and make choices accordingly so that your wishes won’t be sabotaged, but instead supported with honest information. Does birth always go as planned? Never! But it can be incredible no matter how difficult, painful and/or long it is. After I had my last baby (the blue ribbon prize winner) and he was resting on my chest in the birth pool, I said to my husband “I feel so sorry for you that you never get to experience that the way I did.” It was hands down the most empowering thing Iʼve ever done - and IT WAS HARD. Regardless of the birth plan you chose I wish all women feel that way about their birth experiences.
Soni Albright is the mother of four and a home birth supporter living in Houston, TX.