A couple of articlettes just popped up on nytimes.com regarding home birth, which is (in the present American ficton at least) a controversial subject. Apparently home births are on the rise [sciencedaily.com], at least for white American ladies, and that’s a good thing.
The beautiful thing about my homebirth is there wasn’t much of a story? Pretty much: i went into labor, my midwives showed up, i gave birth. –Ambrose, commenting on nytimes.com
In 2010 Q4, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy entirely at home, entirely naturally. I had planned to do so from about month 3 of my pregnancy, after I had studied all the angles. (Here are many of those angles.) For me, the biggest motivator in staying out of the hospital was the knowledge that the more preparation I did myself, and the more of the birth experience I felt responsible for, the better would be the birth outcome. There’s a lot IN that, and feel free to ask for specifics, but it’s well outside the scope of this blog post to go into all of it.
What prompted this post was one of the nytimes.com articlettes entitled, “Having Baby at Home: Share Your Story”. I decided to share my story, especially after reading several anti-homebirth comments which were more highly recommended than any others. For example, this little gem from the inflamed Tara:
I find it pretty inflammatory that women think they are better than science and medicine. Yes, it’s a medical procedure, for better and for worse. The “medicalization” of childbirth is the very reason we no longer see cemetaries piling up with the headstones of women in their childbearing years.
So, here’s my inflammatory opinion: I have yet to hear a justification for homebirth that doesn’t sound like this: “I’m special, I’m special, I’m special.” Please. Have your baby in a hospital. If you are not happy with your “birthing experience,” try getting a life.
And that just got my postpartum panties all in a bunch. Luckily, commenter Sarah had already found the best way to respond (emphasis mine):
Women choose home birth not because they believe they’re special, but because they believe they aren’t. They choose it because they believe that, like the billions of women who came before them, they can deliver a healthy baby into this world without the aid of drugs or scalpels. If complications do arise, and drugs and scalpels become necessary, then they can transfer to the hospital at that point. But there is no reason to assume that most women need that kind of intervention.
Right! I believed I wasn’t special. In fact, I believed I was retarded by comparison to those hundreds of generations of women before me, because I hadn’t had my first child at 18, and I hadn’t been squatting 15 times a day, and I hadn’t been walking for hours every day, and so on. These and many other little factors add up to make or break a successful natural birth.
The more I read about the physiological makeup of a classically healthy woman, the more I realized I’d have to WORK to be UN-special enough to have a home birth.
Succeeding at a home birth is not the easy route. You have to fight for it.
But it’s worth fighting through the tough but actually pretty bearable pains of labor to avoid the possibility of a spinal abscess from an epidural.
And it’s definitely worth the immeasurable hormonal and immune system benefits of drug-free vaginal birth to you and your baby from having a relatively short, uncomplicated labor, which you can make more likely by doing prenatal yoga all through pregnancy in order to train the hips to open up easily and to train yourself to relax in the face of pain.
The rewards of finding your way through the labor process without drugs or surgery, and out of the medical environment, are many and great. You can eat or drink whatever you want, whenever you want. You can get in your own shower and afterward swaddle yourself in towels for a little while. You can wander around like a zombie, moaning through the pain, if it seems to make sense at the time.
There is a place for the medical establishment around childbirth, of course, and I wrote a bit about that in my comment on nytimes.com — mostly spurred into action by Tara the Inflammable. I’ve copied it below; enjoy.
I had a fantastic home birth last year. I was a low-risk pregnancy to begin with, but I carried “late”. That is, I carried my baby for almost 42 weeks, which is in fact the NORM for white women with their first baby.
Most hospitals these days will not allow you to bypass your “due date” — as if every woman’s body runs on a perfect clock (we know it doesn’t!), and will instead SCHEDULE your birth so you won’t be “late”. Presumably this is to decrease the chances of complications, but somewhere along the line, medical science decided to ignore actual evidence and instead go with their gut feeling on how much this actually helps.
My decision to deliver at home was based on widely available statistics and on my anthropology studies which gave me information that allowed me to trust the natural birthing process.
My midwife — who this year will have overseen more than 1000 births! — took every precaution as I went over my “due date” (which, by the way, the majority of white women with their first baby bypass, so how is it “late”?). She even had me schedule a prenatal screening where they monitor the baby’s heartbeat to make sure everything was still fine. Any good midwife will take care to integrate (not shun) modern medicine wherever it is appropriate.
My birth at 41.5 weeks was completely natural. The labor lasted about 8 hours, and I pushed for about 24 minutes. I had no vaginal tears, just a “bruise” which was sore for maybe 4 days. My baby was born at an entirely moderate 7.5 pounds and in the best of health.
If I’d been with a hospital for my prenatal care, they would have scheduled me for an induction at 40 weeks. My son would have had a lower birth weight. And most likely, due to the pitocin based induction, I would have wound up laboring too fast and needing an epidural.
All in the name of making birth “safer”. Never mind the fact that doctors and caretakers still aren’t washing their hands regularly enough, and that a hospital is the most likely place for newborns to catch infectious, possibly lethal diseases.
People who think that medicalized births are categorically better are simply wrong. Births should happen in safe, non-medical environments (home or a birth center) more often than not. A hospital backup plan is always warranted, but it shouldn’t be Plan A.
Besides, health care costs are already through the roof. Why should we drive them up further by submitting mothers to unnecessary procedures?