In the United States, there is a stigma around homebirth that is hard to ignore if you are part of the birthing community. If you are a newly pregnant woman considering her options, more times than not, you will come across the anger and confusion surrounding birth in general and not just homebirth.
The only thing I knew about birth before I had my daughter was that our bodies are made to do it, but it can be dangerous, so why not give birth in the hospital? Before my own pregnancy, a friend of mine was taking Birthing from Within childbirth classes, which I thought was strange to begin with, and was planning to have her baby in a birthing center. I figured it was just another side to her that I didn’t understand and never would.
She had her baby before I got pregnant, and two things stood out to me: She had her son in the water and was home six hours after the birth. I had always been told that birthing in water was extremely dangerous because the baby would try to breathe underwater and drown and that the first 24 hours after a baby is born is the most dangerous time, so babies needed constant supervision to make sure they survive and don’t get sick. I remember wondering for days how she could take her new baby home after six hours when the risk was so great that he could get sick.
When I got pregnant with my daughter, I scheduled appointments with the certified nurse-midwife in town and also the obstetrician at the hospital. The obstetrician couldn’t get me in until I was 12 weeks pregnant, but the nurse-midwife could get me in at eight weeks, so I chose the midwife. My pregnancy was great until the end, when I ended up with some interventions I am not happy about now, but at the time I was so uninformed I let the obstetrician and my nurse-midwife take over my care. I had a cesarean at 37 weeks and my daughter was in the NICU for a week.
For about a year, I was so jealous of all the vaginal deliveries I heard about. My sister-in-law had a vaginal delivery about six months after my daughter was born, and I was so upset about it, it took me a long time to be excited for her.
A month after my daughter’s first birthday, one of my other friends ended up having a c-section with her daughter because of fetal distress. It wasn’t until I talked to her about her cesarean that the story of my own cesarean began to make sense.
Shortly after this I started looking into becoming a doula so I could help women have the birth they wanted instead of a birth that was forced on them.
I had read a lot on homebirth; and with each book I read, it sounded better and better. My friend who had her son in the birthing center became pregnant again and this time she planned a homebirth from the start. I was becoming more educated about the process, but I was still skeptical about having a baby at home. Everywhere I would go I would hear women tell stories about a person they knew who almost died at home and was lucky enough to live close to the hospital for transport. Everything seemed to be stacked against the idea of homebirth.
The day my friend went into labor, I was a nervous wreck. When I heard that the baby was born, it was as if I had finally breathed for the first time in hours. We went to see the baby and I was able to see the pictures from her birth. This time, it wasn’t that I was scared for her baby and her survival; rather, I was so overcome with emotion at how beautiful the birth looked. Everything looked so incredibly peaceful and calm. She had her family with her, and her son was able to watch his baby sister’s birth.
After I saw these pictures and realized how beautiful the birth was, I started planning my future. I wasn’t going to stop at being a doula anymore. I wanted to help women have their babies at home so they too could have an experience as peaceful as my friend’s birth.
I became obsessed with birth more than I already was. I read everything I could get my hands on, including every birth blog on the Internet. Eventually, I found a midwife who was moving into my area in the near future, and I was able to talk to her about her profession and calling as a traditional midwife.
Shortly after she moved here, she was set up with a client who was due in three weeks. She e-mailed me and asked if I could be her assistant. Never had anything sounded so beautiful!
I met with her and we discussed birth for a few hours. I knew right away this was a woman who knew how to handle birth and could be trusted to be a birth keeper.
A few weeks later, we got the call that the birth was imminent. When we arrived at the house, the mother was in transition and laboring beautifully. She had been in labor for a few days, so she would doze in between contractions, and I had never seen someone so peaceful, even though she was at the hardest part of her labor.
The midwife would sometimes say encouraging words and let her presence be known but, overall, we sat back just watching. It was so incredibly powerful.
When she pushed out her daughter, I was overcome with emotion at the beauty of the entire process. The pictures from my friend’s birth never described how incredible it is seeing a woman give birth among friends and family, in a place where she is comfortable.
Women in the US are so caught up in the propaganda of birth that they sometimes don’t realize what they are missing. They are strapped to fetal monitors and given epidurals without realizing there is something better out there. Instead of laboring in a strange place, why not labor at home where you know where the bathroom is, or where you are free to roam around and do what you need to do to help your labor along?
Homebirth is not about going against the hospital and the aid it entails. Homebirth is not about being anti-medicine or showing off. Homebirth is about bringing your baby into the world in an atmosphere of love. Homebirth is about letting your body do what is best and birthing your baby the way your body is made to birth. Homebirth is about choice.
Not everyone will be as open to homebirth as others because of the stigma surrounding the birthing climate in the US. Instead of telling women horror stories about homebirth, we should share the happiness and love that surrounds it. Instead of taking choice away from women, we should embrace homebirth as an option for the women among us who would like another option, for the women who want more out of their birth experience than the hospital can offer.