I wasn’t surprised to read Melanie Reid’s assumption that home birthing moms are all sandal-wearing hippie freaks (OK, I added that last part). It’s the way a lot of people look at women who decided to deliver a baby at home. That’s not to say I agreed with her.
But even with her narrow description of the type of woman who decides to give birth at home, Reid’s piece in the Times of London this week hit upon some pretty shocking numbers: home birthing is on the rise after decades of decline, but so too are the numbers of people pushing to make home birth THE way to give birth.
And that, I have to admit, I’m not kosher with.
Because for all the wonderful things that home birth offers, and all the reasons I think it should be available to any mother who wants to try it, the one thing I have heard from most moms who have actually given birth at home is that what empowered them to do it was knowing the hospital was just a phone call – and an ambulance ride – away should they need it.
I’m not sure if Reid has met your average home birther, to be honest. She calls the countries where home birthing rates are low as the “sensible” ones, and calls hospitals”the only intelligent, progressive, logical place to give birth.” Ask your average home birthing advocate, and she will actually tell you hospitals ARE progressive, intelligent, logical places to give birth – if you need them. The truly sensible home birthers decided to make the choice based on medical assessments, which you very well might call progressive – considering back in the day there was no doctor checking for fetal distress before a woman on the prairie gave birth in her house. If the hospital becomes necessary, the sensible homebirthers say OK, and get there . . . pronto.
As our own home birthing Strollerderby writer Madeline Holler pointed out in her Babble essay on the topic, when she asked her midwife all the what ifs, the dangerous ones pointed to a trip to the hospital – no matter what:
What if the cord slips out before the baby? (We go
straight to the hospital.) Bleeding? (Hospital.) Premature labor?
But, as Reid explains, there’s a difference between helping women to realize their dreams of a homebirth and actively advocating we all head in that direction. Wales actually put out a target of having at least ten percent of women
give birth at home (this was in 2002, and their target year was 2007 -
they’re two years past and nowhere near it).
Because for all its advantages (and there are plenty – read Madeline’s essay, she’s been there, done that, and can explain them much better than a hospital birther like me), the hospital birth remains its back up because it has something a home can’t have: the means to deal with complications. Midwives have modern medical training and are fantastic for your average birth, but outside of a hospital setting, if something DOES go wrong, where do they send you? You got it.
Which means pushing women to have a homebirth, rather than simply accommodating those who want to give it a go, does indeed put us back toward the dark ages. It means putting more women at risk, more babies at risk. The reason a select few women give birth at home in countries like the U.K. and the U.S. is not only because, as Reid claims “We’re squeamish. We are hardwired to go to hospital and have our babies there. It’s what we do. It’s in our modern DNA.”
It’s because that’s a better option for a lot of women. Not all. But a lot. Women like me who had to have pitocin adminstered because my daughter just WOULD NOT come out. Or women like my friend whose son had been improperly measured by her midwife and came out with shoulder distortion because he was just too darn big for her tiny frame. It’s better for women with pre-existing conditions, babies with elevated heart rates.
Pushing for the opposite, pushing women to return to their homes, to take away their access to the modern advances of technology heightens the risks for women, gives insurance companies the excuse NOT to cover services and demeans the needs many women experience during labor and delivery. So some women can do just fine in a birthing pool at home. So some women make it through balancing on a ball in their bedroom. Not all of us can.
Very simply: it’s one thing to chose a home birth. It’s another to get the most out of home birth.
Also on Babble: