How I Learned That Childbirth is A Natural Process, Not A Medical Event
written late March 2006
The roots of my interest in homebirth probably date back to my teen years when I began my independent study of childbirth. Long before I had a clue who I’d marry, I was fascinated by pregnancy, childbirth, and child development. I knew I wanted to have children and looked forward to it above all else I wanted to do in my life. My Mom was always open and comfortable talking about anything and she provided me with written material to read and learn more. I read about many things in whatever I could get my hands on, and pregnancy, childbirth, and all things related to children were a few of my favorite subjects.
When Robert and I decided on the year we’d try to conceive our first child, I became a voracious reader of all things related to pregnancy and childbirth. One of the best books I ever read, eight months before we first conceived, was Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic & Birth by Suzanne Arms. This book should be required reading for all young women in the United States, where sex education and real knowledge about how our bodies work is so lacking. Girls grow up scared about childbirth because they don’t understand their bodies. Fear increases hormones which make childbirth difficult. If I didn’t already think of childbirth as the normal bodily function that it is, I definitely did after reading this book. I trust my body to do the work for which it is designed to do, and I take care of it as well as I can so that it can do so.
I also read, during all of my pregnancies, dozens and dozens of birth stories, which not only added to my knowledge of birth but increased my confidence in myself. And I remembered observing my nephew’s birth in 1990 at the age of nearly 19, which had both positive and negative effects on me. It was wonderful to observe a real, live birth and I learned more concretely how it happens; but I also observed procedures that I questioned, and later learned are often done routinely, not out of necessity, procedures that can cause complications.
My childbirth experiences confirmed what I read. Without using pain-relieving drugs nor even any special breathing or other special methods, I did not feel any pain. I did not need an episiotomy or the use of any other special procedures. I just understood what was going on, went with the flow, let my body do its work. Rhiannon’s birth was the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life, but it was never painful. Caroline’s birth was downright FUN. Both hospital births, we’re fortunate they were quick—of Rhiannon’s 11 hour labor, only 4 of those hours were in the hospital, and Caroline’s entire labor was only 5 hours—so there was little opportunity for medical procedures to interfere.
I’m pretty sure I suggested the idea of homebirth to Robert before Rhiannon was born, but I was nowhere near as knowledgeable about it then as I am now, and it was easy to go along with the more accepted hospital route. I was even pleased with it afterward because the hospital staff did not argue with our birth plans and they have tried to make the atmosphere more homelike and comfortable. So when Caroline was coming along and I brought up homebirth again, and again Robert was not comfortable with the idea, I remembered the first time at the hospital was okay, and I didn’t think much more about it. Well, the second birth was not as okay. Yes, I said Caroline’s birth was fun, but the circumstances surrounding it were very stressful and I’m haunted to this day by the idea that inducing her birth was a bad idea. Even if it didn’t change anything about her well-being, it wasn’t necessary. The average 40 week pregnancy is just that, average. Just like some children walk and talk early and other late, some babies take a little longer to be born. Furthermore, it is hard to be accurate about the due date even in women with regular cycles, let alone a breastfeeding mom like me who has only just gotten her cycles back (which are irregular upon first returning). Midwives are much more patient about going beyond 40 weeks, and also have safer natural methods of getting birth started if the body and baby are close to being ready.
So perhaps the 40 week issue is why I feel much more strongly about homebirth this time. And, as I had been so unsettled about the idea of being done having children, it feels like I’ve been given the chance after all to have birth the way it is meant to be. In any case, it is something about which I feel very strongly and I have researched to great extent. It is not an idea I adopted lightly, and I am not discounting the remote possibility of something going wrong. On the contrary, my knowledge, my experience, and my midwife’s training and experience give me more confidence in homebirth than in hospital birth. I didn’t start this pregnancy with the idea of having a homebirth, but I kept thinking more and more about it, and now it’s so overwhelming the number of reasons to have a homebirth, that going back to hospital based care, unless a medical issue comes up, feels very wrong, for me.
We’re heading for a homebirth!
written March 15, 2006
Most couples don’t need any help getting pregnant. Likewise, most women don’t need all the typical medical procedures they are put through nowadays to birth the child nine months later. In fact, those procedures detract from the experience at best, and sometimes cause problems. Childbirth is as natural a bodily process as peeing, digesting, and having sex. Imagine another bodily process and imagine being hooked up to IV and an electronic monitor, being timed, being interrupted repeatedly by people entering to take vital signs and so on. Seems silly, right? Birth really isn’t a medical problem requiring treatment.
The idea of homebirth may be unfathomable to someone who has never considered it before. Interestingly, it is still the way most of the children in the world are born. Unfortunately, in our culture childbirth has been over-dramatized so much. Furthermore, our culture is so fear-based, focusing on the What Ifs, worrying about liability, etc. It’s terrible that girls grow up not trusting their bodies, when truly our bodies are designed to give birth. We can be grateful for the technology that has saved lives in true emergencies, and at the same time recognize that those procedures are not necessary for in the majority of cases.
Having a homebirth midwife during my pregnancy means I will be treated holistically. She will provide me with education and experienced guidance. For example, she will help me monitor my diet and will have plenty of time to talk to me in the relaxed comfortable atmosphere of either her home or mine. Midwives encourage and support Moms taking an active role in pregnancy and birth. We will meet during the pregnancy on a monthly, then bimonthly, then biweekly schedule, similar to that for a hospital birth, and will still have the opportunity to choose some of the same procedures as are done routinely with medical care.
On the Birth Day, my midwife and her assistant will be close by–silent observers and encouragers–in the comfort of our home, where I can be free to move about at will and not subjected to unnecessary procedures. If necessary, midwives are trained and experienced in handling any complications that may arise. My children will be well taken care of by friends in our own home, with Mom and Dad still close by, and can observe the birth of their sibling as much as they wish. This promotes sibling bonding. After the birth, Baby will receive a thorough but respectful check-up, while in my arms, not whisked away to the nursery. One of the things that bothered me about Caroline’s birth is the way they scrubbed her so roughly. The vernix doesn’t need to be scrubbed off; it’s actually excellent moisturizer! Then the midwife and her assistant clean up and leave us to snuggle into our own cozy bed and meet the newest member of our family. But that’s not the last we see of her. She returns to our home two or three times after the birth to check on us, providing help with breastfeeding or whatever is needed. One of the best parts: No awfully long wait to be checked out; we are already home!
For those comforted by statistics, there are studies showing homebirth is safe. Countries that rely primarily on midwifery care have the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. The U.S., where still only one or two percent of births are homebirths, ranks 25th. Personally, I know a lot of homebirthed children. Amongst my local friends, there have been over a dozen babies born at home (several of these moms are repeaters). All successful, wonderful births without complications.
My local hospital is one of the more progressive hospitals around, I think, and they didn’t give me any trouble about refusing drugs or some procedures. However, even the CNMs (certified nurse midwives) who I chose for my births are bound by the fear based rules that, for instance, push induction just because Baby hasn’t shown up when the “magical” 40th week comes and goes. Why do we consider it just fine that some babies will walk at nine months and others not until 15 months, but doctors can’t be patient for babies that take a little longer than average to come out? Fortunately, because I believe in my body’s ability to birth, I had very easy births that were too quick to allow for much interference. But there is a level of stress involved in making sure that our birth plan is respected. Yet the things we desire are routine with homebirth. The natural process of childbearing is honored patiently and kindly, and the child is brought into a warm, loving environment. I’m so excited to be able to experience birth this way, the way it ought to be.
If you are interested in reading more about homebirth, here is a good article for starters: