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Home Birth: A Mainstream Alternative

Written by Kelly Olmstead   
Thursday, 01 September 2005 00:00
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For many people, the term “homebirth” conjures images of earth mammas in handmade dresses with flowers in their hair. No offense, but I prefer Calvin Klein for my attire and professional highlights in my hair.

When preparing for my first birth, I read best-selling pregnancy books, doctor’s handouts and parenting magazines, and I took the hospital birthing class. I was good to go.

Home BirthAt 39 weeks, my partner and I opted for the elective induction my doctor offered. I was given cervical ripening gel, an IV, Pitocin and continuous monitoring in bed. Contractions became unbearable. Breathe through them? What kind of cruel joke was that? All our preparation went flying out the window. I got Stadol. I felt drunk. I got an epidural. I slept. I watched television. I saw my doctor for 4 minutes of my labor.

I was coached during pushing like I was trying to win a wrestling match. Forty-five minutes and a catheter and episiotomy later, I gave birth to our daughter. We were thrilled!

Our second daughter’s birth was much the same, but included, among its cast, a surly on-call doctor who refused to let me watch the birth in a mirror. Even so, we were thrilled.

After this birth, I was searching for nursing clothes online. I happened upon a small discussion board with a bunch of bright, funny women. We discussed current events, nursing, books, motherhood, home decorating, politics…the works. As happens when you get moms talking, birth stories were shared. Many of these women had given birth not only without medication, but at home. I thought they must be insane.

Still, I was intrigued by the way they described their births; they were so different from mine. For them, the birth wasn’t just a means to an end, but an event worth fully experiencing. Come again? My goal was just to get through it with a healthy baby. But these women said homebirth was as safe as hospital birth for most moms-to-be. Nowhere had I heard or read this before. Or had I not been paying attention?

I did my own research, venturing past Borders’ pregnancy book recommendations. And yep, a planned, attended homebirth would be even safer for me than a hospital birth since I was lowrisk and had already had two babies. I read about the cascade of interventions typical in hospital births, where each intervention adds risks and increases the need for more intervention. It was an “Aha!” moment for me.

Pregnant with our third child but still leery, my partner and I met with a certified nurse midwife. She addressed our “what ifs” and explained that she brings nearly “a Level 1 hospital delivery room” to each birth. She said that a midwife, with you through your entire labor, is trained to catch potential complications and correct them early on. She confirmed that leaving Mother Nature alone if possible means a much-reduced chance of complications and that some homebirths do transport to the hospital, but rarely due to emergency. We came away confident that this was the right choice for us. Hour-long prenatal visits helped me explore my hopes and fears as my midwife and I got to know one another deeply. I charted my own weight, protein and sugar. I even did my own group B strep swab. As unpleasant as those are, at least I wasn’t in stirrups for it.