Domestic Debuts—Home Birth

For me, the single most striking attribute of the women I talked to who chose to give birth at home was that they all shared a fundamental optimism about childbirth, a belief that it is a natural, healthy, normal process. Instead of letting their worries about pain or complications rule their experience (and they admitted to thinking about both), they focused on the positive and looked at the experience as a milestone to be excited about, rather than a nightmare to be endured. They made a conscious decision to reject what one mom called “the fear mentality,” the idea that childbirth is an inherently dangerous undertaking that will end up in disaster unless a courageous doctor pulls you through. And it’s not that these women were naive about the possibility of complications—in fact, they were, as a group, incredibly eloquent and well-read on the topic. Each mom I talked to would tick off a long syllabus of the books she devoured in preparation for her home birth. The difference was, they were convinced that all the poking and prodding by doctors, all the anesthetics and interventions, were responsible for causing many of those complications, rather than preventing them. They would quote studies, refer me to websites, and talk at length about the “snowball effects” of intervention. An epidural can slow down labor, in turn requiring Pitocin to speed it up. The Pitocin can slow the baby’s heart rate, requiring internal fetal monitoring. And all these interventions can lead you down the path to a cesarean section.

They knew about all the “rules” in their local hospital, like how many hours a woman is allowed to labor after her water breaks, and whether continuous fetal monitoring and IVs are required. They were aware that most midwives have around a 10 to 15 percent rate of transferring patients to the hospital, and they were at peace with that. (I should mention that all the women I spoke to were otherwise part of the mainstream of American life. In certain religious groups like the Amish and some Mennonites, home birth is not so much a deliberate choice as a way of life.) “We would rather assume that everything is going to go right, and focus on having faith in ourselves and in the process of birth,” explained Caitlin, a yoga teacher and mother of one in Brooklyn, New York. “We definitely acknowledged that, yeah, if something goes wrong, I’m going to go to the hospital and I’m not going to fight it, but I will trust my midwife to know when it’s time to go. Mostly we focused on how great it was going to be, and how we were doing it the way we wanted to.”

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