Both my kids were born at home. People have often remarked on the courage I must have had to have made that choice. It wasn’t courage––it was a desire for a comfortable, supportive birth environment I knew was the best bet for my kids and me to avoid unnecessary trauma and intervention. There are times when medical intervention is necessary, but most of the time, the medical system itself and its medicalized birth practices create the issues which lead to intervention in the first place.
Our bodies are designed to give birth. Fit, healthy women in most cases should be able to deliver their babies naturally––if only they are allowed to. I was 37 years old with my first pregnancy and 40 with my second. My husband and I eschewed all the tests and screenings recommended for “a woman my age,” as we were committed to bringing our children into the world, regardless of what abnormalities or issues such screenings might suggest. And we were blessed with two wonderfully healthy children born without complication or intervention.
I remember being questioned about our choice to birth at home when I was pregnant with our eldest. Well-intended friends pointed to historical maternal and infant mortality rates as an argument for hospital birth. A closer look at the history, however, largely implicates hospitals and doctors in the staggeringly high maternal mortality rates from puerperal fever in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries––in which it was common practice for the medical profession to examine pregnant women and deliver babies after performing autopsies, WITHOUT WASHING THEIR HANDS. As Suzanne Humphries, MD and Roman Bystrianyk emphasize in their landmark book “Dissolving Illusions: Disease, Vaccines, and the Forgotten History,” puerperal fever’s massive maternal death toll profoundly impacted the fabric of society. It is no wonder this tragic and largely avoidable episode in recent human history influences our fears surrounding childbirth.
Furthermore, the medical system in the US is the cause of so many deaths that researchers from Johns Hopkins wrote an open letter to the CDC to request that CDC change its record collection criteria to accurately inform the public of this alarming statistic. With medical errors being the 3rd leading cause of death in our country, the hospital hardly seems a sensible environment for a healthy expectant mother to deliver her healthy baby into. On the contrary, the mother and baby would seem at less risk of fatal complications in the safety of their own home, attended to by trained midwives.
Beyond the health and safety of the mother and child, there are many more reasons to deliver at home. In the privacy of her own home, the mother is allowed to labor at her own pace. She can labor in the comfort and quiet of her own bedroom, bathtub or birth tub. While her midwives monitor her and the baby’s vitals throughout, they are unobtrusive and respectful, and they accommodate her timing, not theirs. She is not surrounded by or attached to any machines and monitors, and she is able to move her body freely.
Without intervention or epidural, labor proceeds naturally, as baby and mother coordinate their rhythm and contractions to bring the birth. The midwives do not pressure the mother to take Pitocin to induce labor. She is allowed to proceed as her body and her baby’s body dictates.
Family members or chosen friends are the only other people in the home, quietly and respectfully on-hand to support the laboring mother and whatever she may need at the time. A hushed reverence pervades the scene. And when the baby arrives, he or she is welcomed into the quiet, warm room, surrounded only by loving family, friends and trusted midwives the mother has gotten to know well over the course of her pregnancy.
Newborn baby and mother remain together in the comfort of their bed, while over the next couple of hours the midwives gently monitor, record birth stats and care for the mother (one of my midwives even brought me a plate of scrambled eggs after the birth of our daughter, as she felt I needed the protein). Once they determine all is well, they pack up their oxygen and equipment, hug the new mother, kiss the new baby and go home, only to return the next day and beyond to continue post-partum monitoring and care.
Mother and baby, big brother and father fall asleep in the comfort of their own beds. What a lovely way to welcome this new member of the family. And what a lovely way to come into the world.
What better entry into the world than the loving sanctuary of one’s family home? The medicalization of birth in the US may account for its alarmingly high infant and maternal mortality rates––so let’s take a closer look when evaluating which environment poses the bigger risk.
**NOTE TO VIEWER/LISTENER: Anne read from a few online articles she had printed out right before their chat, but the print outs didn’t display a few things properly, and she guessed at source and date of a couple. The piece she thought was from Harvard Medical Review was actually from Harvard Business Review (link below), and the NPR piece on the Johns Hopkins study was from May 2016 (link below as well.)
We’ve included a few additional links as well, in order to help anyone get started in doing their own research about the risks and benefits of natural home birth vs medicalized hospital births. The transcript to the video can be found below the links:
Anne: 00:05 So we decided we want to
talk about home birth this episode, and it follows on a friend is coming up to
having her third child and has decided to do a home birth. And we were talking
about it, and given that you had all of your boys at home, your healthy boys at
home, and I had both my kids at home, and our mother had our youngest at home,
we have some experience with that and thought it related to a lot of the other
discussions we’ve had about empowerment, authority, autonomy, self
responsibility and more. (That’s A loud, long train horn!)
Thea: 01:09 You know, it all depends
on the personality, I think, of the train driver. They vary. Sometimes it’s
Anne: 01:19 And what kind of day
they’re having! So, just to start out with a couple of thoughts, and we’ll go
from there. A lot of times I’ll be in a group of women or be talking to women
about birth, and having had a home birth, and those that haven’t had that
experience will often say, “Oh, how brave. You’re so brave.” (Wow.
That guy is really agro!) So yeah, they’ll say, “Oh, you’re so
brave.” And I always say, “No trust me, I think you’re the brave
one.” The women who manage to have uncomplicated births without
intervention, according to the plan that they had set forth when they came into
the hospital––I can’t really even imagine having that experience. How much
harder you would be to have had you know, as gentle a birth as birth can be.
Thea: 02:30 Right? Yeah. I mean, as
birth is this place of absolutely power and vulnerability at the same time, and
to be in a situation that you aren’t even really comfortable or quite relaxed.
I can’t even fathom.
Anne: 02:52 I mean, any woman who’s
gone through this knows––you’re in a different state of mind.
Thea: 03:01 If you’re allowed to be.
And I wonder about that too. I mean, I think, I don’t know, I haven’t done it
in the hospital. And I wonder if women who have given birth in hospitals have
had varying experiences of being in that altered state. Or not.
Anne: 03:18 Or if they have to always
kind of be on in order to say no or to watch what’s going on––I mean, just
alone, so, you know obviously complications can happen in any situation, right?
But first off most midwives are incredibly experienced at delivering babies,
actually delivering them, not C-sections, but actually delivering them. And
delivering them in a number of different circumstances. I mean, my son for
example, the cord was wrapped around his head as happens In think in like a
quarter of births. Right? My midwife who delivered our daughter, helped me
deliver our daughter, she worked in the back countries of Amish land, right?
She delivered twins, she delivered breech babies. She could do anything, you
know? And it was wonderful to be in the hands of someone so beautifully
experienced, no matter what came up. And of course, midwives, they bring the
oxygen, they have a lot of things at their disposal right here at the house.
And they have relationships with doctors at hospitals so that if you need to
transfer, you can go there. But. Provided it goes just the normal course,
you’re in your own home, you’re in your own bed or bathtub or whatever you choose.
You are able to go at your own pace. You don’t have to speed it up or, or
either say no constantly to Pitocin or finally accept taking Pitocin to
stimulate your contractions in order to get things moving because the hospital
won’t allow you to be there for longer than a couple of days, et cetera. Right?
So many things. And on top of it, you don’t have to worry about people coming
and checking, taking blood, all the things, who knows. I mean, I have no idea
what it’s like ’cause I’ve not done it except for having watched documentaries
on the difference between those types of births. But you know, you don’t need
to be hooked up to machines. You don’t have the constant intrusion of people
coming in and out. And more. So it just facilitates the birth experience
happening healthily and smoothly.
Thea: 05:53 It does. As so many
pieces of literature about the space of birth liken it to love making in a way,
too. Because anything that requires a space of settling in, relaxing, letting
down, opening up––t’s a very intimate experience. And picturing love making in
the hospital, they don’t go so well together, you know. So I think that’s one
picture. And another thing that was sparking in my mind while you were laying
out those examples is––being a midwife, which is “with woman”, is
“with them, is much like being a parent, knowing when to intervene and
when to stay back and allow the process to simply occur. And you’re frankly
allowing that space to be there. We’re doing that as parents for our children.
Sometimes failing, sometimes being right on point. We’re doing that as
teachers. Anything that is a guiding post requires that ability to know when to
intervene and when to sit back to let the wisdom of the process have its place.
And that’s what gets lost in the hospital, right? Because since we have all
these things to check, we do. So that’s one part.
Anne: 07:31 Agreed. I remember even
as a child being able to hold my youngest sister in my arms before she was
even, you know, washed off and like insisting on that. I remember insisting
that I wanted to. And mom was on the bean bag in our family room. It was an
extraordinarily different experience than she had had with her previous three
births with me and our other sister, she had had them in one hospital and had
just pretty bad experiences being forced to inducebeing kept away from her
child at length and more. I remember then with you, she tried a different
hospital hoping that would be better. Not at all. And finally went to the next
obvious choice, which was not even legal in the state at the time.
Thea: 08:39 I don’t know if it is
yet. It wasn’t even 20 years ago.
Anne: 08:42 Right, where we grew up.
Right. So I guess what I’d like to do, I think you had articulated this, maybe
you want to say it again about just inverting…
Thea: 08:55 Well I’ve had those
conversations with people too who’ve said how courageous to do it at home and
my feeling quite the same as you. That, “No.” And then I was thinking
that it’s really about taking that image, that picture of what birth is and
it’s become inverted. It’s slipped through the wormhole to the other side, you
know, the images of what’s courageous, and what’s comforting and safe, you
know? And I think that there’s a lot of movement of that, at least in the
communities that we live in, of people recognizing that birth needs to be re
looked at to be redone, to be safe. And to be non medicalized to give families
the best start. You know, I think one of the big parts of it being so
medicalized is that it seems to create distance when there should be connection
right off the bat, you know? And it’s hard enough. I mean, that’s the part that
boggles my mind. It’s hard enough, just the actual physical laboring of it. And
then really the weeks after of the care, I mean, it’s amazing what we do.
Anne: 10:24 Well, it’s, I mean, let’s
go further. It’s not just, yes, the actual physical laboring, but I’ve never
experienced anything like it. Right? And having done it we all, most women I
think would agree you get to a point and I guess that that’s around transition,
but you get to a point where you cannot imagine going further. It is
unbearable. Right? And it’s hard to describe. It’s not a pain like, like a
wound. It’s the most unpleasant discomfort I’ve ever had. That goes beyond
pain, but it’s not sharp pain.
Thea: 11:21 I would even call it more,
I mean, I know we all have our different colorings of it and I think that
that’s such an interesting idea we’ve talked about even in another
conversation––about what we identify as pain and how we articulate it and how
we hold it in our understanding. But it’s more like “unbelievable.”
It’s going to a space that is unbelievable. And there is required a complete
surrender into what is unbelievable.
Anne: 11:54 Yes, yes. And a courage,
I mean, and I, I remember…
Thea: 12:02 Your first birth? I
remember it, too.
Anne: 12:04 Well, the first birth you
remember because, and I’ll say to the viewer, this is after Thea’s third birth,
third home birth, and she has her youngest in a sling having been born seven
weeks before. And she’s there in my little apartment, you know, helping me
along. And me in my heady way and crazy trippy way that birth sends you into
not realizing that I was as close as I was, just somehow thinking that it was
just getting, I was just getting more, more pathetically weak and unable to, to
deal with it. And I remember you just marveling that I was still talking about
it instead of just going into myself. Right? And then the second time Thea got
there 15 minutes after the delivery of my daughter. And I remember at the point
where my midwife was saying she’s, because of course the midwives arethey’re
checking all the time. They’re monitoring the heart rate of the baby, yours,
everything. Right? And intimately, and frequently. They’re right there. And she
said, “Okay, you know, if they don’t come out,”––we weren’t sure, boy
or girl––”they don’t come out in the next one or doesn’t start coming out,
we’re going to have you change your position.” And in that moment, and she
told me why, because her heart rate was, not coming up as quickly as it should.
And I remember thinking, “Okay,” and all I could think of was that
scene from Braveheart where Mel Gibson’s character’s be being disemboweled and
he shouts “Freedom!” And I think to myself, because it’s based on a true
story, I thought to myself, “If somebody could do that and shout
‘Freedom!”, I can do this and I can get her out.” And I did. Right?
So it’s like we all go through all these different processes. (Laughter).
Thea: 14:25 (Laughter) Wow!
Anne: 14:25 But doing that, or as we
were talking about earlier knowing very deep down that something has to
be.You’re in touch with what’s going on there with your child. And I’ve heard
so many stories from so many women who have said, whether it’s the doctor or
the midwife or anybody saying no, you know, you’re not far, or you’ve still got
a while…And the woman is just like, “No, I know they need to come out,
and not only do they need to come out, I need to transfer because they need to
come out now.” And the mother gets in touch with an instinct in her that
she’s never had before. That that puts her authority over her child above all
else. And in home birth in, in my experience and mind, really allows that to
happen in a much more conducive way, I guess. Pardon me. Than the hospital,
Thea: 15:42 Yeah. A total different
framework. Can we pause for one quick second?
Anne: 15:50 Yeah. As I get a drink of
water so I don’t hack all over the place. Hold on. Yeah. Okay. So we just got
off on a tangent, but I want to point out a couple of things to folks who are
looking at this and are interested in the idea of home birth but are concerned
about the risks. So this came out this last year or so (NOTE: IT WAS ACTUALLY
MAY 2016) ––a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins medicine says medical
errors should rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States.
And that’s I have a feeling that’s probably even higher, you know, because
that’s really what’s, what’s attributed to medical errors. And our experience
you know, extensive experience in the hospitals taking care of our parents
suggests to me that there are a lot of things, a lot of dots that are not
connected where intervention causes more complications that lead to death as
Thea: 16:52 And unnecessary
interventions and even mis and ill communicated Interventions. So much of it I
think is like the whole system is so big that the communication channels are
not connected and cohesive and things get missed, or whatever.
Anne: 17:13 Absolutely. It’s become
quite dehumanized, you know, and you don’t want to really bring a child into
such an dehumanised system to give them a good start, you know? And it’s not to
say that there aren’t some hospitals with some really great teams and great
departments that really––and I know there’s a movement to revamp that too, and
to give women more options of even like water births in hospitals and try to
create an environment that’s a little closer to a birth center. So I know that
consciousness is there, but you could also just do it at home, you know? So
then here’s another I think this was like Harvard Medical Review. (NOTE: IT WAS
ACTUALLY HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW.) I don’t have it printed out where it is, but
“Rising US maternal mortality rate demands action from employers,”
and it goes in to say “The US maternal mortality rate has more than
doubled from 10.3 per 100,000 live births in 1991 to 23.8 in 2014. Over 700
women a year die of complications related to pregnancy each year in the United
States. And two thirds of those deaths are preventable. 50,000 women suffer
from life threatening complications of pregnancy. A report from the
Commonwealth Fund released in December found American women have the greatest
risk of dying from pregnancy complications among 11 high income
countries.” Wow. And then another one I think this was CBS News. Yeah, and
I think this is, let’s see. This was a 2013 story, but “US has highest
first day infant mortality out of industrialized world, group reports. About
11,300 newborns die within 24 hours of their birth in the U S each year, 50%
more first day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined. I
Anne: 19:33 So, the other thing I
want to bring up, and I don’t have all the data in front of me, but if you
really, if you look into the history of midwifery and then the involvement
ofthe movement toward surgeons getting involved in birth. I mean, because since
time immemorial, really women have been…
Thea: 20:10 The carriers of birth.
Anne: 20:13 Yeah. The midwives have
always been women. Until really the last couple hundred years. I imagine, I
mean, it seemed like an easy gig. Right? And, you know, and they’re also,
there’s good intention behind it too, because there were complications and
there were complications for lots of reasons that don’t actually apply anymore.
Thea: 20:38 Sanitation, cleanliness,
Anne: 20:39 Absolutely. Not to mention––okay.
Well then, then let’s get into this. So it’s like a little known tidbit that
should be discussed a lot more in our history books when we’re looking at
childbirth infant mortality infectious disease and more. But there was an
epidemic of puerperal fever1700’s and on through the 1800s and the advent and
during the real explosion of the industrialized revolution where surgeons were
not washing their hands. And there was this, you know, it was like a
progressive idea that washing hands is helpful in the medical field. There
seemed to be a resistance to washing one’s hands. And so you would have the
doctors, the surgeons leaving the corpse and death and going straight over to
deliver babies. And that resulted in this huge epidemic of maternal mortality.
It was this epidemic of puerperal fever. And that really didn’t start changing
on an institutionalized level until the forties, the 1940s, where that became
implemented as a rule that you have to wash your hands before helping deliver a
baby. So it’s the implications of that are staggering. And it’s its own
conversation or book really where you have to consider how that impacted the
society, the societal fabric. You had hundreds of thousands of women dying in
childbirth. So you had this staggering number of orphans resulting from that
right around the time of the industrial revolution, which led to, you know,
families without mothers child labor…
Thea: 23:07 The misery of a time. The
children. Yeah. That’s amazing.
Anne: 23:11 Oh my God. When the women
aren’t around to manage things on a whole, widespread level. So you had that
and, and what was the other thing we were talking about? We’re just talking
about like even just the birth practices of you know, the earlier part of last
century, I mean, Twilight, chloroform, forceps, all those interventions…
Thea: 23:42 Vacuum.
Anne: 23:42 They look at that now and
they realize how many deaths and complications that caused. Right? So I think
that if anyone is remotely interested in the empowering and healthy experience
of delivering your child at home, I would recommend, you know, a cursory
examination of the real history of that. And why we have gotten so afraid of
childbirth’s dangers and what those dangers really are now and how those
factors can be controlled or what of those factors even apply anymore.
Thea: 24:31 Right. And, and what it
would mean, really in a vast way, if as large portions of our communities
started to really bring it back to the home space, what would that do to our
communities in a broad and far seeing line? What ways would that change our
initial bonding with our children and therefore our relationship and dynamics
of parenting? I mean the relationship aspect goes on and on and on and
trickles. If we can minimize those pivotal, intrinsic to who we become and what
we work with traumas, as we come into the world. Because we all have our
traumas to work through. And if in this basic, deep realm of entering the
earth, if there’s love and warmth and safety filling us and feeding us as the
parent and as the baby coming in, what would that do to our world? As opposed
to the fear and tension and separation we experience.
Anne: 25:45 Absolutely. And traumas.
I mean, just the interventions that are practiced as routine in the US birth
practicesis traumatic. On first day of life, second day of life, you know. Just
iimagine what it could be like for a human being to enter this realm and be
laying there in one’s mother’s arms, in the warm and dimly lit room, quiet,
surrounded only by loving family and friends.
Thea: 26:42 Reverent.
Anne: 26:42 Loving midwives. Because
by the way, for anyone also wondering, the midwife always brings an assist,
another midwife, they assist each other. There’s always two of them. What a
difference would that make to our world if that’s how we all came into the
world, right? So, so think about that. You know, we’re, we’re up on time. Maybe
we’ll talk more about this.
Thea: 27:10 Yeah, there are so many
angles and, and colorings of this dialogue that really play out into all of the
things we think about. Really.
Anne: 27:20 It reverberates, right?
So, hey, so if you want to give your child the right start? Let’s start at
birth. Let’s start at birth.
Thea: 27:33 Yeah, let’s start at
birth. Thanks. Great. Talk to you later.
Anne: 27:38 See you later. Okay. Let
me end this again.