Before our youngest son was born, I blogged about my plans to give birth at home. It had been my hope all along to have a home birth, and I was very lucky that my dreams became a reality. Now that our baby is nearly three months old, I wanted to reflect on our incredible experience…and the bullshit that comes with wanting to give birth in the comfort of your own home.
I thought I’d turn this in to a mini-series. In this first post I talk about why home birth isn’t just for crazy hippies. Look out for future posts about my own experience, and why I think every woman should consider a home birth.
only hippies home birth
Thanks to stellar “news” sources such as Channel5 documentaries and the Daily Fail, we know that childbirth is a traumatic and dangerous experience. So it stands to reason that only crazy hippies who care more about their birth experience than the safety of their unborn child would plan to give birth beyond the safety net of a hospital.
It may come as some surprise to you that I shave my armpits. Or that I vaccinate my kids. Or that I don’t breastfeed, I’m not vegan, I send my sons to mainstream school and I have never eaten/drank/planted any of my placentas*. I also most certainly don’t think I know more than any midwives or obstetricians. Have I forgotten any stereotypes of your typical home birthing woman? No? Good.
what kind of weirdo are you?
I trained as a midwife many moons ago, so know that most of the time birth isn’t traumatic and it isn’t dangerous. I also didn’t think that only deluded eccentrics gave birth outside the confines of the labour ward. But I’ll admit, home birth was something that was never on my personal radar.
Until I gave birth in a car park.
Trust me, that will change your perspective on most things. An unattended delivery in my husband’s car with an audience of strangers was not on my birth plan. It made me certain that next time around I would do all I could to have a calm, positive experience. It made sense that being in my own home would be the best way to ensure that happened.
announcing our home birth plans
I was embarrassed to tell people about my plans though, out of fear of what they might think. I’m lucky that I don’t have many people in my life who are straight up arseholes, so I was never treated to some of the choice comments I know other home birth mums have received. Like being accused of wanting a home birth purely to have a dramatic story to tell when it all went wrong. Can you imagine saying that to someone?
But what I did experience a lot was The Look. That split second where a person’s thoughts are displayed on their face before they remember to rearrange their features. The Look is usually followed by “oh really?” And about nine times out of ten the person then goes on to tell you they would never have a home birth because they/their partner/someone they met once on the bus had a horrible 5 day labour which ended up with failed forceps and an emergency Cesarean under general anaesthetic with a three week stay in hospital for an infection. Thanks Belinda, for sharing your experience.
It took me a while to feel confident enough to state our plans. I had a store of responses for the comments I was likely to get. Most of the reactions focused on pain relief, so the fact I’d had a drug-free labour previously made it easier for me to prove to others that I was just fine on that front, thanks. My midwifery experience also came in handy to bat off those who tried to scare me about safety aspects. I was able to stop them in their tracks with the fact that in a healthy pregnancy with a history of uncomplicated previous deliveries, giving birth at home with a midwife was just as safe as delivering in a hospital1.
getting midwife support
I was still scared to tell people that I wanted to give birth at home, in case it didn’t happen. I didn’t want to build up an image of the birth only for people to say “I told you so” if plans had to change. Not just for my own self-preservation, but on behalf of home birthers everywhere. I didn’t want to let the side down.
When a hospital birth doesn’t go the way the parents hope for, there is (quite rightly) sympathy and morale bolstering. But when a home birth has to be abandoned or transferred to hospital, there is a lot of tutting and “well what did she expect” type comments. Not always, not from all, but audible enough.
I was even nervous to ask the midwife if it would be possible. As if I had to ask permission. I was worried that she’d see me as a trouble patient. Someone who was going to be difficult or demanding or who would refuse all advice. Because that’s what a typical home birth mum is like – tv tells us so. Home birthers only believe in alternative therapies, and if they don’t agree with their care providers they’re liable to go rogue and freebirth in a forest somewhere.
I didn’t have the most supportive of midwives, either. The one I saw most frequently made a point at each appointment of up-selling the birthing unit. She always cheerfully reminded me that if someone else went in to labour at the same time I’d have to go to hospital because there would be no staff. Her argument was that I might want to save myself the worry and just go for a hospital birth anyway. She sent me for growth scans, and started pushing for induction as soon as I went past my due dates2.
Thankfully I did also have some supportive midwives, as well as a close friend who is a midwife passionate about home birth. I also joined various Facebook groups to get advice and reassurance from some incredibly knowledgeable women. I was able to counteract the lack of professional support, but I don’t think it’s always so easy.
support women’s birth choices
Women – all types of women – deserve to have their birth options open. For some, a medical condition or a complication with their pregnancy means that hospital is absolutely the safest place to give birth. But for so many other women, a home birth can be perfect. It reduces their risk of medical intervention3, can help them cope better with labour and is ultimately more relaxing than being in a medicalised environment4.
Stereotyping those who chose home birth as weird or selfish means that so many women who might chose a home birth just wont even consider it. We live in a society which is obsessed with negative birth experiences. Many times I’ve seen people claim that women who share their positive experiences are showing off. That they’re rubbing it in the faces of those who had more traumatic routes into motherhood. But focusing on what can go wrong blinds so many to what goes right, the majority of the time.
Why perpetuate a myth which cheats a woman out of a positive birth experience?
If someone tells you that they’re planning to birth at home, the correct response is “good for you.” Not “wow, I couldn’t do that…but good for you” or “you’re brave…but good for you.” Just “good for you.” Because after all, home birth is good for her. Whether she’s a hippie or not.
* I’m not bashing any of these things, they’re all valid life choices.** Except not vaccinating your kids…that just makes you dangerous.
** Whilst I shave my armpits, I have been known to leave it a very long time between shaves…
1 NCT – home birth
2 Home Birth Reference Site – you can’t have a home birth because…
3 “Planned home birth attended by a registered midwife was associated with very low and comparable rates of perinatal death and reduced rates of obstetric interventions and other adverse perinatal outcomes compared with planned hospital birth attended by a midwife or physician.”
4 AIMS – benefits of home birth