Home Births: a New Option?
by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux
My latest crazy plan for the summer has been in place ever since I saw The Business of Being Born, a documentary referenced in a recent New York Times article about the rise in home births. More and more women, it seems, are opting to give birth in the comfort of their houses, in the presence of midwives and doulas rather than doctors. And no, my plan is not to give birth to a child at home, but rather to train to become a birth doula, a person who is present at a birth but is secondary to the midwife, someone who is trained and experienced in childbirth and who provides continuous physical and emotional support to the mother before, during and after childbirth.
Why this rash decision? And why the rise in home births? After all, both the AMA and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend hospitals as the safest options for birth. But growing numbers of women have chosen their homes as the sites of childbirth, and instead of medical doctors, they have gone to midwives and doulas, who have traditionally been excluded and ostracized by the mainstream medical profession. The film, and many midwives, argue that in fact, hospitals are not the best, safest, or most comfortable place to give birth. The lack of drugs is just one of the factors that is driving many women out of the maternity ward. Doctors, midwives are quick to point out, are not ideal candidates for delivering babies. Their training does not focus on birth, and they don't have the same relationship with the mothers that midwives would. Furthermore, they have proved themselves to be dangerously willing to perform cesarean sections, even though these are often not necessary (at suspicious times...the numbers of cesareans performed in hospitals spikes around 4 pm and 10 pm). Cesarean sections are major surgery. The estimated risk of a woman dying after a cesarean birth are less than one in 2,500 (as opposed to one in 10,000 for a vaginal birth).
The claims that home births are dangerous are also, for the most part, false. In fact, for a country where most childbirths occur in hospitals, we have much higher infant mortality rates than countries where home birth is more common. Marsden Wagner, the European Director of the WHO, suggested the need in the U.S. for a "strong independent midwifery profession as a counterbalance to the obstetrical profession in preventing excessive interventions in the normal birth process."
What does he mean by this? We need to get back to natural birth. Mothers, during their pregnancy, are frightened by the concept of birth (as are many women) and when they enter the delivery room, they are given a series of drugs that speed up their contractions and reduce the subsequent pain, but numb their consciousness. The birth of a child is something that women have the right to experience, if they so choose. Doctors are much more likely to pressure women into having surgery, or taking drugs, because it makes the process easier for them. Birth is a painful process. But it is not a medical emergency. If complications do occur during childbirth, mothers are sent to the hospital; many have doctors standing by.
I want to be a doula because I think that many women do not understand the power and joy of childbirth, and because birth in this country is entirely focused on the baby, and not the mother. The mother has an equal stake in bringing the child into the world, and she deserves to have the option of consciousness and comfort, rather than giving birth in a room full of machines, pumped full of drugs.