“The oldest mom who I helped have a homebirth was 43,” my midwife told me. I’m now 41 as my belly grows and the days narrow before I meet my daughter.
Pretty soon after discovering we were pregnant, my partner and I decided homebirth was really our only option. Living a healthy “organic” and vegan lifestyle, planning to greet my daughter in a hospital bed surrounded by tubes and doctors seems more horror story than helpful. I’m prone to hold my breath in hospitals. Not good for labor.
Of course, I’m well aware of the realities for women my age. Even though people often tell me I don’t look a day older than 35, my hips would beg to differ. Still, I hope the care with which I live each day plays some part in allowing me a healthy homebirth instead of a hospital birth.
Several of my friends in their 40s who had every intention of blissful homebirths reminiscent of an Ina May Gaskin story (she’s a very well known midwife and advocate for homebirth), ended up in hospitals. But not without trying at home first. “It’s their birth,” a friend reminded me recently, speaking about her three children who were all born in hospitals, “not ours,” she said without a trace of regret. Sound advice.
While my baby’s daddy and I have every intention of sitting in that tub with just our midwife by our side until our daughter arrives, we both know that in this case, the destination is more important than the journey. That she arrives healthy is all that really matters.
Still, I can’t help but marvel at the medical machine we’ve created around birthing. Emergencies aside, many women don’t think twice about where they’re having their babies. Hospitals are now the norm for birthing options. Statistics are slim, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (is birth a disease?) state that homebirths increased by 24 percent between 2004 and 2009—just under 30,000 total that year. Seems like I might know half of those women.
The website Better Birth says hospital births are more painful because women are limited in their movements due to the tubes and beds and crowds of doctors and nurses. Women in hospitals are more likely to choose drugs like epidurals too, often at the urging of their physician, even if they had planned on opting out. And the risk of having a C-section—which is major surgery, by the way—increases by 10 percent if you’re giving birth in a hospital. There are more risks for both mom and baby in cesarian deliveries as well.
While I’m no expert on PTSD or birth trauma, it does seem like our culture is suffering from a number of massive, untreated wounds. It’s possible the harshness of our widespread hospital births have not-so-pleasantly welcomed us into this world. Starting off on the wrong foot can setup a life of trauma. In her book “Tears and Tantrums: What to do When Babies and Children Cry,” Aletha J. Solter, PhD says much of infant crying is directly related to the trauma of being born. At home or in a hospital, it’s no easy process. Solter suggests crying is a useful, necessary stress release (for children and adults), but our tendency to stop children from crying never allows them to truly process and release the birth experience. This sets up a lifetime of unresolved stress. Could being born at home decrease some of the birth stress for babies and the subsequent crying necessary to process it?
The fact is, our civilization got pretty far along without hospital births. Sure, there are risks with homebirths. There are risks with all births. But limiting your stress levels and being afforded the comfort of movement in your own home (I hear many women like to sit on the toilet during labor. I can’t see that happening in a hospital.) sure seem like healthy ways to negotiate labor.
Add to that all the lovely bacteria your body knows and accepts that are already in your home versus the foreign—and often antibiotic-resistant—bacteria widespread in hospitals. Tearing during labor or a C-section increase a woman’s risk of contracting a hospital-borne infection. A course of antibiotics in your baby’s first feedings of breast milk is less than ideal, too.
Of course, many women opt for hospital births for financial reasons. Now more than ever, some insurance providers will cover part—or all—of a midwife’s service, but you typically have to pay out of pocket before being reimbursed. While in the end, a homebirth costs considerably less than a hospital birth, paying out of pocket is not always an option for some couples. Even though homebirths costs less than hospital births, the insurance system and the medical system work in tandem to increase profits. While insurance companies seem like they don’t want you to ever fall ill, they support physicians who sell you unnecessary drugs and encourage repeat visits. Go figure.
Going back to what a friend recently told me about her homebirths-turned-hospital births, the birth process is much more our child’s journey than it is ours. Just like their lives are all their own, how they come into this world is their own personal story, too. To have any regrets about how that goes down simply takes away from the sheer bliss of welcoming a child into this world. At home or in a hospital, the miracle of life can’t be overshadowed by scenery.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Image: Jason Lander