In our society, home birth is often considered to be countercultural and rare, yet a small but slowly growing number of women are choosing to give birth to their babies at home. Why, in a land of advanced technology and hospitals, would a woman make this choice? If you’ve been toying with the idea for your first or next child, but haven’t quite made the decision yet, take a look at these five benefits of home birth.
1 1/2 year old Regina kisses her new sister. Photo by Daniel Penny
Safety. Although the advanced technology found in hospitals saves lives in emergency situations, that same technology can pose grave risks. After all, birth is not an emergency; it’s a natural and normal process. Pitocin, for example, which is frequently administered to begin or speed up labor can cause longer, more intense contractions, often resulting in fetal distress and a C-section—a major surgery which brings risks of its own including infection for the mother, difficulty breathing for the infant and high-risk birth for future pregnancies. Statistics confirm the risks of technology: In Sweden, where home birth is common, there were only 4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010, while the United States reported 21; the infant mortality for Sweden was also lower. Low-risk mothers—who desire to avoid the potential risks associated with technology—may feel safer at home and understandably so.
Comfort. Much of the pain of labor and birth is caused by tension. The stress of being in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by strangers and machines, with nothing to think about but the progress of your labor can bring on enough stress to greatly increase your pain or stop labor altogether—which is what the body does if you produce enough adrenaline. Wouldn’t it be better to relax in your own hot tub or easy chair; read your favorite books; or do some light chores in your own kitchen to keep your mind distracted and your body relaxed?
Control. Hospitals may claim that they are up-to-date with all the latest trends in natural childbirth, but often when the time comes, so do the excuses. Laboring mothers are told to lie on their backs for a good part of every hour so the nurse can get the fetal heart rate—even though a midwife can get the same data while the mother stands or sits in a matter of minutes using a fetoscope! Discomfort due to your position, alas, often leads to an epidural, which can slow labor and require pitocin—haven’t we been here before?
Most hospital births occur with the mother lying flat on her back with her feet up. In 2004, the Journal of Perinatal Education noted that other positions actually allow more blood to flow to the uterus, resulting in less pain for the mother, more regular heart rate for the baby and shorter births. Take control in this enormously life-changing, life-giving, sublime moment of life by choosing to labor and birth in the position that is right for your body and your baby—doing so at home will give you tremendously better odds of doing that.
Relaxed recovery. Recovery is simply so much nicer when you’re in familiar, comfortable surroundings, assuming of course you have another adult with you all the time for the first few days— your spouse, a close friend or relative—someone who loves you and will take care of you and the household as long as you need. You can also eat continue to follow the diet you normally do, and intend to raise your baby on—no high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, gluten or whatever you prefer.
The children meet their newest sister. Photo by Daniel Penny
Your family. If you have other children, staying at a hospital for a few days can be lonely for everyone. Visits aren’t the same and they put stress on your husband, who wants to spend time with you, but has to shuttle the kids back and forth. Many husbands feel torn between caring for other children and supporting their wives through the often frustrating challenges of breastfeeding and any unexpected issues that can occur with a newborn. Again, if you have other children, a home birth will only work smoothly if there is someone you trust watching the children during the birth so your husband can focus on you. You will not have a relaxed birth or a restful recovery if you’re worried about your children.
2 1/2 year old Boethius kisses his new sister. Photo by Agnes Penny
Your husband is experiencing the enormous stress of supporting you through one of the biggest moments of your lives. However, during a home birth the father, like the mother, is in a comfortable environment. Typically, he is given small, easy-to-complete tasks that actually help such as filling the hot tub or brewing some tea. Alternately, if labor slows and you take a nap, he can work on other projects, do household chores done or watch television. A comfortable, relaxed setting is almost as important for the father, as it is for the mother. Many husbands don’t immediately appreciate the choice, but explaining these seemingly unimportant things may help to convince him. The actual experience of a home birth will likely be enough to change their mind.
Home birth is not for everyone. High-risk mothers will birth more safely in a birth center or hospital. Having a midwife attend you there may enable you to avoid unnecessary technological measures and unproductive positions without running the risk of birthing too far from emergency treatment. In addition, for a home birth you must find a competent midwife with the prerequisite training and experience—a professional whom you trust to recognize potential emergencies, as well as someone who listens and respects your choices. Most importantly, you must feel confident about having a home birth. If you’re unsure of this decision, you won’t be relaxed. However, being nervous about making such a decision is perfectly normal.
Giving birth is such a mysterious, miraculous and defining moment of our lives. Whether or not we feel in control of our bodies and satisfied with our experience may powerfully affect how we feel about our femininity, motherhood and future births. Such a profound, life-changing event demands a very special place: a place of peace, comfort, safety and love. And this is why more and more women are choosing to birth at home.
Agnes Penny is the mother of nine children, six born at hospitals and three born at home. She is also the author of three spiritual books for mothers, Your Labor of Love for expectant mothers, Your Vocation of Love for all mothers, and Your School of Love for homeschooling mothers, all available from TAN Books. She lives in Whitehall, Pennsylvania.
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