Responding to a disturbing article about home birth

This article has been bothering me ever since I read it this morning: Worshiping home births. It referenced another article: My True Feelings Regarding my Home Birth Experience

Articles like this demand a response. The following is a somewhat edited and expanded version of what I posted on Facebook about both of them.

I was quite active in the “birthing community” back in my day, up until about 15 years ago. During that time, I read a lot of birth-related books, magazines, publications, and websites. I was a La Leche League Leader and an officer in the Los Angeles chapter of the Cesarean Prevention Movement, which later became the International Cesarean Awareness Network. I even edited their newsletter for awhile. I knew more than a few doctors, midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, advocates, and birthing moms. As part of all that, I met some outspoken proponents of home birth (including two ob/gyn’s and at least one pediatrician) and even some advocates of unassisted birthing. But I can’t recall meeting anyone who “worshiped” home birth. Nor have I ever met a pregnant woman who seemed so woefully ignorant of childbirth as the woman who wrote the article about her own home birth. (Spoiler alert: she actually expected childbirth to be “glamorous”! I’m not kidding! She wrote, “I went into my home birth wanting that picture perfect birth — just like all the other home birth photos showed. I wanted to be that pretty momma — laughing during labor — sitting in the pool looking glamorous and happy.”)

I have met women who gushed a bit embarrassingly — and I thought excessively — over their male obstetricians and women who practically sang the praises of their epidurals, but I would hardly accuse them of idolatry.

Out of my six births, five were planned home births. Three were actually born at home. One of those births resulted in an emergency transport. I was told by the doctors who treated our son that he arrived in better shape than if he had been born in the hospital available to us had we not chosen a home birth. His condition would not have been prevented by a different birth location.

At the time, our midwife had delivered about 500 babies at home and a little more than that in the hospital. She had not lost one baby. Another midwife in the same area had delivered over 500 babies at home and the only one that died was due to a father refusing an ambulance transport and insisting on taking a long, out of the way route to the hospital because — as the midwife learned later — he didn’t really want his child to survive. I have been told — by doctors — that even ob/gyn’s with low risk practices do not have such a good record of outcomes.

I chose home birth because, after doing extensive research, I concluded it was the safest option at the time. When that proved no longer the case, we changed our plans. We chose our birth attendants with great care, and got to know the midwives and assistants quite well, something not usually possible with doctors. They also got to know us well.

I’m not sure why the midwife in the referenced birth account did not succeed in talking sense into this mother and giving her a more realistic concept of birth. Was everyone involved in the birth as incompetent as this mother paints them? Anyone who has such a ridiculous fairy-tale (she actually used that word!) notion of birth either has serious mental issues or simply refuses to listen to anyone. I feel sorry for her. I’m sure she would have been equally, if not more, traumatized by a hospital birth because nothing could possibly live up to her unrealistic expectations. (Spoiler alert: she seemed overly concerned with getting beautiful pictures and expected to be happy and smiling the entire time: “It was not a pretty birth. It was not glamorous….I wanted a fairy tale — picture perfect birth. I invested thousands of dollars into it — along with hundreds and hundreds of dollars into a photographer — and I walked away feeling like a failure.” Did she take childbirth classes? Watch unedited birth videos? Carefully screen her birth attendants? Learn about the process of birth? Or was she more concerned about the photographs?)

My heart goes out to this woman whose priorities caused her to be so ill-prepared for birth, and who chose a home birth for all the wrong reasons. A traumatic birth can be devastating, no matter the reason. At the same time, here are some lessons I hope this mother learns from her cold, painful dash of reality:

• Birth will never be perfect, because life is not perfect.

• Life is not a fairy tale. Neither is birth.

• Mothers need to behave like responsible adults and prepare themselves as fully as possible for the very real difficulties of a very real life.

• There is a reason we use the word “labor” to describe the process. In my experience, labor and childbirth has been hard, physical work. When we do anything difficult and strenuous, we shouldn’t expect to look all glamorous and pretty, or to be laughing and smiling, nor should we expect all to go perfectly.

• Babies are far more important than pictures.

I could trot out lots of hospital birth horror stories, and accuse women who birth in that setting of worshiping hospital births. But I think it’s time we stopped trying to demonize other people’s choices, as well as time we took full responsibility for our own.