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Home Birth: Our Journey To Sanity

On September 8, 2010, at 7:21 p.m., my son, Andrew Steven Paul Glanville, was born. He weighed 8 pounds 8 ounces, and was 22 inches long. It was 12 hours from the time the water broke until he was born, with six hours of hard labor. Even though it was our first baby, my wife pushed for only 13 minutes, with no tearing. This is not to say the birth was complication-free.

There was some meconium staining (not surprising since he was eight days past the due date) and the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck twice. Each of these situations is considered a minor to moderate emergency and requires serious monitoring and often significant interventions. Or rather, that is what happens when you have the baby in the hospital under the watchful eye of medical experts and surrounded by thousands of dollars of medical equipment. That is not what happened to us.

There were no doctors (unless you count me; I’m a chiropractor), no nurses, no expensive equipment, and most important, no real emergencies. How did we manage this? By returning to a simple, old-fashioned way of life that seems to be finding a resurgence. We chose to bypass the sterile, cold environment and by-the-book methods of the hospital to have our baby in the comfort of our own home. We also left behind the medical doctors with their surgeries, pharmaceutical drugs, fancy monitors, and other invasive methods, in exchange for simple wisdom and expertise of a well-trained and kindhearted midwife.

The birth of a child, especially the first, is one of the most life-altering, inspiring moments in any family, and is usually the subject of many discussions and sometimes arguments. That was true for us. My wife and I come from different backgrounds, but when it came to our kids we quickly reached agreement.

My dad is an M.D. and all five of his kids were born in the hospital. Over the years his perspective of birth drastically changed, and he began to teach home childbirth in a series of seminars in the late ’90s. Many of his 10 grandchildren have been born at home, and he assisted a midwife in many homebirths in the rural area where I spent most of my formative years. For me, homebirth was the rule, not the exception.

For my wife, the opposite was true. She and all her sisters were born in the “safe” confines of a hospital. The beginning of my wife’s change of heart was with the hospital birth of her sister’s baby. The story is disturbingly typical. During early labor, my wife’s sister was administered a drug intended to reduce pain and ease labor. Instead it put her into a mildly altered state of consciousness, to the point that when she came out of it she could not even remember if she’d had the baby yet or not. She did go on to have a happy, healthy baby girl, but that experience was enough to cause my wife to question hospital birth.

Before my wife was pregnant—as a matter of fact, before we were even engaged—we discussed our future children and how we wanted to raise them. In my mind this began with our perspective and actions during pregnancy.

Before I explain that, I need to back up and share my perspective on hospitals and what is referred to as traditional Western medicine. Much of Western medicine as we know it was developed and perfected during times of war and on fields of battle. Consequently, its focus is mostly on crisis management and emergency medicine. For those things, it’s the best in the world. If I am having a heart attack, take me to the hospital. (Well, adjust me first, and then take me to the hospital.)

The emphasis of treatment training for medical doctors is mostly on prescription drugs and surgery. Most doctors rarely venture beyond those options, because that’s what’s comfortable—and, almost as important, that’s what insurance companies pay for. As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. So when your expertise is surgery and pharmaceutical drugs, every health issue looks like a surgical or drug problem. Preventing disease becomes secondary to treating it. But by the time you treat a disease it is often too late, and treatment becomes management.

Hospitals operate similarly to medical doctors. They are great at treating very sick people and emergencies. Today mothers are often put into one (or both) of these categories. The reality is that a pregnant woman is not usually sick, and a birth is not usually an emergency. For thousands of years, birth and pregnancy were treated with a sense of awe. Now it has become something for doctors to treat.

With all of this in mind, my wife and I decided to have our first child at home. It was one of the best decisions we ever made. Our midwives were incredible, helping us with both tough and easy choices and being there for every question we had. They really tried to get to know us as people, not just patients, and my wife never left their office without at least one hug. They never suggested any fancy or expensive tests. Even having an ultrasound was optional.

The birth itself was a wonderful process. We spent the day enjoying the peaceful confines of our own house and bathtub. Our dog, Winnie, was a little nervous, but overall was a joy to have around. My mom was also there and was a huge help in the birth process. I got to catch my son, cut the cord and announce his sex. After he was born, we set him right on his mom’s chest, and as soon as he was cleaned off he was allowed to nurse. We never placed him in a sterile nursery away from the safe, loving arms of his mother and father.

Perhaps the best part was when, at the end of the evening, we simply turned off the lights and went to sleep—in our own house, in our own room, in our own bed.