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Home Birth: A Mainstream Alternative

By Kelly Olmstead

For many people, the term “homebirth” conjures images of earth mammas in handmade dresses with flowers in their hair. No offense, but I prefer Calvin Klein for my attire and professional highlights in my hair.

When preparing for my first birth, I read best-selling pregnancy books, doctor’s handouts and parenting magazines, and I took the hospital birthing class. I was good to go.

At 39 weeks, my partner and I opted for the elective induction my doctor offered. I was given cervical ripening gel, an IV, Pitocin and continuous monitoring in bed. Contractions became unbearable. Breathe through them? What kind of cruel joke was that? All our preparation went flying out the window. I got Stadol. I felt drunk. I got an epidural. I slept. I watched television. I saw my doctor for 4 minutes of my labor.

I was coached during pushing like I was trying to win a wrestling match. Forty-five minutes and a catheter and episiotomy later, I gave birth to our daughter. We were thrilled!

Our second daughter’s birth was much the same, but included, among its cast, a surly on-call doctor who refused to let me watch the birth in a mirror. Even so, we were thrilled.

After this birth, I was searching for nursing clothes online. I happened upon a small discussion board with a bunch of bright, funny women. We discussed current events, nursing, books, motherhood, home decorating, politics…the works. As happens when you get moms talking, birth stories were shared. Many of these women had given birth not only without medication, but at home. I thought they must be insane.

Still, I was intrigued by the way they described their births; they were so different from mine. For them, the birth wasn’t just a means to an end, but an event worth fully experiencing. Come again? My goal was just to get through it with a healthy baby. But these women said homebirth was as safe as hospital birth for most moms-to-be. Nowhere had I heard or read this before. Or had I not been paying attention?

I did my own research, venturing past Borders’ pregnancy book recommendations. And yep, a planned, attended homebirth would be even safer for me than a hospital birth since I was lowrisk and had already had two babies. I read about the cascade of interventions typical in hospital births, where each intervention adds risks and increases the need for more intervention. It was an “Aha!” moment for me.

Pregnant with our third child but still leery, my partner and I met with a certified nurse midwife. She addressed our “what ifs” and explained that she brings nearly “a Level 1 hospital delivery room” to each birth. She said that a midwife, with you through your entire labor, is trained to catch potential complications and correct them early on. She confirmed that leaving Mother Nature alone if possible means a much-reduced chance of complications and that some homebirths do transport to the hospital, but rarely due to emergency. We came away confident that this was the right choice for us. Hour-long prenatal visits helped me explore my hopes and fears as my midwife and I got to know one another deeply. I charted my own weight, protein and sugar. I even did my own group B strep swab. As unpleasant as those are, at least I wasn’t in stirrups for it.

Laboring at home with candles and soft music rather than fluorescent lights and beeping machines, I moved freely as my midwife followed me to listen to the baby.

Her assistant rubbed my back, whispered in my ear, brought me water, acknowledged how much contractions hurt. I was comfortable being loud, being sad, being scared. I was made to feel that my body was beautiful in labor.

And I could feel everything! Amazingly, it was worth the pain. I’d read that when you don’t block labor pain with medication, your body produces endorphins that cause an intense “runner’s high.” It does! At my son’s birth, I experienced exhilaration one hundred times more powerful than what I had felt at my other children’s births. And I’d been damn exhilarated then.

The real shocker was how much better this birth was for my son. Besides not having any contraction-inducing drugs or pain relievers in his system, he was born into a warm, dim, quiet environment and place naked and slippery on my body. It was a holy time. He didn’t leave my arms for a full hour. He wasn’t weighed or given a shot or eyedrops until he had nursed and was sleepy. In the meantime, my midwife cleaned up.

Giving birth this way opened my eyes to an inner strength as a woman. I wish I had known this before my other births. Still, as changed as I am by my homebirth, I didn’t trade my minivan for a VW bus or start wearing dreadlocks. I am, however, most definitely due for a trip to the salon.