10.21.2015

Why We Chose a Home Birth (And Why Our Choice Shouldn’t Matter To You)

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All births are special.

Bringing a tiny miracle into this world is something I cannot even begin to describe. The emotions, the love, the worries, the overwhelming pain that we can so easily forget… The birth of my children are the two events in my life that I am most proud of, and am not afraid to share. Their birth stories are so completely different, but both so amazing.

All births are special no matter where it happens. All mothers should proudly tell their birth stories and not be fearful of being judged, so why does this judgment happen when birth plans are discussed with friends over (decaf) coffee and cinnamon buns before the baby’s arrival?

During my pregnancy with Olive, we did what most expecting parents do – go to your family doctor and follow through with an obstetrician with a hospital delivery. At the time, this was what I knew to be the process for pregnancy and delivery. I didn’t know any different. I am happy this is the route we went for Olive and I am proud to share her birth story with anyone willing to listen. Because of her birth, I knew what to expect, and I knew I could do it without medical intervention.

The idea of a midwife for our next child grew on me quickly. Not long before Olive’s birth, my cousin began her midwifery program — a four year University degree in Canada. Over the next few years I spoke with her quite often about her career choice and the options mothers have when choosing a midwife to attend their birth (did you know you have options for your pregnancy and birth?) It did not take me long to decide that for our next child, we would bypass our family doctor and the obstetrician and go straight to our local Midwifery Clinic. Before I was pregnant, the idea of a hospital birth with a midwife was what I thought I wanted, but as we actively tried to conceive, I couldn’t help but imagine welcoming our baby into our family in the comfort of our own home. What would it be like to deliver a baby, and then tuck ourselves into our comfy big bed as a family of 4?

There are a few things from Olive’s birth made me decide that if my pregnancy was low risk, I would deliver at home with a midwife:

  1. I had regular doctor checkups. After each one I felt that the baby was fine, but I found myself doing my own research to figure out what was going on with my body, and how the baby was developing at each stage. You can only learn so much from a doctor during your 5 minute visits.
  2. My labour with Olive lasted only 2.5 hours from 2 cm dilated to holding her in my arms. We live 30 minutes away from the hospital (in good weather), and its fairly common that second babies arrive faster than the first.
  3. I had planned a natural birth with Olive. I was open to having medication if I absolutely needed it, but I really wanted to try it on my own – I felt it was kind of a right of passage as a woman. I did have a natural birth (and am proud of it!), but it came with many intervention refusals as the nurse on duty constantly came into our room telling me I needed medication, and I needed it now. I did not appreciate the pressure she was putting on me, nor did I like the fact that she was not respecting my birth plan wishes (despite the amount of noise I was making!)  
  4. Once I held Olive in my arms, I was completely oblivious to anything going on around me. I was staring into her eyes as the doctor so gracefully sutured my bottom. It wasn’t until I was preparing for baby number 2 that my husband told me that while the doctor was working away, there was a custodian in the room cleaning up… A random male stranger was getting a full view of my not-so-private parts. Thankfully I didn’t know this at the time.
  5. We were in the hospital for three nights (one before Olive arrived as I was induced) and two after she was here. It was nice to know that doctors and nurses were there at our beckon call whenever we needed for all those new-parent questions like “Oh no! She has hiccups! What do we do?” (or especially to babysit while I got some sleep), but it was so uncomfortable to try to get rest in a hard hospital bed.

After discussions with my husband, and hearing the true facts from my resourceful cousin, we decided that home birth with a midwife was the best option for us.

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I truly feel that people need to educate themselves on this option.

I am in no-way saying that obstetricians and hospital births are not important or not required. I am fully aware that labours do not go as planned, that births often need medical intervention, and that emergency c-sections do happen. (Remember, I had a planned hospital birth with a doctor for Olive)! What I am saying is that midwives are medically trained to handle all these situations should they occur. Yes, they may have to transfer your care to a doctor should emergencies arise, but they are there to continue to support you through your labour and postpartum. 

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All births are special no matter how your baby arrives in this world. We chose a home birth with a midwife for Henry for many reasons (of which I am going to share – bare with my long list of positiveness!) This choice, our choice, should not matter to you! Keep drinking your decaf coffee and eating your cinnamon bun, friend! I know you have an opinion on how I should bring my baby into this world, but it is not going to change my mind. Your judgment, however, may make me question my choice (but only while I am in your presence, because when I go home I am going to call my cousin and she is going to tell me what a wonderful, amazing, and healthy choice I am making)! 

Don’t worry, I heard it all. Not one comment or judgmental eye was missed. I had so many things I wanted to say in those situations, but instead, I nodded and said “Yup, thats the plan. I’m sure”. (Do you honestly think I decided on a home birth on a whim? That I thought, What the hell? Let’s do this for kicks!)

I get that you’re concerned. I get that you only want what is best for me and the baby. I get that you think that what is best is being in the hospital. I get it all and I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness… I really do, but your judgment is making me feel like I’m making poor decisions, when in actuality I am making an informed and incredibly safe plan for my family. I am not judging your hospital birth, so why are you judging my home birth? Just as I wouldn’t pull you aside to tell you that I’m really concerned about your decision to have a epidural for pain management, I expect respect for my decisions as well.

Unfortunately, instead of publicly embracing our decision, I felt that I needed to keep our home birth quiet. I realized that most people would assume we were planning a hospital birth, but if they asked where I was delivering, I would just say our local hospital to avoid the inevitable. We asked the questions, sought out advice, discussed options and made our informed birth plan accordingly. 

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So why did we really chose a midwife and home birth? For many, many reasons!

First of all – the statistic don’t lie. (The information below is directly from the College of Midwives of Ontario):

Of 100% of births in Canada (including hospital, home, obstetrician, midwife, preterm, full term, babies born with congenital anomalies, etc.), 90% of babies are born healthy and do not need any help following their arrival. 9% of babies need some form of help which could include simple stimulation such as rubbing their back, flicking their heels, suctioning some fluid out of their mouth and nose) and only 1% of all babies born will need extensive measures. 

Recent research conducted in Ontario and British Columbia comparing women experiencing an uncomplicated pregnancy attended by midwives has shown:

  1. Women who chose to deliver at home were significantly less likely to experience unnecessary interventions in their labour (for example, induction, augmentation, pharmacological pain relief, episiotomy, assisted delivery)
  2. Women who chose a home birth moved to hospital for a cesarean delivery 5.2% of the time compared to a cesarean delivery rate of 8.1% in the planned hospital group.
  3. Women planning to give birth at home reported that they felt competent, responsible, secure, adequate, relaxed, victorious…and open and receptive to the experience.
  4. Women who give birth at home are more likely to breastfeed and to breastfeed longer than women who give birth in the hospital.
  5. The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long‐Term Care pays for midwifery services, whether the birth is in hospital or at home. The cost to the health care system for a midwife‐attended home birth is less than a hospital birth with a family physician.

The literature demonstrates that there is no difference in the safety of births that take place in the home versus those planned to take place in the hospital.

  1. There was no difference in the safety or results when home births were planned within a supportive health care system, and attended by professionally trained midwives carrying emergency equipment.
  2. All midwives in Ontario are required to carry emergency equipment and are trained in its use. (My midwives had every piece of equipment that my Level 1 hospital has minus an operating room).
  3. Midwives are experts who continually assess their clients through pregnancy and labour to ensure that they are good candidates for home birth.
  4. Midwives communicate with doctors regarding a client’s care whenever necessary.
  5. Midwives communicate with ambulance personnel and hospital staff regarding the details of home births, in case they are required.
  6. Two skilled attendants at every home birth means that there is a primary care provider present for both mother and infant.

And why did we chose a midwife over an obstetrician?

  1. My appointments, from month 1, were an hour long. At the first appointment we discussed what to expect, the role of my midwives, and how I envisioned my pregnancy and birth. My midwife listened to what I wanted, took note of the events of Olive’s pregnancy and delivery and gave me a hug as I left. Subsequent visits focused on information that was relevant at my stage of pregnancy. She took the time to explain what was happening with my body and the baby’s, and gave me options. Did you know you have options? Did you know you can eat a bag of jelly beans instead of downing that yucky orange drink for your glucose test? I sure didn’t, but I do now! I left every appointment knowing so much more than I ever did with Olive. I felt like I could ask questions and I didn’t feel rushed out the door.
  2. I had 24/7 support. If I woke up in the middle of the night with an odd pain, I could page my midwife and within 10 minutes the phone would be ringing. They were there for me whenever I needed them, not just during business hours. I never had to worry until 8am when the office opened, or, heaven forbid, all weekend!
  3. They provided free prenatal classes that didn’t require you to commit the next 2 months of your life attending. They had a topic that was discussed every few months, and you could attend or not attend. We attended the Home Birth and Baby Screening/Test sessions. I didn’t feel required to go to any more.
  4. Planning to have the baby at home took away a lot of stress about getting to the hospital in time. Because my first labour was so fast, I was afraid I wouldn’t make it. There was no worrying about when we had to go to the hospital.
  5. I had ZERO unnecessary checks. With Olive, I felt like I was dropping my pants every other visit, for what? I have no idea! I was even allowed to do my own Group B Streptococcus swab test on my own. During labour, they only checked for dilation when I wanted them to. My midwives checked for dilation at the beginning stages of labour, but did not have to check again. I felt like my body was my own. (It must be noted that if midwives feel that labour is not progressing, or a check is required, they will check… But if they feel that things are progressing, they let the mother decide).
  6. I wasn’t being told I needed medication. They respected how I wanted my birth to go no matter how much noise I was making.
  7. They were very flexible where I laboured and the positions I used. They encouraged me to do whatever was most comfortable, and I could walk around bare feet! In the hospital, you deliver on the bed laying on your back, no other place, no other position.
  8. They trusted my body. As in point 5, they never checked for dilation unless I wanted them to, and they told me if I felt like I needed to push, than I could push. When I was in the hospital and I felt the urge to push, they yelled at me to not do it and to stop. During my home birth when I announced the need to push, they encouraged me to do so. They were very hands off, unless they needed to be. Henry is a water baby. I was the one who caught him.
  9. Henry was born in a birth tub. When I got in the water I immediately felt more comfortable than standing and walking around. This helped calm me down and get through the harder contractions. Water births are not allowed in hospitals.
  10. I knew everyone in attendance. There wasn’t a random custodian in the background. Everyone who was in the room was asked to be there!
  11. … and they made themselves comfortable, which made me comfortable. They weren’t running around the room barking orders. One midwife was sitting next to me, checking baby’s heart rate every 15 minutes while the other was sitting comfortably on my bed recording all my contractions and heart rates. 
  12. The home birth environment was peaceful and encouraging at home. We had soft music playing in the background and everyone was so calm. In the hospital it was bright, noisy, full of questions and abrupt checks when I wasn’t expecting it (even in the middle of hard contractions).
  13. At home, there are a lot more than chocolate bars and egg salad sandwiches in your cupboards!
  14. After all was said and done, they cleaned up my bed and bedroom, helped Scott empty the birth tub, helped bring me food right after labour, got me into the shower (which took me 2 days to do in the hospital), helped me back into my clean bed, and made sure that my husband and I were all set before leaving.
  15. … And they did leave. While I adore each of them, it was nice not having someone come in to take my temperature, baby’s temperature, and do the whole nine yards every so many hours. I did it myself when we were awake. This means I got to rest. 
  16. Instead of having to bundle baby up for appointments, the midwife returned to our house on Day 1, Day 3 and Day 5 to check up on both myself and baby and to make sure everyone was adjusting to this new life. 
  17. You are in care of the midwife until your baby is 6 weeks. Within those 6 weeks, the midwife will see you a minimum of 6 times. Most often after your baby is born in the hospital, they will have a 1 week check up and not again until 2 months. As with prenatal care, midwives are available 24/7 until 6 weeks. You can page whenever you have concerns and they will call right back!

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Our choice to have a midwife and home birth was what we thought was best for us. I never once felt trapped with our decision, nor did I feel that it was home birth or the highway. My midwife and I were very open to the possibility that things may not go as planned and that a transfer to the hospital could be necessary at any time.

After having both a hospital birth and a home birth, I know that should we be blessed with another child, we will plan to be at home. It was what worked for us. What works for us might not be what works for others. I wrote this post, not to shame people for hospital births, but to help provide information on your options as parents. I know that some hospital births are required, but I also know that not all are. 

The next time your friend tells you they are planning a home birth, try to be supportive. It may not be the way you want to welcome your baby into the world, but it is theirs. Women need to trust their bodies more. In this society, we are told there is something wrong with us… That pregnancy is an “illness”. Yes, sometimes there are problems, but for normal, low-risk women, they shouldn’t feel like their body is not going to work.

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2 responses to “Why We Chose a Home Birth (And Why Our Choice Shouldn’t Matter To You)”

  1. Melissa says:

    Wonderful thoughts! We are with a midwife for this pregnancy and the level of care and compassion I feel from them vs the doctor (my first pregnancy ) is so much better! Midwives are awesome!

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