Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's So Scary About Homebirth?

Is homebirth the risky, elitist, fashionable and fringe "extreme" way to give birth, or is it safe for low-risk women and a legitimate alternative to hospital birth? The statistics and studies will tell you one thing, and the Today Show will tell you another.

Watch this segment on "The Perils of Homebirth" and then read this great response by Amie Newman entitled, "What's So Scary About Homebirth?" The video will certainly tug at your heartstrings and leave you with a distinct impression about the safety of homebirth, but it won't inform you of very many facts. The story of a couple whose baby died after being born at home is certainly tragic and heartbreaking. But,

As Alison Cole, midwife-in-training, notes in her RH Reality Check reader diary on the segment, "My heart aches for this family, but their experience does not shed light on the safety of birthing at home, just as the story of one family mourning the loss of a hospital-born baby is not evidence that all births should be removed from the hospital."

After citing safety, satisfaction and cost-effectiveness of homebirth, Amie concludes her article by saying:

What is most important to highlight, ultimately, is that women in the United States are increasingly seeking alternatives to hospital birth for a variety of excellent reasons. For some women it's a desire to experience their low-risk, healthy pregnancy not as a medical condition but as a natural state - a healthy state - with a provider who encourages them to trust their bodies. Maybe a woman doesn't wish to expose herself to potentially unnecessary medical interventions, but wishes to create an environment and experience that speaks to the ways in which she and her family envision welcoming their baby into the world - in a way that seems most compatible with midwifery and out-of-hospital care. Other women are distrustful of our health care system's tendency to treat pregnant women (or any seeker of health care) as merely a consumer or a number without a name, on the receiving end of depersonalized care. Some women view the mainstream medical establishment as patriarchal and demeaning, in general, and reject the idea that "doctor knows best" in any and all situations regarding pregnancy and childbirth. This is not say that ob-gyns cannot be excellent, loving and responsive care providers. There are millions of us out there who are indebted to these kinds of ob-gyns, undoubtedly. Midwives understand the value and importance of a trusted, respectful physician as a partner in a woman's care, should she need it.

The midwifery model of care may be an appealing option for many women because it starts from a place of empowerment - if you can envision it, you can do it. Start with an intention of the kind of birth you wish to have, my midwife and doula told me, and we'll go from there. ... Or maybe you'll plan for the homebirth you've been expecting and midway through your pregnancy, or after hours of labor, your midwife tells you you'll need an emergency cesearean section, in a hospital. Birth doesn't always go the way we plan - no matter where or with whom we choose to birth. The issue at hand, however, is not that we can possibly know exactly how it will end up but why we wouldn't think that we deserve to do everything we can to experience pregnancy, childbirth and the days and weeks postpartum in a way that feels best and right for us - most importantly, winding up with a healthy newborn warm against our chest, asleep next to our body. The Today Show may present homebirth as an option to be feared but that's only because the unknown is often times a scary venture. If you look at the evidence and listen to women's experiences, it doesn't have to be that way.

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