When I was pregnant for the first time, I'd never considered a home birth. My mother had given birth 11 times, each time in a hospital. Without knowing the alternatives, I imagined that was where I would have my own children.
But, like the more than 24,000 women who chose to give birth at home between 2004 and 2008, I reconsidered my options. David and I had been canoeing down the Rio Grande with our friends, Marie and Philip Long. Marie was a big proponent of home birth. (She eventually became a midwife and worked for Mothering magazine.) She suggested we have our baby at home.
My first concern was my child's safety. Marie pointed out that home birth is safe. Most problems are identified during the pregnancy, and if something happens during labor, one can get to the hospital quickly.
Her point about safety is grounded in facts. In 2005, the British Medical Journal published the results of a study based on nearly 5,500 home births involving certified professional midwives in the United States and Canada. Eighty-eight percent of the women had positive outcomes at home. Twelve percent of them were transferred to hospitals, 9 percent for preventive reasons and 3 percent for emergencies. The study showed an infant mortality rate of two out of every 1,000 births.
This is about the same rate as in hospitals at the time, according to Robbie Davis-Floyd, a medical anthropologist at the University of Texas at Austin and researcher on global trends in childbirth, obstetrics, and midwifery. The fact is that hospitals aren't failsafe either. Even medical professionals make mistakes, and there's always the risk of infection.
Marie and I also talked about the kind of experience I wanted. She made the point that birth is natural and that, absent complications, there's no need to medicalize it.
Today an increasing number of women agree. They want their children's birth to be intimate and personal, without the intrusion of monitors and IVs. They prefer not to speed up the process, as often happens in hospitals. The home setting is more familiar, comfortable, and relaxing. Hospitals can be stressful, and anything you can do to reduce tension during the birthing process is a major plus.
I took Marie's suggestion. I liked the idea of owning my health decisions. I wouldn't have to worry about a medical professional telling me what to do. I wouldn't have to be in an institutional setting where I was simply one more patient.
Each of my home birth experiences was different. The first labor was very long. I took a couple of showers, and when I got hungry, I ate. The third time, I walked around the house, up and down the stairs, made the beds, and even had time to watch The Taming of the Shrew with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I liked Elizabeth Taylor's character so much that I decided to change my new daughter's first name from Rose to Katherine. She was born while I was standing up. My husband caught her before she reached the floor.