One Friday morning five years ago, I peed on a stick and a pink plus sign appeared. I didn't know anything about babies, pregnancy or giving birth, but finding a respectable doctor and a good hospital seemed the most appropriate course of action.
If someone had ever suggested having a home birth to me, I probably would've rolled my eyes or thought they were just a little too "out there" for my taste. This was, after all, my first birth and I wanted the safest option for myself and my baby. Clearly that meant giving birth in a hospital with doctors and nurses and the opportunity to be numbed up to my neck if I needed that. Right?
When I went on to have a home birth four and a half years later, with another pregnancy, the midwifery care I received felt much more far-reaching. It felt like it was based on facts, not convenience. It was just an added bonus that it also happened take place in the comfort of my own home. If I had to describe the type of care I received during my second birth in a few words, I'd say it was ideal, supported, and empowering.
But my first birth, the birth of my daughter, didn't feel like this. My first birth was dismal. It was the most excruciating pain of my life, but it was the way I was treated during the experience that will forever stick with me.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about this birth, I would later come to learn. Though I'd been advised that my feelings about my birth would be a priority, as soon as I walked through the hospital doors, I felt that wasn't the case. How I wanted to give birth didn't seem to matter to the nursing staff or to the on-call doctor. Following hospital procedure, no matter what, seemed everyone's number one priority.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about this birth over the past few years, certainly when I got pregnant for the second time. And when I really get down to the heart of it, it wasn't how the birth went that bothered me so much; it wasn't being forced into bed without cause to labour on my back for hours on end; it wasn't being sliced without so much as a "sorry in advance about your inability to sit down for the next four months." It was that none of what happened during my birth was something people are calling "evidence-based" care – not any of it.
When I began really looking into what evidence-based birth meant, it seemed like the exact opposite of what I had received. It turns out labouring on your back is not conducive to letting your body open and your baby come down. While I knew it was best to stay out of bed, I hadn't known how listening to the nursing staff like a good patient might alter the course of my birth. It seems like commonsense now - to make use of gravity, one of the most natural forces in the world. But at the time, I was trying, against my better judgment, to listen to my care providers. I should've been listening to my body.
In a hospital setting, it is far easier to manage a floor of labouring woman who are attached to monitors, than women bouncing through the hall on yoga balls, leaking amniotic fluid everywhere and high-fiving each other (maybe). In many ways, I understand how hospital birth has become so routine, so limiting. But you can't make birth routine because it's as unique as every woman's body, and trying to do so fails us, more often than not.
When I became pregnant again, I was no longer a naive 24-year-old who didn't know about placentas and cord-clamping. I'd been through the rigmarole before. I'd gone through a hospital birth and was more than dissatisfied with that experience and I now knew many women who felt the same. Almost every mother I talked to, who gave birth in a hospital, was shocked at how negatively they remembered the experience. Most of them had gone in as "low-risk" and were coming out days later with c-sections they felt they hadn't actually needed. Though who's to say? They hadn't been able to hold their baby for hours. Many abandoned their plans for breastfeeding because it was too painful to get comfortable. And while surgery can be a blessing when it is needed, I can count far too many women in my inner-circle who say they felt the major operation was performed without proper cause.
While I willingly had a hospital birth the first time, something in me always knew if I had another baby, it would be at home. I felt I'd been robbed of what could've been a wonderful birth the first time, and I suffered for it. I suffered to sit down, to take care of my baby with a huge chain of stitches down below. I felt wronged. I felt like my birth had been taken away from me, and like most women, the experience of giving birth, bringing life into the world, had been important to me.
While the most common reactions to having a home birth are either that it is very stupid or very brave, I'm here to tell you that for me (and many others) it's neither. Home birth is a safe option for many women. While hospital transfers do happen, the midwifery model of care typically means being monitored very closely. So in the case of an emergency, it's not often the dramatic, rush to the hospital, last minute c-section, tearing the baby out in the nick-of-time fiasco that you'd imagine. But the fact remains, caesarean rates are drastically lower for home-birthers than the national average, which lingers somewhere around one-third of hospital birthing women.
While most people might think home-birthers are just a bunch of hippies rubbing each others backs and sniffing essential oils (okay, point taken, there were oils at my birth and I think I got at least one back rub), I was not blase about my son's birth. I was informed and prepared for it, far more than I was before my hospital birth.
Having a home-birth doesn't make me "stupid" and it definitely doesn't make me "brave "- at least not braver than any woman who carries a baby and gives birth any which way.
To me, the idea of having another baby in a setting that may want to manipulate my body so that I could have "routine" birth was much more frightening than doing it in the most supported place I could think of: my home. I just wanted the best care for myself and my baby. This time, that's exactly what I got.
Sarah Bregel blogs about the journey of motherhood at TheMediocreMama.com.
The Washington Post