I am not a medical professional. The experience shared here is my own. Please research your options to make your own well-informed decision. See full disclosure here.
Dear mother and father exploring homebirth for the first time,
I see you
I see you desiring a natural, undisturbed birth, hoping for a meeting with your baby that’s sacred and joyful and unhurried.
I see you nervous and anxious about giving birth in a hospital setting with its bright lights and policies and no guarantee of being attended by a professional you know and trust, by the one you’re perhaps building a relationship with right now.
And I see you nervous and anxious about giving birth at home too, with all the unknowns and what-ifs and wondering what your people will think.
I see your careful questions and cautious exploration, your conflicting fears and desires, and the anxiety that comes with the responsibility of choosing.
And I’ve been right where you are
I have given birth to two babies at home. I loved having my babies at home. I am now a committed advocate of homebirths for women who want them. But the journey to get here was long and arduous.
I first heard about homebirth in college when I watched the documentary, “The Business of Being Born”. At the time it seemed like such a brave and beautiful way to bring a baby into the world, yet fear and lack of knowledge kept it like a lovely trinket in a little box, something kept high on a shelf and left unopened for fear of breaking it.
I thought that birth was too risky and too complicated to safely do at home.
Fast forward several years and I was married, hoping to soon start a family. I was nannying for a doula who became a dear friend, and as she was spending nights supporting mamas birthing their babies, I was spending nights on her couch, voraciously reading her library of birth-related books.
Fascinated by birth since childhood, I devoured every bit of information I could about homebirth, evidence-based care, and the physiology of labor. I watched all the documentaries and read all the Ina May. It’s always interesting to me to see how my interests as an adult have just been a continuation of what fascinated me as a child.
With Megan’s encouragement I soon trained as a doula. I attended births, and was on the board for the local birth network. As I learned more and more about normal, physiologic birth, I became more comfortable with the idea of giving birth at home. The lower risk of interventions, c-sections especially, along with the relative safety for low-risk mothers, was very appealing, yet I still had a nagging fear.
I was perhaps most afraid of making a selfish decision that would ultimately put my baby at risk.
I always say Megan “pre-doulaed” me through my fears around birth in general and homebirth in particular.
She met me where I was at, asked me the hard questions, and helped me figure out what was really valuable to me.
I was all about research and statistics and evidence-based care back then. And I still am, but now with a solid dose of valuing my own intuition and heart desires as well.
First Trimester Birth
About a year into my birth obsession, and after a PCOS diagnosis and a year and a half of hoping, I was thrilled to find out I was pregnant. I started researching care providers right away. I would be six months along when my husband was supposed to get out of the military and we would move back home to Michigan, so I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to find someone before my baby arrived.
At ten weeks, I went to the urgent care on base due to the light but constant spotting I had been experiencing. Follow-up appointments determined that I was experiencing a molar pregnancy and a d&c was scheduled immediately.
I was devastated.
After the procedure, while I was in recovery, the obgyn came back and told me that though the ultrasound the day before had shown a complete molar pregnancy with no developing baby, the ultrasound they had performed after administering general anesthetic showed a fetus with no heartbeat, measuring 7 weeks and 5 days
In a way I felt more at peace. The debilitating nausea and vomiting I had been experiencing for the last two months had at least been for a baby, not just an abnormal mass of fast-growing, possibly cancerous, placental tissue.
But on the other hand I felt robbed. I hadn’t been able to see my baby. No one had thought to take a photo. If I had known an ultrasound could be so wrong I would have asked them to wake me up, to let me see my baby, heartbeat or not, to have a chance to have something to keep of that baby besides an old faded pregnancy test and a handful of photos of me while I was pregnant.
But I was asleep and unaware and unable to advocate for myself.
I know medical professionals have to make a call in that sort of situation, that it was probably just a standard procedure and that for some women it would have been best. But it wasn’t for me. And I’m the one that has to live with it for the rest of my life.
The first trimester birth of that first baby had a powerful and unavoidable impact on my future births. It felt so violent, and I now know that at some level I processed it as sexual trauma.
I knew that in the future I would do everything I could to never be that powerless again.
With my first baby’s birth my general discomfort in hospitals became complete terror. Every week I returned for bloodwork to ensure my hCG levels were dropping appropriately, and by the time I left I was shaking, nauseated, and vomiting. I jumped at my own reflection in the glass doors. I had nightmares for well over a year.
While I became more afraid of hospitals, I also became increasingly concerned for safety in future births. In the wake of intense grief following that baby’s birth, I knew without a doubt that I would have taken all the unnecessary interventions and their accompanying risks to be able to hold that baby for a minute. I had never doubted that I would do anything to protect the life of my child, but now I was on the other side of loss, knowing firsthand the value of skilled medical help along with the potential for harm even with the best intentions, and the ultimate powerlessness we sometimes have to sustain life in a world of sickness and death and babies born too soon.
Fast forward another eight months and I was pregnant again. I was shocked, ecstatic, hopeful, and full of anxiety all at once. We had recently moved home, and initially I saw an obgyn resident practice. They were the first ones I could find who would accept my insurance, and I was eager to know everything was alright. They didn’t do an ultrasound until 20 weeks, so I was in constant worry until our ultrasound showed a healthy baby boy.
Although I still knew in my heart that I wanted a homebirth, I had set my desire aside because there was simply no way it was possible financially. But as I drew close to my third trimester, my husband got a new job, and a cautious hope started to take root. If I could find a midwife who would take payment plans, maybe a homebirth would be in reach.
Meanwhile, red flags in my care at my obgyn practice made my desire for a homebirth even stronger.
One particular incident sticks out in my mind. I had been slowly going through the items on my birth plan that were most important to me, trying to simultaneously be honest about my hopes and also feel out a realistic idea of what to expect in a situation I knew wouldn’t be quite ideal. When I came to birthing positions I indicated that I wanted to be upright unless there was a medical necessity to do otherwise.
“Oh you can push in whatever position you want.” The ob said. “But when you actually give birth you’ll be on your back with your feet in stirrups.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary if everything is going well.” I said.
“It’s necessary so that we can help you get the baby out.” He said.
“And if you want to do something different you should go somewhere else, but don’t do a homebirth.”
“I don’t think I’m going to need your help.” I thought, but didn’t say aloud.
His mind seemed made up, and I decided against offering to bring in some studies to support my rather bold assertion. I would probably never see him again anyway.
Though that interaction was quite distressing at the time, I now appreciate his blunt honesty, his indirect observation that the care providers I was seeing simply wouldn’t be able to support the birth that was best for me.
At seven months pregnant, I hired my midwife.
Her calm and confident presence immediately inspired trust and even made my husband feel more comfortable with having our baby at home. All the evidence-based practices that I had to fight for in the hospital – delayed cord clamping, intermittent auscultation, upright birth positions – were standard for her. She had been practicing for over 30 years and had attended over 3,000 births. I felt completely confident in her knowledge, experience, and ability to facilitate a safe birth for me and my baby.
Right away my midwife recommended supplements and nutritional changes along with exercises to prepare for birth. I immediately had more energy and less stress. We talked about the things that were really important to me, the things about birth and motherhood I wasn’t confident in, the things I was scared of.
Every week she shared little snippets from a birth she had attended that week. Every story boosted my confidence, and I approached my due date with eager expectation. Even if I ever ended up needing to transfer to the hospital during birth, I believe the cost of a homebirth midwife is totally worthwhile simply in the value of the prenatal care.
My Friend Fear
Though overall I was excited to give birth, I still carried some fears as I approached my due date. I trusted the physiology of the process, but my history of PCOS and miscarriage had undermined confidence in my own physiology.
I had seen birth up close, had supported other women through it, and I knew it would require everything of me. I knew it would be incredibly challenging, and I believed I was strong enough to do it. Not because I was unusually strong, but because women have been doing it for thousands of years.
The strength to give birth, and to do so awake and present to the process, is a common and God-given strength, one that women today often see no need to access, but one that has been vital to the survival and sustenance of life for all of history.
I was confident in that, that women were designed to give birth. And when I doubted that I was designed to give birth, when my fears started running amok, no one fed the fears. My midwife sensibly confronted them with truth and then let them be. They became a means to a safer and better birth, not a facilitator of disengagement and helpless anxiety. Should the fears require action we had a good plan, but no one used my fears against me. I trained them for my own purposes.
And then I gave birth to my son. And the fears didn’t come with me. They stayed outside the sacred space of giving birth, like well-armed knights around a castle, ready to protect in danger. I was not only able to feel safe, but BE safe, because of their presence with me as I carried my baby.
Birth that Heals
I labored gently for a day and half the night. I ate and slept and spent time with my husband. In the wee hours of the morning I knew this was real and I would be meeting my baby soon.
We drove to my parents home where, due to various circumstances, we had chosen to have our baby. The car ride was miserable and I had a moment of weakness as we neared the hospital exit.
“Homebirth isn’t for everyone. I could just go to the hospital and get an epidural right now.”
Then we passed the exit, and I was committed.
We arrived at my parents’ home, and soon my doula and midwife arrived too. My mother, father, sisters, and brother were all there with me and my husband. I groaned and growled and laughed and cried my way through labor.
He was born shortly after sunrise, on a frosty November morning. My midwife passed him between my legs and lay him on the bed in front of me. “I did it!” I thought. I had a moment to look at him before I scooped him into my arms and held him, kneeling there on my parents’ bed.
The healing birth of my oldest son was intensely challenging, yet intensely joyful, just like he is. His birth was treated as the everyday miracle that it was. It was treated as the unfolding of a trustworthy process, not a volatile experiment to be managed and controlled.
I hold this decision of where I birth my babies dear because I think it was the first time in my life that I truly felt I had agency to not only make the best decisions for myself, but to feel confident in those decisions.
I was willing to fight for what was good for me and my baby when just going a conventional route would have in many ways been easier and certainly would have been more comfortable for the people around me.
Having a beautiful, transformative, empowering birth wasn’t because I was just “lucky”. Yes, in birth there are things outside our control, but what we do have control over is the way we prepare and the decisions we make. My decisions mattered.
And your decisions matter too.
The way you prepare matters. The stories you listen to matter. The values you take hold of and the values you reject matter. The hard work you do before birth, the decisions you make, before conception even – it all matters.
You don’t have to have your baby at home to have a good birth, and a few women will end up with a great birth even without much preparation. But approaching giving birth in a thoughtfully engaged manner, knowing what you want and making decisions accordingly will always be good for you and your family.
So dear mama and father, keep learning, keep searching, keep exploring.
If you’re afraid, train your fears to serve you. Treat them with care and respect, lest they use their power to defeat you instead of protect you.
Listen to women who have had good births. Talk to women who have had homebirths.
Find out what’s available in your community. Find a care provider you can really trust.
Know what you really want. Don’t be afraid to state it clearly to yourself and to others.
And then make your decisions about where to give birth based on what YOU know is best for yourself and for your baby
You call the shots. The power to make thoughtful decisions that positively affect your birth experience, your baby, your motherhood and fatherhood, and your whole life as a family – that power is yours. Whether you choose to exercise it is up to you.
You’re the only one who can empower you.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with information or unsure of how to make the best decisions for you and your baby, please seek out support from a local birth professional or contact me. I offer very individualized support and education for expectant parents with varying levels designed to accommodate any budget and need. This is a brief, precious, and sometimes scary stage of life, and the decisions you make now can impact your family for years to come.
With hopes of a joyful birth,