On the evening of August 20, 2017, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl in the comfort of my own home. Only my midwife, Cheryl Gilman, and husband, Spencer, were in attendance. Active labor was relatively short for a first-time mom. My daughter’s transition into this world was, in a word, smooth. I didn’t tear or lose an abnormal amount of blood, despite battling anemia all my life.
And, although labor was downright uncomfortable at times, I wouldn’t call it painful.
You may be thinking, “Wow, Laurien, you’re so brave.”
Or, “Dang, Lo, you must have quite the pain tolerance.”
My heart was intent on giving birth naturally, preferably in the comfort of my own home, long before I conceived. I believe this serious forethought in conjunction with my own independent research and months of reading/hearing other mothers’ birth experiences attributed greatly to the success of my home birth.
So before I list the reasons why I, personally, chose to have a home birth, I want to remind you that every mother knows what’s best for herself and her baby. This article is meant for anyone interested in home births and mamas currently exploring their birthing options. But I am in no way, shape or form saying having a home birth is superior to other methods. We are truly blessed to live in a time where we have so many options. Every birth is a miracle, so do what’s best for YOU.
During my pregnancy, I liked imagining the rite of passage my daughter and I would soon experience from her perspective. Put us in a hospital and that would likely mean coming into the world to an orchestra of beeps and masked faces. For me, that was a frightening thought. Doctors don’t deliver babies – mothers do. But hospital staff are likely to push for medical intervention to speed up the laboring process. Moving you out of that bed means getting another person in it – and that’s how money is made.
Well, I didn’t want any part of that. All I wanted was to:
• Be allowed to eat or drink whatever I want.
In 2015, American hospitals finally allowed laboring women to drink clear fluids. But what if I needed a snack to boost my energy or stabilize my blood sugar? What if I was just plain hungry? (I did, by the way, get very hungry during labor and felt much better after eating a little salad and ziti.) Did I mention dehydration can cause more pain or discomfort during labor?
According to my midwife, exhaustion is the top reason mothers planning home births end up transferring to hospitals. Mothers know best and should be encouraged to listen to their bodies. We satisfy our cravings during pregnancy to properly nourish our little ones. Why stop now?
• Take my time and let my labor progress naturally.
As I’ve already mentioned, medical interventions are commonly used to speed things along. But they may bring about complications or lengthen recovery times – for mother and baby. Yes, labor can be long and taxing. But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime journey. A rite of passage. A wonderful, mystical, universal miracle. From beginning to end, I labored for 19 hours. My experience was so painless and peaceful, I wouldn’t trade a moment of it. If I can do it, so can you.
• Make whatever silly noises I needed to in the moment without unrequested commentary.
Yes, I utilized meditative breathing techniques but, sometimes, a moan or guttural growl embodied my discomfort much better. Did you know making noises actually helps us manage pain? Why else would our natural reaction to toe stubbing be cursing or howling? Yet, despite this fact, I’ve heard stories of hospital staff stifling the creative expressions of laboring women or laboring women who felt inhibited in a hospital setting. Either way, I didn’t want to find out.
• Have an invite-only audience – no strangers or passers-by.
In my mind, birth is a sacred and inherently sexual experience. The only people I wanted present were my husband (who has seen me at my literal pukey, poopy worst) and my midwife, who had the knowledge and tools to know if something was wrong. On the flip side, if you want the whole family at your birth, go ahead! There’s no one limiting the amount of “visitors” you can have, so if they fit in your house, they can attend. You can entertain them with champagne and cheese plates, too.
• Move around freely and change positions as I choose.
I can’t imagine laboring forced to lie down, hooked up to an IV or heart monitor machine – especially after giving birth without them. It would feel so limiting! Whenever a wave of contraction swept through me, my body journeyed to find the position or movements of least resistance where I could simply let go and roll with the discomfort.
Until active labor, I was able to go about my day doing various tasks as normal, which I think distracted me from much of what other mothers perceive as pain in sterile hospital environments. But as my daughter’s transition to this world approached, each contraction became a unique struggle in search of comfort.
Yoga subdued it. The main poses I used were cat, frog, child and palm tree. Sitting in my husband’s rocking chair or leaning on our big, red stability ball also helped. Conveniently, my water broke on the toilet – a place I visited quite frequently during this labor.
But the most comforting times were with my husband. We danced, swayed and rocked together, the warmth of his body against mine alleviating much of the discomfort. At the peak of the contractions’ strength, my husband held me by the armpits as I dropped into a seated or squatting position in front of him where I could cast the discomfort away – out through my feet and into the floor.
Throughout the day, I got in and out of several warm Epsom salt baths. But as sitting no longer brought me comfort, my midwife suggested taking a shower. This may be the best advice I’ve ever received in my life. As the warm water massaged my back, the steam helped me regain my strength and alertness (I became incredibly tired at times but was unable to nap through contractions.) My contractions plateaued and gradually decrescendoed as my daughter transitioned into this world.
• Wait on cutting the umbilical cord.
I’ve heard doctors are quick to snip that umbilical cord, despite what research says. With a home birth, you can wait as long as you’d like to cut that cord. And the best part is doing it yourself or honoring the task to a loved one.
• Determine what happens to the baby immediately after birth.
My baby didn’t need the standard eye ointment and I preferred vitamin K drops to the injection. With a home birth, those decisions were mine to control.
• Keep the opiates away from me.
Did you know fentanyl is commonly used as a painkiller during labor? Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and one of the leading causes of overdose deaths in America. All throughout your pregnancy, you are conscious that everything you ingest goes straight to baby, so you eat healthier, drop your vices and mitigate stress – just to expose them to freaking opiates?! This doesn’t make sense to me.
Since pain became the fifth vital sign, nurses are required to offer you painkillers if you show any signs of discomfort. But research shows the more painkillers a woman is given during labor, the more likely her child will grow up to become an addict. Opiate addiction runs in my family, so I wanted my wish for a natural birth granted – and I didn’t want to face the temptation of having them offered to me, either.
Besides, your body releases its own natural painkillers during labor. Who would want to miss out on that once-in-a-lifetime high? (Ask my husband – my pupils were so dilated you couldn’t see my irises. And when a moth flew by me at one point, I saw it in dimensions unnoticeable to the human eye.)
How cool is it to someday be able to tell your child, “You were born right there?” My memory is so shoddy, I wouldn’t be able to remember a specific hospital room number. And with the pain-killing drugs they give out nowadays (like fentanyl), it’s probably impossible. But even if I did remember the room number, I would never be able to shake the inevitable thought that horrific things once happened in that same spot. I’m thankful to have never had an extended hospital stay *knocks on wood* but, if I did, I know I would want to come home as soon as possible. My house is my sanctuary and shelter. I don’t know about you, but it’s definitely where I’m most comfortable because:
• Everything you need is there and it’s familiar.
No arduous nights spent packing a hospital bag for you! If you’re at all like me or my husband, you’ll inevitably forget to grab the damned bag anyway. At home, you can bathe or shower with your favorite soaps and shampoos, put on your favorite music, reminisce with photo albums or treasures from your travels or dance in the nursery.
• The food is way better.
Ever heard someone brag about their hospital-tray dinner? Me neither. Whatever is in your cupboard is free, so you don’t have to worry about hidden fees. Plus, your family and midwife are likely to bring a care basket with homemade snacks for you.
• You control the environment.
This harks back to my first list of points, but go ahead! Open the windows, light some candles or incense. You’re in your own home with your own rules and your own things. YOU are in control, so do whatever floats your boat!
• You can wear whatever you want.
Including your birthday suit. No paper gown or creepy barcode ID-bracelet for you, mama!
• Every decision is yours to make.
Your midwife will explain the pros and cons of every choice you face during your nine-month journey but, ultimately, the decision is yours to make. Traditional doctors treat pregnancies with a one-size-fits-all model of care. But not midwives. If you’re transferred to a hospital, your midwife can act as your personal representative, ensuring that as many of your wishes are granted as possible.
• Labor in the car is not fun.
I didn’t want to experience this one firsthand. Tight seatbelt? Small quarters? Inability to walk around, move or stretch? No thank you.
• No vital sign checks from nurses.
The only thing worse than having a stranger wake you up from a deep, much-needed slumber is being woken up by a stranger who wants to poke you with a needle – every half hour. I’m not a living pin cushion. Neither are you. If you feel fine, you probably are fine. Let us sleep!
• Your bed is right there, waiting for you.
At any point before, during or after the birth, you can hop into bed. YOUR bed. There is no better way to end a long day and no better place to bond with your newest family member.
• Your pets are allowed.
We have three dogs and, in my family, they are valued the same as children. My dogs were allowed to meet my daughter as soon as she was born. There was no jealousy involved, just curiosity. They sniffed her, wagged their tails and laid in bed with us.
• There’s no need to worry about setting up the car seat – yet.
You can’t leave the hospital until your little one has a properly fitted car seat. And let me tell you, that first car ride with a baby is a doozy. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself driving slower than a ganja-growing geriatric the first few times.
• There’s no one there to take your baby away.
Let the bonding and colostrum-feeding begin! You’re the first person to touch, hold and bond with your baby when it’s born at home – not a stranger. In hospitals, a squad of nurses whisks your baby away to bathe or administer any number of vaccines to it. Will they ask your permission? No guarantee. And, depending on your state after delivery, you may not be in the mood to put up a fight standing up for your rights when they go against your wishes.
• There are no other babies to cause a mix-up.
Surely the thought has crossed your mind. The nurse takes your baby away, puts it in its little plastic box in the “nursery” with all the others and then, carelessly, sends you home with someone else’s baby. Sadly, there are accounts of this really happening. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about this in the safety of our own home.
• I don’t like hospitals.
I don’t want to go to a hospital unless I absolutely have to and I choose to keep it that way.
• There is a hospital less than 10 minutes away.
In the event I needed to be transported to a hospital, it was only a short drive away.
Your insurance provider may not cover the costs of a midwife. But you can more than likely file a claim and get some of the costs reimbursed. After receiving our reimbursement, my husband and I only spent $1,500 for my prenatal care, our baby girl’s birth and aftercare costs.
• You’ll literally save tens of thousands of dollars.
The average hospital birth in America costs upwards of $30,000. You may have to pay your midwife out of pocket, but the cost should be less than $5,000 total (and many midwives offer returning client discounts.)
• There are no hidden fees.
That goodie bag of sample products your nurse was more than happy to throw a few extras diapers and formulas into? Probably not free. My personal experience stemmed from going to the hospital after being bitten by a dog. The nurse sent me home with a care package of bandages and ointments. When the bill arrived, it charged me for every individual item. I’ve even heard of people being charged for using heating pads in the hospital. Jeesh!
• Parking is free.
Some hospitals charge hourly parking fees, which could amount to something outrageous. God forbid you get a ticket for parking somewhere you weren’t supposed to.
• No need to hire a sitter.
This goes for children and pets alike. Let them observe your birth or invite a family member over to entertain them.
• Follow-up care and lactation support are provided.
Following your birth, your midwife will continue to meet with you and baby over the next two to three months to make sure everything is going well. Although a lactation specialist may be suggested to you at the hospital, this will generally incur another fee. However, all 50 states have access to free lactation support thanks to La Leche League.
Within nine months, your midwife should become part of the family. If they aren’t, find someone else. This is, likely, much easier to do than changing primary care doctors. Aside from my need for control, comfort, and desire for lowest costs possible, I needed to know my caregiver’s top priority was me and baby’s health. Personally, I believe the quality of care at a home birth better with a midwife is better than any gynecologist or traditional healthcare provider because:
• One-on-one, personalized care is guaranteed.
Your midwife’s home will likely be their personal office. If not, they’ll probably visit yours for appointments. This means no waiting room mishaps or walk-ins (unless, of course, another client is in the throes of labor during your scheduled appointment.)
• You can call anytime.
If your belly starts itching and you want to know what to do (ahem, coconut oil), shoot your midwife a text or give them a call. Unlike the traditional doctor’s office, you don’t have to remember a stockpile of questions for your next appointment or call and speak with an on-staff nurse who’s unfamiliar with you.
• Your appointments are as long or short as you need.
Pregnant women going to a traditional doctor are generally given a 15-minute time slot which will be strongly adhered to since there are other patients waiting. But midwives generally schedule their appointments far enough apart that they have time to actually talk with their clients. If they’re going to be a part of one of the most intimate moments of your life, they better get to know you.
• There’s no exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, viruses or sick people.
I’m pro-germ, so the sterile environments of hospitals and doctors’ offices give me the heeby-jeebies. Our immune systems strengthen when they are able to encounter and naturally overcome illnesses. Antibiotics, on the other hand, weaken us by killing all our bacteria – good and bad alike. Someday your baby is going to come home and be exposed to all those house germs anyway so why not let them acclimate right away?
• Hormones orchestrate your birth.
So you better trust you’re in good hands. Midwives acknowledge a woman’s emotional, physical, social and spiritual needs, defined by the mother herself. Feelings of anger, anxiety, fear or nervousness will impact your labor. Not in a good way. In fact, stress can literally bring your baby’s birth to a standstill.
• Scientific evidence, experience, and intuition guide them.
Unlike the traditional slaves of vital statistics or defined guidelines, midwives understand each woman and pregnancy is unique. Their care is tailored to your specific needs.
• You’re a person, not a patient.
I wanted to be under the care of someone who treated me like a human being, not a paycheck. Being pregnant is natural and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be treated like an illness or medical emergency – unless, of course, you become ill or something life-endangering happens. When planning for a home birth, the focus remains on the mother.
Big thanks to my sister-in-law, Taylre Pearson, for taking the adorable picture of my baby bump at the top of this post and to Sandra Chile for sharing her photography with the world. I used one of her flower pictures for my header backgrounds here.
To sum it all up, home birth isn’t just for hippies or the middle ages. In fact, the industry of birth wasn’t established until the last hundred years or so. Birth is a natural, beautiful event that should not be entered with fear. I dream of inspiring mothers to believe they, too, can have a positive birth experience. With belief comes power. And I encourage you to share your happy birth story with the world to empower others!
Are you considering a home birth? Already had one? Post your questions, comments, stories or personal reasons for choosing home birth below!