About a month into the pregnancy, my wife casually mentioned that after doing some research and talking to a few people, she really wanted to have a home birth. I didn’t know how to respond. I never considered this as a viable option for bringing a child into this world. I’m pretty sure my great grandfather was born at home, but they couldn’t afford anything else at the time. As I quickly tried to formulate a thoughtful response, I couldn’t help but think that this was a bad idea. Why would we have an 1870’s home birth when we have adequate financial resources and insurance to have a birth at a hospital?
I responded, “I think we should explore this option a bit more.”
I felt that this was supportive statement, but also gave us the opportunity to do additional research to find out more about the home birthing process. While we decided on the best location for our birth, we both agreed that we should start traditional prenatal care with a physician.
We went to our first local home birth group meeting and it was the most awkward experiences of my life. In addition to home birthing, many of the people in attendance also embraced what I would call “non traditional approaches” to promote wellness. Some of the things included the value of a eating the placenta after birth, squirting breast milk into a baby’s ear for ear infections, and the many dangers of hospitals. I had to stop myself from laughing out loud on a few occasions. Who are these people and when can we go? I knew this was NOT the place for me. Eventually they talked about the topic of the day- homebirthing. The home birth subculture draws people in with the idea that this kind of birth will automatically give the mother a life of spirituality, empowerment and pure joy. By minimizing the risk factors and very real dangers of not having medically trained professionals present at birth, they can give the false impression that a home birth is the best thing for your baby. Although this approach works for some families, it did not work for us.
A few decades ago, home births in the United States was mostly limited to insular religious communities like the Amish and to dedicated members of the counterculture like Ina May Gaskin (the mother of midwifery). In recent years, it has taken a move toward the mainstream, as a response to a profit based medical system and pro-midwife documentaries like The Business of Being Born, which featured talk show host Ricki Lake giving birth in her bathtub.
I’ll get into the specifics of our botched home birth, our obnoxious and unprofessional midwife, and resulting frantic drive to the hospital in another post.
Keep in mind that there are only two types of midwives:
Certified Nurse Midwives, or CNMs, are, as their title implies, CERTIFIED nurses, and many of them work in hospitals. Certified Nurs -Midwives, in most states, are required to possess a minimum of a graduate degree or Post-Master’s Certificate, They have the same sort of training as midwives in countries like the Netherlands, where a third of babies are delivered at home. It’s difficult to find a CNM who does home birth in the United States, since liability insurance usually doesn’t allow it. We ended up having our baby with a certified nurse (in a hospital) and it was great.
Certified Professional Midwives, or CPMs are caregivers who preside over home births. They are accredited by a national midwifery organization, the North American Registry of Midwives. To qualify, an applicant must have at least a high school diploma, followed by either midwifery school (non accredited) or a limited apprenticeship under another midwife. Then they have to pass a multiple-choice exam before starting their own practice.
For now, if you are planning to have a homebirth, please do your research, talk to people who’ve had both good and experiences, and make an informed decision that both you and your partner are comfortable with.