I am asked occasionally why I choose to birth at home, and perhaps why especially I'm planning a home birth with my second, when I was transported to the hospital during my first home birth. I've been trying to get to the bottom of it, and am now excited to share where I think my preference comes from. Some of it is background and nurturing, some of it is my first birth experience, and a huge part is how I view birth itself—as a chance to be my most raw self.
But first, a disclaimer: This is such a personal topic. 1) My intention is NOT to persuade anyone to birth in any way. Rather, I want to share how and why I choose the birthing methods I do, because every mother makes this choice. It's part of what can CONNECT us, not divide us. The decision each of us makes is not the point. The fact that we all make a choice is. 2) This isn't going to contain any medical research about the health benefits or risks of home birth vs. hospital births. This is just my experience and preferences.
I think it starts with what is familiar to me and my husband. I am one of six children, and my siblings and I were all born vaginally, without epidurals or mechanical extraction of any kind. My husband was born at home, along with two of his siblings. His only nieces were born at home, and my next youngest sister has delivered all three of her babies at home. The first and only birth I actually witnessed before my own, was my sister's second delivery. It was short, uncomplicated, and peaceful at home in her bed.
When I went through puberty, learned about sex, and experienced babies growing up, my exposure was to women who bled every month, had sex to become pregnant, pushed babies out of their vaginas, and then fed those babies with their breasts. I didn't learn about irregular cycles, infertility, interventions and surgical delivery, or formula/supplemental feeding until my mom became a doula, when I was in high school. By then, my framework was already established. What I thought was "normal" was what I already knew, and these new concepts were introduced as the exception.
My Hospital Birth
Those of you who have read Phoenix's birth story, know that we were transported to the hospital to deliver him. My waters broke and after 36 hours, contractions still had not started. I was GBS positive, so due to risk of infection for the baby, we chose to induce at the hospital. Labor began shortly after I was admitted without Pitocin, and I was able to labor and deliver without further intervention or medication. During my labor, it never occurred to me to ask for an epidural or pain medication of any kind. This doesn't make me anything but DIFFERENT from women who do ask for and receive pain medication. It doesn't make me stronger or better. I wondered before my birth if I would beg for an epidural in the heat of labor, if I would want the drugs bad enough to transport to the hospital for them. I thought that I might get desperate and have to talk myself out of it, or have others make me press on. The way it played out, my labor was unmedicated, relatively fast, intense, and yes, painful. But I never wanted the relief of pain killer. I wanted the relief of birth. I needed those contractions. I wanted that pain. I was so grateful my baby was finally coming, feeling so alive, so connected to a power outside myself and also within myself. I didn't want or need to escape it. I wanted to be in it. I didn't choose ahead of time to feel this way and I don't believe there is more value in it, it's just how I honestly felt. My sister has shared how incredibly different she feels when she's laboring naturally. She approaches all of labor like a battle she must fight, and it's excruciating for her. She hates it, begs for the end, wishes there was another way, loses faith, and powers through for the sake of meeting her child. Then she feels the most intense victory, accomplishment and relief when it's all over. I cannot stress enough WOMEN ARE SO DIFFERENT.
My experience having a healthy natural delivery has only reinforced my childhood beliefs. I believe at the core of my being that birth is natural and safe. That our bodies are made to make and deliver babies, and that the majority of the time mothers and babies can get their babies earthside on their own, unharmed and without trauma. That is not to say, without help. Birthing and motherhood are not work to be done in isolation in my opinion. In my experience, the help is not required for safety, but rather for wellbeing and community, because we're better together.
Since I believe and have experienced that birth is safe, and I do not want medicinal pain relief, it feels unnecessary to have my baby in the hospital. However, having experienced a birth in the hospital, and assisted my youngest sister with her first birth in the hospital, I feel a lot warmer to hospital birthing now than I did. I no longer fear it, as I did when I was younger. I feel like I understand when and why medical surgery or intervention are necessary and helpful, and I welcome and appreciate them when they are. I still believe it's rare for medical intervention to be necessary, and must therefore conclude that unnecessary interventions are often happening. Intervention isn't good or bad, I just personally want the simplest experience I can manage, which for me, means no unnecessary interference. With Phoenix, we needed some, and I trusted my midwife to transport me if/when she sensed we needed it.
My values for Birth
I'm eager to deliver this baby in our home, welcoming them without fear or resistance, allowing the pain and power of birth to bond us, and letting my ego die with every humiliating exposure of my humanity—from shitting and pissing the bed, to showing off hemorrhoids, to vomiting, crying, moaning, and sweating my ass off. I relish the rawness, the lack of shame, the embracing of all of life, not just the comfortable and flawless parts. This is the gift of birth to me, losing all pretense and performance, being totally in touch with the simultaneous fragility and strength of our life, experiencing our relentless will to live and be together, exploring the depths of our own capability. There may be nothing more precious to me.
And yet, that doesn't have to be your story or your values.
It is difficult for me that birthing has become a competitive and divisive experience, rather than a connective one. It often feels like women who birth with drugs are painted as weaker than women who deliver without. There seems to be some pressure to "go it alone" and birth naturally to prove something. There was definitely some of this in me before my first birth. My birth didn't go that way though, and it proved to me how rich I am in resources and access, that when things don't progress by my definition of "normal," medicine can accommodate the exception. My youngest sister, who birthed in a hospital, opted for an epidural and induction, and while this didn't feel "normal" to me, she advocated for her own definition of "normal." With the same upbringing and nurturing I had, this shows me that the most important message we received from our mama was that our bodies are our own, and we get to choose what feels safe and right to us.
I feel huge respect for every woman, making choices about her health, her fertility, birth if she chooses to mother, and parenting afterward. I feel proud and happy to share the choices I've made. If I have any agenda, it's this: to advocate for confident and fearless birth. Whatever women choose, my hope is to see my sisters and friends go into their births knowing what they want, surrendering to the unknown specifics, and embracing the overall experience with confidence and happiness instead of fear and trembling. Also, I am a huge birth nerd. I LOVE hearing birth stories and talking about how and why women choose what they do. So a little of my agenda was just to share this huge passion of mine.
Resources + Tips
Just a few things that have helped me on my birth journey.
The Birth Hour Podcast - Bryn Huntpalmer's podcast features birth stories of every kind from all over the world. I love listening to all of them, but she has some amazing home birth/unmedicated stories available that have helped inform and encourage me.
Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth - This book is all about labor and delivery with a ton of birth stories as well. It was super informative about laboring techniques and natural pain management, as well as just teaching me about all the different kinds of births there are. It kind of helped burst the illusion that birth only goes one way.
Journal - I did some journaling about my body right before I had Phoenix. I identified areas where I felt afraid or unconfident in my body's ability to birth. I wrestled with my ego, recognizing things I was trying to prove, and things I was holding onto about how the birth would go. I acknowledged the parts that were out of my control. Practiced a lot of surrender, and somewhere towards the end, found a lot of gratitude for being pregnant and having a baby no matter how it went down.
Hire a Doula - My sister and mom attended me for my first birth as my doulas. Primarily, a doula can assist with pain management techniques (my sister literally pressed on my back during every contraction for hours), administer body work to bring relief or help with labor progress (my mom suggested different positions), help with decision-making during the labor and delivery (my mom told me when to call the midwife, monitored my progress and dilation, and held my leg while I pushed), and provide emotional support to you and your partner (they both held me while I cried when the decision was made to transport to the hospital). Usually, they also assist with establishing nursing.
Have any birth resources you love? Share in the comments!