Why I chose to give birth at home
I’m not sure when it was that I first heard about homebirth but I knew I always wanted to have one. In 2005 I hosted a dinner with a couple of close friends, and the conversation turned to our plans for having kids in the future. I remarked that I’d like to have a homebirth one day but that I would probably go to hospital for my first birth and if that was ok I’d have homebirths with subsequent children. My friend suggested that homebirth was a good option for first time mothers too, and asked if I had looked into it properly yet. I replied that I hadn’t, so in the weeks following that conversation I did.
When I looked into the statistics for homebirth and hospital birth I was very disturbed by what I learned about hospital birth. Obstetric violence, birthrape, the cascade of intervention, higher rates of morbidity for both mother and baby, the rising rate of caesarean surgeries (which was more than double what the WHO considers acceptable), and reports that hospital staff were administering large amounts of birth drugs to deliberately distress a baby in order to force a woman into caesarean surgery because they didn’t have time to wait for her to give birth in her own time. I learned that these unnecessary interventions were affecting many women’s abilities to bond with their babies, and was also adversely affecting their breastfeeding relationships. On the forums I joined, women were coming forward with PTSD months or years after their traumatic births. Later I learned that the leading cause for maternal death in Australia was suicide.
Alongside these disturbing facts, I learned about what the body does when a woman is left to give birth unhindered. Women already possess the required hormones in order to give birth, and they need conditions that most mammals require for birth – somewhere that is private, familiar, and where they feel safe. Women who were supported to birth at home were less likely to develop PTSD and more likely to establish breastfeeding with their babies. The large-scale studies that I read from North America and Sweden confirmed that homebirth was as safe, if not safer, than hospital birth. Birth at home with a midwife was considered the gold standard of maternity care.
As I said in my first sentence: I already wanted to homebirth one day. Something about it appealed to me – I could well imagine myself preferring the privacy and familiarity of home to give birth. Frankly, I was terrified of having a caesarean (being a caesarean baby myself), and the likelihood of being given a caesarean in hospital was very high (as high as 80% at a local hospital the year my first child was born). The more I learned about hospital birth and homebirth the more it served to solidify my decision that homebirth was the best choice for me.
When I first brought this up with my husband in 2005 he was under the same misconception that most people in our society are under: that birth outside of a medical setting is dangerous for both mother and baby. I argued back with what I had learned but his position seemed to be a pretty firm no. I felt angry and frustrated so I dropped the subject. We weren’t even starting a family yet and I figured we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.
In 2006 my husband was deployed to Iraq and while he was away we talked seriously about starting a family when he returned at the end of the year. Over the phone, a month before his return, I hesitantly reminded him that I intended to plan a homebirth and I braced myself for the resistance I was sure was coming. His response was “Yes, yes, cool”. I was in disbelief – it was a very different response to when I had brought it up 1.5 years earlier! He explained that in his off-time on his deployment he had been looking into the safety of homebirth as well and had reached the same conclusion as me: that it was normal, safe, and preferable. Relief!
In September 2007 I gave birth at home with my husband, our midwife, my doula, and one of my best friends present. It was a 14 hour labour that was completely uneventful. My son was born 8lb 13oz with perfect Apgars and I had no tearing. Our breastfeeding relationship lasted 4.5 years.
In September 2010 I gave birth at home with my doula, a sisterfriend, and my sister-in-law present. My husband ‘attended’ via Skype from Afghanistan. This time it was a 2.25hr labour and I did tear, but considering she was 10lbs I think that’s understandable. Our breastfeeding relationship lasted over 6 years.
In October 2012 I gave birth at home with only my husband and children present. This birth was around 1.5hrs and despite having a baby that was 9lbs 2oz, I didn’t tear. Our breastfeeding relationship is nearing its end at nearly 5 years.
I’m so glad that I looked into my birth options before falling pregnant with my first baby. I’m also glad that I was supported to give birth in a way that felt safest for me, and that we could afford to because Medicare didn’t cover any of it. We spent at least $6000 out of our own pockets to pay for my maternity care over the years. Unfortunately, homebirth in Australia is under constant threat and women’s maternity choices are being heavily restricted. I remain active in trying to protect women’s rights to give birth in the way that they want to.
For support to birth at home in Australia please visit the Page of my beautiful homebirth community, Joyous Birth.