Those crazy Europeans. They think that–gaffaw–home birthing is safe! Haven’t they heard about home birth activist Janet Fraser and her very personal tragedy? You know the story: an unassisted childbirth ended with her baby’s death, for reasons that have not yet been determined. And now some are calling for her head, while others are criticizing at home births in general (though not the same as freebirthing).
A large-scale study in the Netherlands has found no difference in death rates of either mothers or babies in 530,000 births. Whether you give birth in the hospital or in the comforts of your own home, the stats are the same.
Remind me again how home birthing is a crime?
This study was commissioned after some pointed to the Dutch freedom of birthing choices as the reason for the Netherlands’ infant death rate. It was one of the highest in Europe. They also have a huge home birth rate, at 30 percent of births, compared to .59 percent of all births in the U.S (though 9 states have twice the rate of the general American population).
Turns out, we can’t blame those crazy home birthers. Professor Simone Buitendijk of the TNO Institute for Applied Scientific Research, said of the findings,
We found that for low-risk mothers at the start of their labour it is just as safe to deliver at home with a midwife as it is in hospital with a midwife. These results should strengthen policies that encourage low-risk women at the onset of labour to choose their own place of birth.
Almost a third of the women in the study had to be transferred for one reason or another (fetal heart rate, “need” for an epidural). And those babies and mamas had the same mortality rate at either location.
Researchers said highly trained midwives are key.
Which women were “low-risk”? Those who had no known complications, such as a baby in breech or one with a congenital abnormality, or a previous Caesarean section. (Though a dear bloggy friend had her best birth ever when she had a home VBAC.) So…wouldn’t “low-risk” include most women? Even though we’re trying our damnedest as a culture to up the C-section rate?
Of course, our illustrious medical leaders in the United States don’t agree. In 2008, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG. Tell me how reasonable you sound with an acronym like that?) reiterated their longstanding opposition to the crazy practice of birthing without a magnifying glass properly attached:
While childbirth is a normal physiologic process that most women experience without problems, monitoring of both the woman and the fetus during labor and delivery in a hospital or accredited birthing center is essential because complications can arise with little or no warning even among women with low-risk pregnancies.
I suppose they’re following the, “Oh my God, she’s gonna blow!” theory. *Sigh* Repeat after me, good doctors: Pregnancy is not a medical condition. Hospitals are for sick people. The act of giving birth does not make one “sick”.
Now the real question: which location is mentally safer? [Hand in air…pick me! pick me!] I’d vote for home birth, though both my sons were born in the hospital. For the second birth, I had to direct the nurse who checked my status through my anatomy (the clitoris is not, in fact, where the baby comes out. And please don’t touch me there. I don’t know you like that!) and tell her when Baby E was crowning. Mark and I knew much, much more about where in labor my body was than the doctor (sitting in the corner sipping a cappuccino), medical midwife, and nurse combined. I’m absolutely positive a home experience would have helped me hold on to my remaining tidbits of precious sanity.
As for the “freebirth” home birthers: By the time I reached the end of my second pregnancy, I was “ready to hide in a closet and give birth like a cat.” The medical “professionals” thoroughly scared me away. I understand the mindset of these brave women and why they choose to do it on their own terms. Unassisted birthers, the ones I’ve been blessed enough to meet in this bloggy world, are much more educated about every working of their bodies than most women I know.
Did you know how long you had before you would meet your child? I did, and not because anything was scheduled. I trusted my body in both of my quick, natural labors.
If we give women the chance to trust in their own abilities, they just might surprise us.
Source: BBC News and Wired for Noise. Thanks Summer, and good luck in your labor!
Image: Jesica_4 by molly_darling on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
Great article. Well said and I totally agree.
Thanks for this great article. Home birth in general is so greatly misunderstood. I have been fighting to create more options in a state where a home birth with a midwife can very easily lead to jail time for that midwife. More and more families are choosing to have their babies at home alone, not because they want some far-out experience, but because they want to avoid the risks of hospital birth (infections, high cesarean rate, pressure to be constantly monitored). Many of these women just long for the privacy and respect to be able to give birth on their own terms. They do not want to have to fight for what they know is best for them and their babies while they are in the throes of labor. Most of these women have done tons of research, have meticulous backup plans, and take very good care of themselves.
Because these women refuse to follow the cultural norm of turning over their health and their babies to the medical system, they are often severely criticized. But no one seems to have any problem with the moms who schedule a c-section or plan to have an epidural before they even experience what labor is like. I don’t mean to criticize these women, I know there is a lot of cultural conditioning that may lead them to these decisions. I just don’t think it is fair. I appreciate that you give home birth mothers a fair shake in your blog. Thanks.
Cate Nelson says
You know? I do appreciate some of the medical innovations that have helped us lower our infant mortality rate. But if these interventions were so fabulous, why does the U.S. have one of the highest infant mortality rate of industrialized countries?
(http://www.cnn.com/2006/HEALTH/parenting/05/08/mothers.index/) Certainly not because of those fabulous interventions.
I find it sadly funny how little we trust women’s bodies. If I have to make the argument one more time, “We’ve been doing this for thousands of years; I’m pretty sure our bodies can handle it,” I think I might scream!
When I was pregnant with Little L, my 3.5 year old (http://ecochildsplay.com/2009/04/16/from-pro-life-feminist-to-pro-choice-mama-my-transition/), I had an experience that is too-common for pregnant women. I was working at a resort hotel on Mother’s Day, and all day long I was complimented on how “wonderfully” I was carrying as people blessed my first child and wished me a “Happy 1st Mother’s Day.” Then, a woman in a horrible mood told me: “I hope you don’t plan on giving birth naturally.”
Actually, I do.
“Well, I could give you the phone numbers of quite a few women who would change your mind and prove that idea wrong.”
Huh: Well, I could give you a couple hundred thousand years of human history to prove you wrong.
I asked if she had children? Surprise: she did not. Luckily, she was more than willing to participate in and perpetuate the myth that we are unable to give birth naturally. How kind.
I did, by the way. My sons were born after naturally laboring for 5.5 and 2.5 hours, respectfully.
Not everyone can do that, I know. But we should certainly be given the encouragement and support to try!
Stephanie - Green SAHM says
I had really been hoping to birth naturally on my last pregnancy. My previous had been an urgent C-section that most likely saved my son’s life, so I don’t resent that one at all. My hoped-for natural VBAC turned into a C-section with a breech baby, to my OB’s disappointment. She’d thought she was getting that Friday off, as she’d delivered 3 that day already. I joked with her that the C-section was clearly her fault, bragging that she’d get a night off like that.
But more to the point, I think it needs to be the mother’s choice whenever possible. If you know there’s a medical issue, then let the doctors do what is necessary. Otherwise, let the mother decide what’s right for her. Our bodies are made for this, after all.
Thank you for this insightful article Absolutely, for most women home birth is as safe as a hospital birth. I think that many of the issues that occur in US hospital births are all of the “litle” interventions, i.e. Potassium wash in the eyes to prevent the transfer of nasty STD’s. Uuummm, I keep meeting women whose 2 -4 week old children have conjunctivitis. I wonder how many of them will have to wear glasses.:(
Thank you sooooo much for posting this. So much negativity and misconceptions out there. I’m glad you brought some other statistics and views to light.
“Pregnancy is not a medical condition. Hospitals are for sick people. The act of giving birth does not make one “sick”.”
That’s so funny, I’ve been saying this for months! I’m actually Dutch, currently 8 months preggo in the Netherlands, due for a home water birth. My husband is American though. I keep seeing these documentary-like shows on TLC (yeah, we get that channel here) with these women in hospitals and the doctors next to them yelling PUSH PUSH PUSH and after the baby is out it’s roughly rubbed clean by four pairs of different hands…. It’s insane! I don’t know if the hospitals are all like that (I did spend time in the States but haven’t been in a hospital there), but even the fact that they exist blows my mind. I feel that as a woman in labor you would want to be as relaxed as possible, since it’s a process that requires such complete surrender to your biology. I’d be so stressed out if there were a dozen people at my bed yelling at me what to do… and then drag my baby away from me too! Here they first put the child on your chest skin to skin.
I would like to note though that the big advantage of home birth in the Netherlands (which is also why I can’t think that those fatality rates are due to home birth) is that our country is very small and most of the time the hospital is a five minute car/ambulance/cab drive away. Most of the time things are fine anyway but if something does go wrong it’s not like we have to spend an hour in the car trying to get to a medical facility, like I know can be the case for some Americans, especially in the more rural areas.