Stop Saying That: Home Birth Experience Edition
There’s nothing like mentioning the words “home birth” on the Internet to invite all sorts of vitriolic nonsense and myopic arguments from those who don’t support home birth (and even from those who do).
Really–it gets downright nasty sometimes.
Nastiness aside, there’s nothing like people saying something like this to inspire a good old-fashioned eye roll from me:
“Why would you put your baby’s life at risk just for the experience of a home birth?”
In the name of promoting rational argumentation and civil discourse and charitable interpretations of other people’s words, JUST STOP IT.
Now, time for some full disclosure: I’ve had a home birth. And I loved my home birth. And believe you me, I thought long and hard about the decision to have a home birth.
Yet at no time in my decision-making process did I think that my choice was between risking my baby’s life for “the blissful home birth experience” and guaranteeing a safe outcome for my baby with an okay experience in the hospital. (This, folks, is what we call a false dichotomy.)
Here’s the thing: the “putting your baby’s life at risk for the experience” comment–which many home-birthing women and families encounter, either directly or indirectly– fails to grasp the multiplicity of reasons that people might appeal to when choosing home birth.
For instance, a person could appeal to one, two, five, or even all ten of these reasons when choosing to plan a home birth:
- I have examined the research on home birth and hospital birth and am convinced of the potential benefits of home birth. I do think that it is a safe option for my baby and me.
- I have access to skilled home birth providers whom I trust to care for my baby and me prenatally, during labor, and in the postpartum period.
- I had a horrendous experience giving birth in the hospital and do not want to repeat that experience. I think that planning a home birth gives me a better chance of not repeating it.
- If my baby or I need to transfer to the hospital, I trust in the collaborative care I will receive from my midwives and their back-up medical team.
- I have a deep-seated fear of the hospital and am nearly paralyzed with terror at the thought of giving birth in the hospital. A home birth is a better choice for me.
- I am having a low-risk, healthy pregnancy, and I know that this makes me a good candidate for home birth. I don’t think that it puts me or my baby at a significantly greater risk than hospital birth at all.
- After weighing the pros and cons of hospital and home birth, our family has decided that home birth fits our values, preferences, and beliefs better than hospital birth does.
- I want to avoid both the maternal and neonatal complications associated with the high intervention rates at my local hospitals.
- My midwives have many births and many years of experience between the two of them, and they have provided me with accurate and transparent information regarding their skills, their educational backgrounds, their practices and protocols, and their past rates of complications and transfers. Given this information, I trust them to care for my baby and I throughout pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period.
- There is no hospital within a 100 mile radius that will support my desire to have a VBAC. I want a large family, and I’m planning a home birth so that I can avoid the possibility (and the potential complications) of three or four repeat cesareans.
The reasons are unique. They are radically unique, just as unique as each individual person themselves. This is why two people can have the exact same situation and still arrive at different choices based on the uniqueness of their values and preferences.
And this is why, I think, the reasons that people use when making their birth choices–and the choices themselves–deserve at least a modicum of respect. From all of us.
And sure, sometimes an additional reason might involve some hope or wish or dream for what the “home birth experience” might be. But give women a little credit: most people aren’t choosing home birth simply for some candle-lit, orgasmic birth experience, just as most people aren’t choosing hospital birth simply because they like the pretty pictures on the wall in their local labor and delivery unit.
With that all being said, I can understand how some people–many people, even–might have reservations about home birth. I get that. I even think that there are many well-placed critiques about the disjointed nature of home birth care and the lack of consistency across home birth standards in the United States.
But this doesn’t mean that expressing these criticisms should involve slinging false dichotomies or asinine comments toward those who do choose home birth.
So if you’re someone who is keen on asking people why they’d choose to risk their baby’s life just for the experience of home birth, try saying something like this instead:
1I bet you have lots of reasons for choosing a home birth. Are you comfortable sharing them with me?
2I would not choose home birth for myself, but I respect your right to make that choice. I also understand that the reasons for choosing home birth are multifaceted and vary from woman to woman, from family to family. My main concerns are about safety. Can you tell me how you and your midwife (or midwives) are working together to ensure that you and your baby can have a healthy birth at home?
3Women are going to keep choosing home birth no matter what my personal evaluation of that choice is. Thus, I think it is wise to support promote programs, issues, and strategies (be they midwifery licensure, better educational requirements, a more integrated maternity system, better informed consent regarding home birth, etc.) that help to improve the safety of home birth.
And then for those of you who need it, here’s a bonus alternative for you to say: I need to learn how to disagree with home birth without being an asshole.
(And just to give you a sneak preview, tomorrow I’m gonna tell people to stop saying, “Just have a home birth!” so don’t get all in a tizzy thinking that I have pie-in-the-sky ideas about home birth. SO HOLD YOUR HORSES.)