I’ve always been a hippie, but I was never considered an oddball until it came time to deliver my second child. Like every mother marking off the days until her due date, I had a lot of choices to make. When I chose a home birth, it raised some eyebrows – even from my husband. But it was a good choice for me, and I want other Las Vegas mothers to know it’s an option for them too.
For me it came down to quality of care. At the beginning of my pregnancy, I was getting my prenatal care from an obstetrician whose office was seriously overcrowded and understaffed. My average wait time was over an hour. Sitting in the waiting room, pregnant and uncomfortable, with my 2-year-old son running around tearing up the magazines was torture. When I was finally called in to see the doctor, my appointment would last 10 minutes max – because there were still 20 more pregnant women to be seen! I would leave the OB’s office after every visit feeling hurried, thirsty and stressed out.
It didn’t get better as I approached delivery. In fact, toward the end of my pregnancy, my OB joked that I might have to give birth in the hospital hallway, because the maternity ward was so incredibly busy. Joke or not, this made me nervous. I got to thinking, “It doesn’t have to be this way … It shouldn’t be this way.”
But what to do? Giving birth in the hospital has been the norm since the 1950s, and it’s easy to understand why: The availability of epidurals, ultrasound machines, emergency care, neonatal ICUs and full-time nursing for the mother are all inducements – to say nothing of insurance coverage. But for a normal, healthy pregnancy, I think hospitals can do as much harm as good. In the hospital, there are insurers, HMOs and hospital administrators to answer to, and some of these “interested parties” may want to get the patient in and out as quickly as possible (higher turnover generates more money). Doctors may also be driven by their fear of malpractice suits to practice defensive medicine, with some disturbing results. For example, the Caesarean section rate in Clark County is very high – 32 percent in 2005, compared to 19 percent 10 years earlier – and that number continues to rise. It seems that childbirth is being treated as a medical procedure instead of as the natural process that women’s bodies were created to do.
All these things were on my mind on the day I toured the labor and delivery floor at the hospital. I was eight months pregnant and I asked a lot of questions. The tour guide took my questions with increasing irritation and offense.
Can I invite my family into the room for the birth?
You’re only permitted two family members in the room at a time.
Will there be birthing balls or other props available?
No, it’s best that you stay in bed so we can monitor the labor.
But I’ve had a baby before, and lying in bed just made the labor more painful.
[Grudgingly … ] Well, you can stand beside the bed as far as the IV pole can reach.
Will I be able to leave my room and walk the maternity hall during labor?
We prefer that you stay in your room.
Well, what can I have to eat and drink to keep my strength up?
Nothing. We want to make sure your stomach is empty in case – [you guessed it!] – we have to perform a C-section.
Worst of all, I was told that my newly born baby would be immediately taken from the room – and kept for about two hours – to be bathed and examined by the hospital staff. I was outraged that my desire to keep my baby at my side would not be respected. I took a deep breath and, not wanting to be one of “those” moms to the nurses, calmly asked if some compromise might be reached. No, I was told. The baby would have to leave. “That’s just the way it’s done.”
I didn’t ask any more questions after that. Instead, I took my labor and delivery into my own hands. I chose a home birth.
After a few very long talks with my husband (who was not thrilled with the idea), I contacted Jill, a certified professional midwife who had attended more than 500 births before I came to her. Jill welcomed me with warmth and respect even though I was already 36 weeks along. She made sure I had information on nutrition, the physiology of labor, and how to handle childbirth without pain medication. Each of my weekly prenatal visits lasted an hour. During labor and delivery, Jill took a proactive approach, correcting any problems before they became an emergency. She trusted me to know my own body and what it needed, and she used the powerful tools of one-on-one support and relaxation to help with the pain. I found that for most of my labor, all I needed to keep going was for someone to say, “You can do it!”
I spent much of the labor in a warm bath, coached through the pain by my mother (a retired home birth midwife herself) and my midwife. My husband took charge of our 2-year-old son (being at home made that job much easier for both of them). He was relieved and amazed at how attentively and respectfully I was treated. My daughter’s birth was gentle, quiet and wonderfully easy. (It’s amazing how easy a birth can be when you aren’t numb from the waist down!) I was able to have a meal both during and immediately after I gave birth. I think it was the best food I’ve ever tasted.
The best part of my home birth experience was finally being able to see my baby and have her put directly into my arms. She was never pulled away to be bathed or examined; instead, Jill stood right beside me while she examined my baby. I felt completely honored for my individual wishes for this most precious event of my life.
Did some of my friends and family think my decision was screwy? Frankly, yes. But what I learned from my experience is that home birth mothers take their birthing choices very seriously – and they are every bit as concerned for the safety of their babies as those who opt for a hospital birth. I’m incredibly glad that I chose to have my baby at home, and would do it again in a minute.
Home birth isn’t for everyone, but it’s an option for more women than you might think. To learn more about home birth, or to find a certified professional midwife in Las Vegas, visit the Birth Year Network.