pregnancy

The reality of home birth.

While birth is immense and amazing, it’s really only the first sentence in the book of someone’s life.

When reality TV star Jessa Duggar was rushed to hospital following her homebirth this week, the world looked on in disbelief. In this day and age, why would any woman have a baby at home?

If there was a tornado outside and trees blocked the driveway, if there were flesh eating zombies banging on your door, or you were just an hour away from scoring an Oroton handbag on ebay for $20 – then maybe we’d understand. But if you have access to first world care in a first world hospital – then why would you choose a third world labour?

After four uncomplicated deliveries in hospital-provided birthing centres, where I laboured without drugs in the water with my partner and loved ones around me providing love and encouragement, I too wondered why anyone would put themselves and their baby at risk.

Watch Jessa Duggar announce her pregnancy here:

Video via TLC

Birth is always an unknown. While it’s generally more likely that you will have a straightforward labour, its certainly no guarantee. One misplaced placenta, a cord around the neck, or a baby inhaling its meconium and the ‘natural birth’ plan goes out the window being replaced by urgent medical intervention.

You see, at the end of the day, all that really matters is that you and the kid get out of this alive. While birth is immense and amazing, it’s really only the first sentence in the book of someone’s life. And birthing ceasarian isn’t a sign you flunked the birth test.

reality of home births
Reality star Jessa Duggar recently chose to give birth at home.
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The choices that women have today for giving birth to their babies are extraordinary, with they being able to choose a drug-free natural birth in a setting where intervention is at hand only if required. It wasn’t always like this.

When my mother gave birth to me, she did it in a hospital, with on her back in a bed where she was expected to deliver her newborn into the waiting hands of medical attendants. This was clearly the best vagina ‘viewing’ platform for doctors and didn’t involve bending, squatting, or god forbid, jumping in the bath in your speedos.

The absence of gravity to quicken the baby’s arrival also meant doctors got to use their scissors a little more, snipping off bits of vagina in order to ensure safe passage for the new arrival.

Labouring mothers were forbidden to do what women for centuries had always done, and that was to get nude and get out of their beds and start wandering around the room searching the illusive ‘best position’ to assist the baby’s journey through the pelvis.

Women of my mother and grandmother’s generation endured 72-hour labours in possibly the worst delivery and sexual positions ever: missionary. They did it alone. There were no cameras, no back rubs, no scented lavender cushions, no Enya enticing us to follow those waves of pain and ‘sail away sail away sail away’. There was definitely no partner massaging the sacrum declaring you beautiful and loved and amazing.

reality of home births

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The delivery room was a place of pain, where women laboured quietly and alone. There was no witness to what happened to us there. If we were traumatised, if we were cut too deeply, if that baby was pulled too savagely from our womb, if our baby died… it happened behind the clinical closed door of a hospital delivery room.

Our babies were snatched away to be weighed and measured and named, like you would a fish. There was no precious skin-to-skin contact. Babies were cleaned and labelled and placed in the hospital’s ‘new baby storage unit’ while bleeding mothers were stitched and drugged and told to get some sleep.

When you reflect on how medicalised birth had become, it was no wonder there needed to be a home birth revolution to deinstutionalise and humanise the very ordinary process of having a baby. When I had my daughter 20 years ago, I was the only expectant mother in my birth class of 25 to choose a hospital setting for her delivery.

These women wanted a different experience to their mothers, and many were leaving the hospital setting in droves to opt for midwife-assisted births in blow up swimming pools in their lounge rooms, or in backyard yurts under a full moon.

reality of home births
“Many women were leaving the hospital setting in droves to opt for midwife-assisted births in blow up swimming pools in their lounge rooms, or in backyard yurts under a full moon.”

Of course there were tragedies. But for the most part, women laboured successfully in their homes. This was the quiet labour of an unseen feminism – where women’s courageous choices caused the medical institution to sit up and take notice, necessitating it to radically adapt and change the services hospitals provide in line with what birthing mothers wanted: to move from a passive on-your-back experience, to a fully active natural birth.

So, as a mother who has delivered her child in a few short hours in a hospital, in a quiet room with just a partner and a midwife close by, who has lifted her vernix covered newborn to her breast in the semi darkness, I wonder, why would you do this at home? Here, someone else does the cleaning!

Would you ever make the decision to have a home birth?

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