If you know me well, you probably know my family is a home birth family. Which means, of course, that we choose to give birth to our children at home with a midwife in attendance. If you didn’t know that about me, congrats! You will now learn all about a huge aspect of my life.
My wife and I have five children, ages seven and under, so for the past eight years, we’ve been consumed with all things pregnancy, babies, labor, and birth. This year, we’re just now starting to take a breath from all the craziness for the first time. Sometimes I feel like we should take a vacation and do nothing but sleep for a month (my wife, especially)!
One thing I’ve found interesting since we’ve chosen to birth at home is that people are surprised to meet a “Home Birth Dad.” Most women are impressed when they meet my wife, but they’re not sure what to do with me. Because I am a man. I really don’t understand why this is so strange, but I’ve gotten used to it by now. These days, I frequently find myself the only male in a room full of women talking about labor, birth, and child-rearing, and I’m OK with that. As a matter of fact, I’ve even given pitches before for a business idea I’ve been stewing on for a few years: creating the first-ever holistic Birth Center in Colorado Springs. And this is entirely driven by me… a man.
My own birth story is interesting: I am the second oldest of nine children, and all nine of us were born via the “Caesarean section” (what we always called “C-Section”). My mother is a saint for putting up with all those surgeries to have us children, and I really mean that. When stitching her back up, her doctors used to tease her and say things like “Hey, as long as I’m in here, should I just put in a zipper to make it easier for your next birth?” I suppose she had to develop an incredible sense of humor since most people can’t resist commenting on a family with nine kids—which is remarkable enough without even adding in the C-Sections. I’ve heard all kinds of crazy things people have said to my parents: funny comments, sexual comments, and downright nasty comments from rude people who can’t respect my parents’ decision to have as many children as they did, and all by C-section. I heard people talk about how “risky” it was and how my mom was “being dangerous” and how the risks became greater with each C-section she had. I couldn’t believe how judgmental people were about this, but I’d gotten used to it.
Since I grew up in a home where none of us were born vaginally (sometimes called “naturally,” though this term is inaccurate), I was bewildered by the idea of women being able to give birth without surgery. I heard rumors of women who walked into the hospital, gave birth, and walked out of the hospital a day or two later. How was this possible, I wondered? Until one of my aunts gave birth to my cousin, I didn’t even have a detailed conversation with a woman who’d given birth without a C-section. To me, birth to me was kind of scary: it was very expensive, very serious, it required a major abdominal surgery, LOTS of drugs were administered, and a long recovery process was needed. That was what birth was in our family.
When I first moved out of my parents’ home when I was 17, I started researching health and the human body. I went to EMS school to become a certified Emergency Medical Technician, and we learned about anatomy and how the body works, how it tries to heal itself, and how natural processes such as birth will come, and how amazingly resilient the human body is. I started doing research on the side, and looked into fitness, diets, and drugs, and how—barring any traumatic emergencies—our bodies know what to do without us interfering with drugs or medical interventions.
I also met some people (some were friends, some were people I didn’t know) who lived like crazy hippie people in the backwoods: they chose not to immunize their children, they didn’t circumcise their sons, they fed their babies goat milk, the women stayed active until the very day they gave birth, they gave birth without medication, and, strangest of all: they gave birth in their living rooms. This blew my mind. I even heard stories of women giving birth in baby swimming pools in their kitchens, and I shook my head. Wasn’t this dangerous? Wasn’t it irresponsible? What was wrong with them, anyway? Why could they just go to a hospital like normal people?
I thought about this for a few years and pondered the things they told me. I thought it was kind of gross, and I was pretty sure that my future wife would deliver my children in a decent hospital bed. And yet, I couldn’t deny that everything they had told me made perfect sense. I was profoundly impacted by the respect for life and the respect for birth that they had. These people spoke of birth in glowing terms, like it was a magical experience: and not like what I’d seen on TV, where the woman helplessly screams in a hospital room for hours, while the father sits in the waiting room smoking a cigar or walking aimlessly in circles waiting to hear a baby screaming so he’d know everything was OK. That was such a contrast: on the one side, I saw women who “went to the hospital when their water broke,” for whom it seemed birth happened to them, and I saw women who embraced birth, so much so that they treated it like it was sacred and special. I had never seen or heard that before.
It’s kind of strange: people seem to be afraid of birth. Even in my EMT classes, almost all the advanced life support professionals I met would talk about the one call for service they dreaded: a woman in active labor. My instructor (a Paramedic) told me that he still has nightmares about the two times he had to deliver a baby before arriving at the hospital. He shuddered as he recalled these events. I couldn’t understand. These professionals deal with death on a daily basis, and life-threatening emergencies such as strokes, heart attacks, amputations, disembowelments, broken bones, and even murders—why on earth wouldn’t they welcome a call for a woman in labor? I still don’t have an answer for that question, but let’s just say that at least based on what I learned back then, your friendly ambulance driver or Paramedic would prefer that you nearly drop dead of a heart attack than watch you start pushing out a baby.
By the time I met the woman who would become my wife, I had done the research and decided that I wanted our children to be born at home. I was a little nervous since I’d never been at a live birth before, but I was supremely confident that a woman’s body is incredibly powerful without interventions and perfectly capable of giving birth. Funny thing—when she and I started talking about all of this, she told me how her mother had been a midwife in the past and how she had been born at home. What were the odds?!
When we were married and expecting, people started asking us about our birth plans. We told them that we were considering home birth, and we got mixed results. Some people supported this, others couldn’t understand. Still, others made hurtful remarks that showed not only a lack of respect for us and our decision but for birth in general. Here are just a few examples:
“You know you’re endangering your baby by not being at a hospital, right?”
“What if something goes wrong? Your baby could die!”
“Why? You can get drugs at the hospital.”
“You shouldn’t have a home birth until you’ve had at least one baby in a hospital.”
I remember one friend (a man) told me “Eww! Are you going to be there for the birth? I have friends who watched their wives give birth and they told me it was the grossest thing they’d ever seen.” I was shocked at the audacity of people we knew—and trusted—who were freely giving extremely opinionated advice without being asked. Why do people do this? Were they trying to steal our joy? Did they want to depress us or scare us into changing our minds?
Long story short, we ended up with a hospital birth for our first baby. But what was interesting is that since we’d never had a baby before, we didn’t have an obstetrician in mind, so we decided to interview doctors. We came up with a list of questions we thought would be important to ask a doctor about his approach to birth and his philosophy about the birth process, and then happily set out to do our research. What we learned was fascinating: doctors don’t like it when you ask questions. It seems that most people just walk into a doctor’s office and say “I’m pregnant—please sign me up to become your patient” and don’t do any further research, so anything less than that becomes an annoyance to them. When we called a few doctors’ offices to see if we could set an appointment for an interview, some of them didn’t even understand the question. “You want to do what? Just ask questions? You don’t want an ultrasound?” One obstetrician’s office we visited told me they didn’t even know how to bill us because nobody ever just comes in to ask questions.
Here’s the list of questions we asked, as best I can remember:
- Do you allow labor to progress naturally?
- Do you induce labor with Pitocin or Cytotec?
- Is there a limit to the amount of time you let a woman labor?
- Do you always break the bag of waters?
- Do you strip the membranes on the bag of waters?
- How involved do you let the father be in the labor and birth process?
- Do you allow the cord to stop pulsing before cutting it?
- How often do you perform an episiotomy?
- How often so you perform a C-Section? i.e. What is your caesarean rate?
- What positions do you let the mother give birth in?
- How much freedom do you let the mother have to move around during labor?
- Do you use an internal or external fetal monitor?
- Do you require that the mother has constant fetal monitoring?
- Do you let the father catch the baby?
- How long do you make the mother stay in the hospital after the birth?
- When the baby is born, do you let the baby stay with the mother and nurse the baby?
- Do you require immunizations during the hospital stay?
In my humble opinion, these questions are all pertinent, and they’re all fair—they’re very straightforward and factual. There’s no judgment or presupposition in them. But what we learned is that if you ask a doctor these questions, he—(and I say “he” because all the doctors we spoke to were all men)—will start to become very defensive and even hostile in his posturing and tone. When we asked one doctor if he ever lets the father catch the baby, he told us (in a condescending manner) “I went to school for 16 years so I could run my own practice. There is no way I would let fathers catch their babies. They don’t know what they’re doing, and if something went wrong, I’d be out of business in two seconds.” Point taken. We left in a hurry.
I was very frustrated: I figured we could at least honestly ask these questions and get honest answers back but what I found is that people take questions very personally. Which was quite a surprise to me because the baby my wife and I were having was OUR BABY. Not the doctor’s baby… not the hospital’s baby. It was our baby—a member of our family. Why on earth could we not be trusted to make the best decisions for our family, or at least ask the questions?
Strangely, what I learned was that in asking questions like these, I was challenging the entire medical industry, complete with insurance companies, associations, lawyers, and more. My simply asking questions and wanting to be a part of the process was a threat to them. How funny—they were threatened by us! Two young parents with one little baby that wasn’t even born yet… we were threatening to them! I was almost flattered, except that I wasn’t out to start a fight or even ruffle feathers—I just wanted answers to my questions about how each doctor handles birth in the birth room.
With our hospital birth, while everything turned out OK in the end, it cemented my beliefs that there MUST be a better way. The doctor we ended up with was extremely impolite during the birth, came in at the very last second, cracked jokes that were not appreciated, and tried to rush my wife through the process. After many hours of staying awake during her labor in the early morning, I had to try to stay awake and alert during entire time—I noticed that the staff tried to do tricky things that I had specifically told them not to do when I wasn’t looking. For example, our birth plan that we had written ahead of time said, explicitly, NO PITOCIN DURING LABOR OR BIRTH. While the doctor didn’t administer Pitocin during the labor, I did see a nurse try to hook up a bag of Pitocin to my wife’s IV while I wasn’t looking. I pointed and forcefully said, “Is that Pitocin?!” The nurse told me “Yes, but I’m not hooking it up—I’m putting it here just in case.”
While my wife was recovering from the birth, and I was bathing our brand new daughter, the staff told me the baby needed to undergo tests. Lots of them. Heel-prick tests, blood tests, bilirubin tests, hearing tests, and more. And she needed to be vaccinated as well. Why? Why on earth did this poor little baby need to be poked so many times, in so many places? I declined everything. I told them we can always come back for vaccinations later if needed, and we can perform all the other tests with a midwife or doctor later. Makes sense, right? Wrong. I also endured a fair amount of ridicule from several nurses. They made me sign a HUGE stack of papers full of waivers and disclaimers that said things like “I understand that choosing to decline vaccinations may endanger my baby and even cause his/her death.” Can you imagine how I felt having to sign those ridiculous papers? How judgmental! Telling me that I might be killing my baby?! After politely declining one particular test, a nurse told me “Umm, it’s mandatory. I don’t think you’re allowed to decline it.” I said “Please go ask your manager, then. Because we definitely want to decline. I’ll wait.” After a few minutes, she came back and said something to the effect of “Wow, I guess it’s not mandatory after all.” Who are these people that dictate to me what I can and can’t do with my own children?
After saying “no” to all their tests, I wheeled our precious little family member back to my wife from the nursery. The nurse who followed me back handed a clipboard to the nurse in the birth room, and I overheard her whisper to the other “they’ve declined everything—they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses.” I was astonished at this insensitive and presumptuous remark (I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness, and I never said I was!) and saw to it that we got out of the hospital as soon as possible, never to return.
For our next birth, we took our time and did our research again, but much earlier in the process this time around. I searched online for a midwife that we could hire to help us give birth at home, uninterrupted by unnecessary medical interventions and tests we didn’t need. We found a wonderful midwife named Jessica Nipp, who ran a practice with a name that totally resonated with us: “Holistic Homebirth.” I called her, she answered the phone right away, and I started going down my line of questioning: would she let me catch the baby? Does she perform a routine episiotomy? I was thrilled with all her answers, and she suggested we come in and meet her, so we did.
Everything we learned about her was exactly what we were hoping for: she was fairly priced, she was kind, she was experienced, she had great answers to all our questions, and she was available for our birth. What else could be better? She was classy, dressed well, educated (she had a degree in Naturopathic Medicine and was also a licensed Massage Therapist), and kept a clean home—hardly the stereotype of a practicing midwife. We laughed when she told us some people think midwives “burn incense and wash their hands in henna.”
With our new midwife, our second birth was miraculous. My wife labored in our bed, in our room, for eight hours, pushed for twenty minutes and our baby was there. It was incredible. It was smooth. It was relaxed. The baby was fine, my wife was fine, and I was fine, since nobody was pestering me to sign forms that told me I was a bad father, and nobody was trying to take our baby away from us every ten minutes to perform “tests” on her.
We’ve had a total of four babies at home. Each birth was different, and my wife labored differently for all of them. One was born in the bathroom, one on a birth stool, and two in a birth pool. All her labors were difficult, but they were effective and she was able to push efficiently, and when the baby arrives, there’s no more work to do—it’s all done. What a contrast a home birth is to hospital birth! It’s peaceful and quiet; a minimum of bystanders is required; I am there for the duration of my wife’s labor, helping her by massaging her back or giving her food and drinks, and being there to catch my baby! The labor pool allows the heat to ease the contractions, and she sometimes drinks wine to help relax. She can put herself in any position she wants for maximum efficiency during contractions and pushing, and there are no fetal monitoring belts to get in the way. It is a truly miraculous and respectful process where I can watch my wife do what her body was made to do, naturally.
During her first pregnancy, we had taken a childbirth class (The Bradley Method) to help us understand the labor and birth process. I will say that I’m not sold 100% on all of Dr. Bradley’s opinions and observations, but it was incredibly valuable for me as the husband to know what my wife would be going through, rather than standing idly by as a clueless spectator while she does the hard work. This has always been helpful for us in each subsequent birth… my being able to know the difference between the stages of labor, breathing and relaxation methods, and more is SUPER helpful. I’ve gotten to know how my wife labors, and I can understand what she needs at each stage. I highly recommend that people try homebirth. I am a HUGE fan. And I highly recommend that couples go to classes together to learn and grow as a couple, because birth really and truly needs the involvement of the mother and the father.
The biggest question I get from people when I talk about home birth, is: “What if something goes wrong?” I’ll be honest, this question kind of irritates me. I suppose it’s a fair question at face value, but I think some people who ask this have an unclear or inaccurate picture of birth. Here are a couple quick things I’d like to say about that:
1) For the most part, birth, in general, is very safe. Home birth, in general, is very safe. Complications are very rare.
2) Midwives mitigate complications by only taking low-risk clients. When you go to hire a midwife, you’re not just interviewing her, she’s interviewing you as well! If you have any signs of a problem pregnancy now or in the past, odds are, she won’t take you on as a client. Due to that, most home births are only done for women with very low-risk pregnancies. Does this completely rule out the odds that something will go wrong? No, but it does significantly reduce them. If you have gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, if you’ve smoked during your pregnancy, or have other factors that mean there will be a complicated birth, a midwife will refer you to the hospital instead. And fortunately, most complications during pregnancy manifest themselves early in the process, so if you have a high-risk pregnancy, odds are you’ll know it very soon after becoming pregnant.
3) If something life-threatening were to happen during a home birth, we’d call an ambulance and transport to the hospital. Of course! We’re not one of those home-birth-at-all-costs families who feel morally obligated to stay out of the hospital, and I think those people are dangerous and irresponsible. If something bad happened at home, we would go to a hospital because that’s what hospitals are for! They’re for people who are sick or have medical emergencies! In my humble opinion, they are not for healthy mothers doing what their body does naturally—delivering a healthy baby.
4) Midwives are trained medical professionals who attend births for the express purpose of helping you in case something goes wrong. A lot of midwives will actually take a backseat during the birth and let the couple do what they know how to do: she is there in case an intervention is needed. That’s the whole point. Also, most midwives have a whole bag full of tools and remedies for things that may go wrong. They have a limited selection of drugs, injections, pills, sutures, and much more. They’re very capable of taking care of problems on their own!
4) There are very few medical emergencies that would actually cause you to need to transport to a hospital. Actually, fewer than five. Dr. Mercola has a great article that discusses the safety of home birth, and he outlines only TWO things that might realistically be a medical emergency that would require an ambulance. I’ll let you read it more if you’re interested. Suffice it to say that home birth is very safe if you have a competent midwife, and you do your research to understand the process. For example, we did have a potential complication during one birth where my wife started bleeding uncontrollably (hemorrhaging), and we were able to completely stop the bleeding, naturally with no further complications.
So while home births may have some risk, it’s minimal, and actually, some studies have shown that it’s safer than hospital birth because the risk for acquiring infections in a hospital is much higher, as is the risk for having an unneeded C-section, which is always riskier. Suffice it to say that we’ve had four successful home births and each one was safe, and each one was special.
That’s my story (or a very, very shortened version of it). I highly encourage everyone to look into home birth if they can, or, at a minimum, I encourage everyone to at least ask questions and do research into the birth process and ask their doctor or midwife what they are and aren’t going to do. I encourage you to be educated. Know what is going to happen on the big day. If you at least do that much, you can confidently say you’ve made the right choice. Finally, I want to tell people who were not able to have a home birth, or chose not to: I would never, ever tell a woman what kind of birth she should choose. I am firmly convinced that each family should decide for themselves, and I would NEVER judge another family for choosing a birth experience different than ours. Every family can and should do what’s best for them, and it’s none of my business. I fully support my friends who choose to have home births, and I fully support my friends who choose to have hospital births.
This is just my experience. I would love to hear yours.