In a recent report that is more sensationalism than journalism, the Washington Post warns women to read their article prior to deciding on a home birth. The Post quotes from ACOG: “Choosing to deliver a baby at home, however, is to place the process of giving birth over the goal of having a healthy baby”, and Lancet: “Women have the right to choose how and where to give birth, but they do not have the right to put their baby at risk.”
Really? Let’s examine these two premises:
1. Women who choose to give birth at home are more concerned with their ‘experience’ than whether their baby lives or dies.
2. Women do not have the right to put their babies at risk.
Having had seven home births myself, I know that my personal reasons for giving birth at home had nothing to do with my “experience” and everything to do with my baby’s health. I believed, after working in a hospital labor and delivery unit, and studying everything I could find on hospital vs. home birth, that as long as my labor progressed normally, my baby would be safest and healthiest at home. As a midwife, I have time and again seen women selflessly choose surgery they are afraid of or procedures that are scary and painful, all for the purpose of doing what’s best for the baby. I have never known a woman who has truly believed she was endangering her baby’s health, yet continued to place her “experience” above safety.
Do women have the right to put their babies at risk? Women have the right to abort their babies, which I suppose could be considered the ultimate “risk”. Women have the right to smoke throughout their pregnancies, despite the known harmful effects on the fetus. Why then, do they suddenly lose the right to make a choice that supposedly puts the fetus at risk, simply because the choice occurs at the time of birth? I suspect this is purely related to medicolegal risks. Physicians are fearful of being blamed for events and actions that occured during a planned home birth, prior to the woman transferring care into the hospital. This is termed vicarious liability, and although it is a myth that has been thoroughly debunked, many practitioners are still fearful.
Some physicians are angry about home birth because their only experience with home birth has been caring for a woman who has transferred care because of complications during labor or birth. They are unaware of the hundreds of safe, normal home births that occur each year. They are also often ignorant about what happens at a home birth. I had a physician ask me once how I cut the baby’s cord at a home birth. When I explained to him that I carried all the same equipment to a home birth as I had at a hospital birth, he was astounded. He was completely uneducated about the process of birth at home, yet was more than willing to make judgements regarding something he knew little of.
The Post would have us believe that there is a dearth of scientific literature regarding the safety of home birth, and they do not cite or discuss even one of the several recent, large studies that have supported the safety of home birth.
The Post states that home birth is safer for the mother, an conclusion that is amazing to me, since the medical profession has for years asserted that mothers’ lives were endangered by home birth. I guess since they’ve not been successful in proving that theory, they’ve now moved to the theory that it’s safer for mom, but riskier for baby, and what good mother would put her own life and health above that of her baby’s?
Interestingly, ACOG and the American Medical Association both support births in licensed freestanding birth centers as being safe alternatives to home births. As a midwife who has owned and practiced in a birth center, as well as attended many home births, I can assure you there is absolutely no difference in safety between a home and birth center birth, provided the home setting is not unreasonably far from the hospital.
It is time for women, as well as those who love them, to wake up and realize the frailty of the arguments being spouted by the medical community, and the paucity of true journalism in the media, in that they often simply regurgitate what the medical community reports, without researching the validity of the arguments.