Is Home birth dangerous?
Anyone who thinks that homebirth is dangerous is totally uninformed. Birth is inherently a tiny bit risky. No matter where you give birth, there is a very small chance that you or your baby could die or have complications. In our country, you have an 8 in 100,000 chance of dying during or right after childbirth.[i] Statistically, both maternal and infant death are higher in hospital births than in homebirths. Interventions in the hospital such as drugs, epidural, c-section, episiotomy, forceps use, vacuum extraction etc. are leading factors in birth complications. These interventions are unnecessary about 93% of the time.
The main risk at home is the miniscule chance that the baby would need life-saving intervention at the moment of birth. The main risks in the hospital are due to the high instance of unnecessary intervention and human error. As you’ll read later, medical errors in hospitals cause more deaths than car accidents each year. Every single study shows homebirth to be safer for both mother and child.
What it boils down to is this: giving birth is safe. There is no reason to fear birthing anywhere. You have the option to do it at home if you want to. If you are at home and your midwife suspects a problem, you will transport to a hospital. Homebirth is not just safer than hospital birth, it is more spiritual as well.
Imagine this. You’re about to experience one of the single most magical days of your life. Instead of going to a room you’ve never been in with people you’ve never seen before, you find yourself in your own room surrounded by familiar faces. Anyone you want to be there with you can be. You have your sweet music playing. You have candles lit. Your pets are there. You slip in and out of your own warm bathtub. You walk around, naked if you want, by the time you’re tired of your clothes. You sing and make the noises of a female mammal preparing to give birth. The spiritual nature of birth, whatever that means to you, is unhindered. You don’t care who can hear you. You walk around your yard or down the street if you want. You come in and rest for a minute on your couch. You call a friend. You kiss and lay with your husband. You do some yoga. You make sure someone is taking pictures.
You have your baby. The midwife places her on your belly and she starts immediately to nurse. The emotion you feel is indescribable. The lights are dim and the welcome music for your child is playing. The feeling in the room is overwhelmingly spiritual in nature, similar to when someone is dying. The miracle of life, contact with the great unknown, and union with the spiritual world has just taken place. The placenta comes and your partner cuts the cord if he wants to do so. The midwife shows you your placenta and asks what you want to do with it. She and her apprentices help you to get cleaned up and put the room in order. No one ever once takes your baby away from you without your consent. No one gives your baby a mandatory vaccination. You never get in a car. You spend the night at home… with your baby. The memories of birthing at home are yours forever – that cedar branch you hung from during contractions, the look on your mom’s face as she stood at the door of your bedroom watching her grandson crown, that exact place on the floor where your baby was unexpectedly delivered. This is homebirth.
Having a baby at home wouldn’t have ever crossed my mind
I never would have thought that you could have your baby at home; I’m the fourth of four children happily born in the hospital. Homebirth would never have crossed my mind, except that I got the rare chance to see one. Considering how much I like to avoid hospitals, I was immediately enthralled. I don’t even want to die in a hospital. The only reason you’ll catch me in a hospital is if my life needs to be saved. If I’m just doing something that doesn’t require a doctor, like being born or dying, I’d like to be with friends and family.
Homebirth is statistically safer than hospital birth, yet less than 1% of American babies are born at home. In a six year study done by the Texas Department of Health, it was found that midwife attended birth has about 1/3 the infant mortality rate of physician attended birth.[ii]
In the Netherlands, 34% of babies are born at home with midwives,[iii] and it stands to reason then that the infant[iv] and maternal[v] mortality rates are lower there. In the same way that it’s not logical to be afraid of flying since you’re more likely to die each time you step into your car than each time you board an airplane, it’s not logical to be afraid to give birth at home. We fear the unknown, and that’s the problem here. Ninety-nine percent of babies are born in hospitals, which renders homebirth an unknown. You are more likely to encounter a problem or to require intervention when you give birth in a hospital. The reasons for this are numerous.
If you give birth at home, you are not at risk of hospital error.
First of all, childbirth is not a medical condition and should not be treated that way. Medical errors in hospitals cause more deaths than car accidents each year. (See the following excerpt for the reference.) If you are healthy and not dying, you are wise to stay away from hospitals. Hospitals are where sick people go. The hospital staff is looking for pathology and problems. It disturbs me greatly that there are those who insist that hospitals are the only place where women should legally be allowed to give birth. If you give birth at home, you are not at risk of hospital error. An in-depth study came out in the year 2000 called To Err is Human. The following is an excerpt:
The knowledgeable health reporter for the Boston Globe, Betsy Lehman, died from an overdose during chemotherapy. Willie King had the wrong leg amputated. Ben Kolb was eight years old when he died during ”minor” surgery due to a drug mix-up.
These horrific cases that make the headlines are just the tip of the iceberg. Two large studies, one conducted in Colorado and Utah and the other in New York, found that adverse events occurred in 2.9 and 3.7 percent of hospitalizations, respectively. In Colorado and Utah hospitals, 6.6 percent of adverse events led to death, as compared with 13.6 percent in New York hospitals. In both of these studies, over half of these adverse events resulted from medical errors and could have been prevented.
When extrapolated to the over 33.6 million admissions to U.S. hospitals in 1997, the results of the study in Colorado and Utah imply that at least 44,000 Americans die each year as a result of medical errors. The results of the New York Study suggest the number may be as high as 98,000. Even when using the lower estimate, deaths due to medical errors exceed the number attributable to the 8th-leading cause of death. More people die in a given year as a result of medical errors than from motor vehicle accidents (43,458), breast cancer (42,297), or AIDS (16,516).[vi]
If you have what’s considered a “high risk” pregnancy, then you might be required by the laws of your state to give birth in a hospital, or you might just want to. Usually women who have health issues are considered “high risk.” Women with cancer, diabetes, and other medical conditions and illnesses fall into this category. Women who develop toxemia, preeclampsia, or who have multiple fetuses are also considered “high risk.” Breech babies, twins, and moms who are over 40 can absolutely experience birth at home successfully. Your rate of transport to the hospital will be higher, but if you want to be at home you probably can be. If you’re having twins, your state might require that you and your midwife meet at the hospital, but you can still have your babies with your midwife as naturally as possible. My midwife, personally, will only assist with twins at the hospital.
People often compare labor to running a marathon. Indeed, they both require a high level of fitness. People sometimes collapse and need medical attention during a marathon, but that doesn’t mean that marathons should be held in a hospital. You go to the hospital if you need to. Labor, like a marathon, can be grueling and deeply spiritual, but other than that, neither of them is all that big of a deal. People do them all the time.
I have to stress here that the decision of where to give birth should rely on where you feel the most comfortable, on where you feel the least fear. You must feel empowered by your decision. Spend some time considering where you want to give birth: home, birthing center, or hospital. Weigh the possibilities. Even if the idea of homebirth is like a fairytale to you, but you still fear not being in a hospital, go with the decision that reduces your fear the most. If you are scared to give birth at home, then don’t. If you’re scared of hospitals, give birth at home or at a birthing center. Ideally you’ll be at peace with the process no matter where you end up. Fear is not your friend. It would be best to surrender all your fear. Watch birth videos (Youtube is a great resource for birth videos including home births), watch “The Business of Being Born,” and interview a midwife. If you’re still certain that the hospital is for you, then go there and never think about it again. You are no less of a Goddess. Birth is magical no matter where it happens.
I’m just so honored to be among the 1% who has gotten to experience birth as all of our grandmothers did it. It was so natural, normal, spiritual and I never left home. And that rocks.
[i] NationMaster, “Health Statistics > Maternal mortality (most recent) by country,” NationMaster, http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_mat_mor-health-maternal-mortality (accessed Sept. 23, 2008).
[ii](Texas Lay midwifery Program, Six Year Report, 1983- 1989, Bernstein & Bryant, Appendix Vlllf, Texas Department of Health, 1100 West 49th St., Austin, TX 78756-3199.)
[iii]Jan Poorter, Primary Health Care in the Netherlands, Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (The Hague: January 2005): 31; www.minvws.nl/en/folders/cz/2005/primary-health-care.asp (accessed Sept. 23, 2008).
[iv] Geography IQ, “Rankings > Infant mortality rate,” Geography IQ, http://www.geographyiq.com/ranking/ranking_Infant_Mortality_Rate_aall.htm (accessed Sept. 23, 2008).
[v] NationMaster, “Health Statistics > Maternal mortality (most recent) by country,” NationMaster, http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_mat_mor-health-maternal-mortality (accessed Sept. 23, 2008).
[vi] Linda T. Kohn, Janet M. Corrigan, and Molla S. Donaldson, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System. (The National Academies Press, 2000),1. http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=9728&page=1 (accessed Sept. 17,2008).