I chose to share my home birth story, and thoughts on home birth in response to this article:
I have read this article over several times now, and every time, it seems I have a different opinion or a different flood of emotion. The topic of home birth can be a polarizing one, with some adamantly against the idea, and some who would choose to birth nowhere but the comfort of their own home. Let me first say that I think that every mother-to-be has the right to choose her own birth preferences, based on her personal feelings and the health of both mom and baby. That being said, there is something to say about INFORMED choice, and I hope that moms-to-be take the time to explore the options surrounding birth, get educated on these options and make an informed decision. As a second note, upon becoming informed, it is easy to see that home birth is in fact safe, if not safer, than hospital birth.
Back to the article. What first grabbed my attention was the summary at the beginning:
“a beautifully photographed home water birth that ended up with the baby rushed to the NICU and the mother following shortly behind“.
And here, my first thoughts were, “Just like me.” I could immediately relate to this story personally, because I had that home birth. I had the home birth no one plans for, where that glorious, blissful first look at your baby on your chest was replaced with your midwives resuscitating the baby you just birthed but didn’t see, and that baby being rushed into an ambulance without even a first glance. Yeah, I had THAT home birth. The one that was fine, long, painful, but painfully normal, until the final hour, when everything went south. When there wasn’t time to go to the hospital. When you threw all your Hypnobirthing practices out the window. When you heard the slowest, scariest little heartbeat on the Doppler. When there wasn’t time to do anything but exactly what your midwife said: “push as long as you can, as hard as you can, and get this baby out NOW.” So when I saw that this birth story was a story like mine, I felt a mix of emotions. I felt sympathy for this mother, who endured a similar experience to mine, and how that may have affected her and her relationship with her baby. I felt sad, bringing up the feelings of disappointment that I have about my own experience, even though I have worked through these emotions and have realized that I can’t change how things went, and thankfully, I have a beautiful, thriving son as a result (although I do agree with the article that this is not helpful to hear as you’re working through the emotions of a stressful or traumatic birth). And I also felt relief, that someone was writing the other side of home birth. Not necessarily a negative view of home birth in general, but a contrast to the rosy, perfect, beautiful home birth stories we so often see (and love!) online in blogs. I too was prepared. I took the classes, I read the books, I hired a doula, I was consumed by birth. Yet, mine was also the birth story where you say, “I was not happy with my birth. It was traumatizing. I’m disappointed.”
Now, no two births are exactly alike, so of course among the similarities, there are many differences between this mother’s birth story and my own. When she begins describing the actual birth of her son, I began to feel angry, almost enraged on her behalf. It sounds like no one was taking what appeared to be an emergent situation seriously. If you can have any expectations about your birth experience, I feel like you can at least expect and trust that you are in the care of competent professionals who know what to do not in the event that everything goes perfectly normal, but in the event that it doesn’t. Thankfully for me, I feel like my birth team acted appropriately for the situation, calling EMS, and taking the precautions necessary for ensuring my son’s health and safety, even if that meant disappointments for me. I would far rather that caregivers err on the side of caution, suggesting a move to a hospital or calling in paramedics when it may turn out to be unnecessary, than the other way around. This made me extremely thankful for my birth team and their actions once things turned emergent.
I was especially thankful for their continued support after the birth, because unlike the mother in the article, who describes hospital staff as “true heroes” who “picked up the pieces”, my experience with the hospital staff was far less than supportive. I arrived at the hospital almost three hours after my son. My midwives did everything possible to get me there as soon as possible, but obviously there was some recovering that needed to be done before I left home (you know, simple little tasks like delivering the placenta, getting a catheter because for the first time in 9 months I was suddenly unable to pee…). I felt like I was trekking through a desert, literally the ONLY thing on my mind being to put one foot in front of the other to get to my baby and hold him for the first time. And that was met with a big fat NO from his attending NICU nurse. No. I was not able to hold my baby. He had been through a lot, and needed to rest (she tells me as I am watching him cry and startle and flail in the incubator). The longest hour of my life passed before I was finally “allowed” to hold my baby. And I felt like it was a big “suck it!” to the nurses when he immediately stopped crying and fell into a peaceful sleep the moment he lay on my chest. They also told me I was not able to try breastfeeding at that time, and turned this into some fear mongering of their own with their reasoning being that he was still trying to recover, and if he relaxed while breastfeeding he may lose some of his “fight” and deteriorate. “You don’t want him to have to go to Sick Kids”, one nurse warned me. Well, thank you so much for SCARING me out of nursing my baby who had been rooting around since he touched my skin. Thankfully we were quickly out of the NICU and admitted to a private room on the pediatric floor, with a doctor I liked checking in every so often, but otherwise left to cuddle our baby and successfully start breastfeeding. This was one of my biggest reasons for wanting to avoid a hospital birth and the protocols and rules that go along with it, in favour of being home with a supportive team of midwives.
While this mother is totally validated in her feelings, where I strongly disagree is the “fear mongering” (for lack of a better term) she is projecting on other mothers. Again, no two births are alike. I have of course shared my experience with other mom friends and moms-to-be, but I would never try to influence someone else’s birth choice based on my experience, especially in a negative way. I would never tell someone, “don’t make the same mistake I did”. If someone asks for my story, with all the nitty gritty details, I’ll tell them how scary it was. How we didn’t know anything was wrong until the last minute. How I’m so glad the only reason we decided on home birth was the reassurance that we were close to a hospital. And then I wait for the two questions I have come to expect, first being, “would you have done things differently?” My answer? No. Our son was born at home, just as we had hoped. Our son was thriving within hours of his traumatic birth. And most importantly, I repeat the first thing my midwife said to me when I met her at the hospital. Nothing about my son’s birth would have been different had we been at the hospital. I still would not have been able to have my son placed on my chest, which is to this day, my biggest disappointment. He still would have had the heart rate drops, he still would have been able to have been born naturally and vaginally, he still would have needed resuscitation at birth. No, there wouldn’t have been the ambulance transport, but during this short time, he was monitored by trained professionals, including my midwife, who had the necessary tools to help him, along with paramedics. Regardless of the location, IT STILL WOULD HAVE BEEN SCARY, but had we been at the hospital, the experience as a whole (meaning the 21 of 22 hours that were completely normal) wouldn’t have come close to the birth I wanted. The mother in this article seems to feel that her experience would have been different if she were in a hospital and says several times how much she regrets being at home. Being at a hospital would not have changed any of the outcomes in my birth, so I would not have done anything differently.
And then the second, similar question: “would you have another home birth?” Well, this is a loaded question because here’s the kicker: I’m pregnant. And I have to do this whole birth thing again. And I have to choose, based on this experience, whether to have a home or hospital birth. My answer right now? Plan for a home birth but wait and see. I said it with my first birth and I’ll say the same this time around: plan for a home birth, be prepared for things to change. With so many factors to consider, it’s impossible to say with any certainty where I will be able to or prefer to give birth. We would be thrilled to have the home birth we’ve hoped for, but I will prepare myself for the fact that I could have one contraction and be the first one in the car, wanting to go to the hospital. I’m a planner. It is not in my personality to say, “let’s wait and see”. But with birth? Expect the unexpected, or better yet, have no expectations. Be ready, be educated, be informed, have support. Know the benefits, know the risks, the statistics and the research. Then decide what feels right for you. Yes, I had a scary home birth, but you won’t find me saying “I regret it”.
Now, I guess all I have to say is, here we go again! Second time’s a charm?
Becky has been in love with babies since the days of begging to change her younger cousin’s diapers. She has always had an interest in the world of pregnancy and parenting and is now the Business Development Director for bebo mia.
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