Is the increasing popularity of homebirth truly consistent with a pro-life stance?

Lilly 13 weeks       Once upon a time, I was pro-choice. I was also a homebirth midwife. I remember when I believed that choices in childbirth absolutely should be covered under the same umbrella as the rest of our reproductive freedoms: My body, my choice. At that time, there was a deep divide between the types of people who had traditionally used homebirth midwives (mainly conservative religious women) and the people who were waving a new type of anti-establishment flag (my more liberal peers). I saw the merging of these two communities into one cause supporting “womens’ empowerment” as one of my young feminist hopes come to fruition. If you look closely, you will see homebirth advocates use the term “informed consent” when what they often mean is “informed choice”. That similarity of phrasing is not an accident.

I saw Business of Being Born, I read Ina May, and Anne Frye. I put in my time as a doula, as an apprentice, I worked solo. Without any certification. In my state, you don’t need it. My community declared me a midwife, and I served the needs of it.

Then, God found me. At a birth. At a homebirth. I felt the power of life. LIFE as it saw the world for the first time.  As it took its first breath, I felt the beauty of life. I also felt the delicacy, the vulnerability, and the love. I thought and thought and thought again about what being pro-choice means.  And I thought harder about what my abortions meant. In that moment, holding that perfect, beautiful creation only partly outside of its mother, I felt that life is more than a choice.  In the time following that moment, I became pro-life. I also became a fierce advocate for out of hospital birth.

Rallying for homebirth was SO EASY for me. Lobbying? Meeting with legislators? EASY. Why? Keep it safe, legal & accessible to EVERY woman. Does that sound familiar? It should, to people on both sides of the camp of birth and reproductive justice options. We are demanding the same things. I had been attending rallies saying these exact same things for years in regards to abortion. How about “Regulate the industry to increase safety”? Again…sound familiar? We are still saying the same things. Feeling manipulated yet? I did, though it took me a while to realize why…

I saw and heard of horrible things happening to women & babies while I was learning the practice of midwifery. I thought I would never practice like “those” midwives. I thought often that the midwives I worked with and for were better than the stories I had heard of, stories like the one belonging to Magnus. You can read his story here. I became friends with his parents, and I saw the isolation they experienced at trying to hold their providers accountable. They were ostracized from their community. From my community. My community shamed a mother and father whose baby died.  My community told them the most hurtful things.  My community rallied around the midwives instead of the grieving family. At what other time when a baby dies would you isolate a parent? At what other time would you abandon a person who is hurting so much? At what time would we basically tell a parent they deserve their grief because they made their choice? “In truth I tell you, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.” (MT 25:45) At what time are we called to not be compassionate?

Then a stark reality set in. Data started coming out about the safety of homebirth, not only in our country, but globally. With that information, I started questioning more. Why is it that a homebirth midwife from the States isn’t seen fit to practice in the countries that regularly use homebirth midwives? This is graphic that shows why, and the differences between what we in the United States see as acceptable qualifications compared to the rest of the developed world.

I am not anti-homebirth. I am anti-unskilled midwives parading around and taking on higher and higher risk clients and calling it a variation of normal. I am especially anti midwives using predatory practices intentionally in religious communities. They believe we are less likely to pursue legal action as we believe that ultimately God is in charge.  They believe we, religious mothers and fathers, are a good group to hone their skills on.

Midwives are taking on twins, breech babies and VBACs all at home. Those are all considered high risk patients. One mother wrote about her experience of her twin home birth.  This is not a variation of normal. These situations are just plain NOT low-risk. Midwives are trained in low-risk care. These stories of these babies lives & many others are outside their scope of practice. These are babies that should be here, who would be here if they received appropriate care. And these are babies whose lives were unnecessarily risked.  Babies like Shridam, like Sheppard, like Gavin.

So, a little more about that safety data. MANA published their own stats recently, and in doing so confirmed what a lot of us feared. Here you can read more about how these statistics were collected, from a midwife that contributed to them during her career. Homebirth in the United States IS less safe than hospital birth, and it is less safe than home birth as practiced in other countries. Your baby is LESS likely to survive.  Homebirth IS a pro-life issue because the industry has been flooded with incompetent providers. They often prey on fear and as we know, fear is not from God, but as mothers to be, we are often indeed fearful…of something.

We deserve better. Pro-life people, we are constantly decrying the OBs that perform abortions. We check their safety records, their building permits, we find fault & flaw with any thing that could possibly be there. Yet we do not apply that same rigor to choosing a homebirth midwife. The person responsible for bringing our baby safely into our healthy arms. Why? Doesn’t every baby at every stage of development deserve the same circumspection? There are midwives practicing who have had many many deaths & injuries at their hands, yet if you Google their names, nothing shows up. If you ask for referrals from your community, you will hear only the ringing endorsements.

There are absolutely GREAT midwives out there. Really, truly amazing and wonderful midwives.  Every midwife should be able to be spoken of in such a way, and every midwife should be held to the standards of the very best midwives in our country. But often, it is incredibly hard to separate the good apples from the bad. So, how do we do this? First, learn what the regulations about midwifery are in your state. Here’s a good post that covers each of the states. Then work to make midwifery care in your area more transparent. We should be able to see the history of any grievances filed, any malpractice issues, any complaints lodged for any reason. Such information is currently available for every other medical provider. If we don’t have all the information, how can we truly make the best choice?

Recently I was fortunate to be involved with the ‪#‎notburiedtwice‬ campaign that was initiated by Danielle, an amazing doula I know. You can watch that here.  Her overview of the reality of what homebirth IS in the USA is a must for anyone seeking to understand the greater issues involved with these topics.  These babies, their families, they deserve the very best we have to give. Our midwives deserve the very best we have to give.

We fight for the lives of babies in danger in the womb at the beginning of pregnancy. Should we not also be fighting to make sure they arrive in their mothers arms safely as well?

 

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12 thoughts on “Is the increasing popularity of homebirth truly consistent with a pro-life stance?

  1. A very interesting post. I have had both hopsital birth and home birth and am in the decision process for next baby. A very quick reply would be that if in the US more CNMs were allowed to pratice with more autonomy and respect in the hospitals, more women could choose hospital birth with the hope of a natural, supported birth there. I know that’s a reason a lot of my friends have felt they had to turn to homebirth; they would fit the profile of being both prolifers and wanting natural birth (which they believe is best medical pratice for low risk births, as do I), and they have (in many cases justifiably) felt the hospital is a cascade of interventions towards c-section waiting to happen. Which greatly complicates next births and *number of children* (problematic for faithful Catholics), so they feel fearful of the hospital.
    I hope that the current trend of rising awareness of natural birth and the effectiveness of properly trained midwives makes CNMs in hospitals more accessible for my daughters.

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    • Home births don’t prevent as many c-sections as their supporters claim, simply because, if you are low-risk enough to home birth, you’re pretty unlikely to need a c-section in the hospital.

      Let’s look at the lowest risk group of all, one that I’m guessing you’re in. It’s women who have previously given birth, never had a c-section, no twins, baby head-down. If you waddle into the hospital in labor at term, your probability of c-section is only 3%. Not 30%, which is the national figure for all risk groups, 3%.

      Most hospitals do support natural birth unless there’s a medical reason not to.

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      • I would say that though most OBs in hospitals give lip service to natural birth, in reality they do not have the time or enough experience of a normal birth from start to finish to fully devote to helping the woman through her birth. A CNM can. I’m not interested in arguing over stats on which environment is safer. I am interested in finding a safe solution for all women which supports their mental and emotional needs during a natural birth. Key to making hospital birth more appealing for homebirthers is reforming the current system. I like to focus on ways to do that!

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      • “if you are low-risk enough to home birth, you’re pretty unlikely to need a c-section in the hospital.”

        The cascade of interventions that leads to our high c-section rates strikes pretty universally.

        “Most hospitals do support natural birth unless there’s a medical reason not to.”

        There’s a stark difference between “allow” and “support”, “foster”, “enable”, or even just “fail to make terribly inconvenient”.

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  2. The MANA study link no longer works. Could you provide another citation for the fact that home births are less safe in the US? I’d really like to read those stats. Thanks!

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    • We will get that link changed ASAP! My main takeaway is the difference between American home birth and Canadian home birth. It’s a death rate difference of 0.35/1000 in Canada and over 1/1000 (I think it was 1.2/1000) in the US. And none of that looks at the risk of brain damage. For every excess death there is an untold number of neurological injuries. Until we get a good handle on that figure, we won’t have a full idea of actual risks of out of hospital birth in the US.

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  3. I gave birth in a hospital but with the help of a doula (Patricia Madden. She is an angel.). It was the best of both worlds. I have friends who have homebirthed without issue, but it scares me.

    The “cascade of interventions” still bothers me, but never for a moment did I buy the line of natural birth fans that “birth is as safe as life gets, your body was made to do this and won’t let you down!” What fluff-headed, rose-goggled optimism! Nature doesn’t care about you as an individual. Sure, our bodies do amazing and powerful things during birth, but uncounted millions of women died over the millennia so that those adaptations could prevail. Our species has thrived and multiplied because enough of us survived. Enough. Not all.

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  4. I feel a need to share my views, based on my experiences: 32 years working in labor and delivery with both midwives and doctors (4 hospitals, all levels of care), and giving birth to six children.
    1. Doctors are NOT out to get you delivered ASAP so they can get on with more important things. That’s just plain b.s.
    2. The main reason for the high C-section rate, in the 3000+ deliveries I attended was “maternal wimpiness” – many women simply insist on epidurals and will NOT PUSH THE BABY OUT.
    3. I have seen many a normal labor turn into a nightmare very quickly due to no one’s fault – the heart rate would fall and not come back up. Some of the babies made it to the C-section room in time, a very few did not. I shudder to think of the one’s that we saved had they been at home.
    4. It is our general observation that women who insist on controlling the labor and delivery process are far more in to themselves that to what is best for their baby.
    5. So, yes, to be truly pro-life is to work for the highest quality pre-natal care that carries through labor and delivery.

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  5. We lost our first grand daughter at 8 months gestation. They were using a midwife only, and I have often wondered if more tests and monitoring would have saved her (no ultrasounds, just stethoscope checking baby heartbeat, etc.

    My son was close to emergency delivery – his heart rate stopped with every contraction and the cord ended up wrapped around his neck. Very grateful that he is safe, healthy and now sixteen. Kind of glad I had a hospital delivery for that.

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  6. […] But then again, ignoring medical professionals may kill you and your loved ones. Having a high risk home-birth is anti-pro-life. It threatens the life of the infant and the mother and it puts the father at risk of becoming a single dad. Film’s like The Business of Being Born should be damned to the deepest pit of Hell. That’s not hyperbole, the implications in this film is so shoddy and irresponsible that I am convinced that it is specifically designed to seduce Christians and make them feel guilty about doing what was medically best for their child. Birth is not about an “experience,” it’s about bringing a child into the world safety. A C-section scar does not make any woman a failure or a sucker, it makes her a hero. Remember, no human being on Earth would dedicate fifteen years of their life to becoming a labor and delivery doctor so that they could deceive mothers and make a quick buck. There are easier, quicker, and less abhorrent ways of cheating people. These doctors do what they do because they love women and they love babies. The same is true of most (but not all) medical professionals. It is in the devil’s best interest to corrupt your trust in these people. The devil wants to make you the fool. Don’t let him. (If you’re interested in reading more about this, start with this excellent article at Rational Catholic.) […]

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