When you think of birth, does a picture of a stark, whitewashed hospital room spring to mind? Or maybe a vision of a woman lying on her back in a hospital bed, groaning in pain as machines chart her contractions in the background?
To most American women, these images form part of our cultural assumptions of childbirth, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Today, more and more women are investigating birth alternatives such as home birth and birth centers to reinvent birth as the positive, personal experience is was meant to be.
Why would a woman choose to have her baby outside the hospital? Not because she’s scared of hospitals or modern medicine. And certainly not because she’s poor…. Why? Well, there are countless reasons, no doubt as varied and unique as the women who choose alternative births. Here are some I’ve come across:
- To avoid mandatory procedures. In order to function efficiently, hospitals choose to abide by mandatory procedures that are often unnecessary and even counterproductive, such as routine IV, episiotomy, no food or drink, electronic fetal monitoring, and a whole slew of procedures for the newborn.
- To promote relaxation. For nearly all women, being at home in familiar surroundings or in the more personal environment of a birth center encourages the body to relax, which helps labor progress more quickly and comfortably.
- To create intimacy. Birth should be an incredibly powerful experience that bonds mother and father to child and mother to father. By experiencing birth in a homey environment removed from whirring machines, strangers in attendance, and unfamiliar rules, birth becomes what it is meant to be.
- To have a midwife. Midwives are specialists at caring for healthy pregnant women. Research shows that women attended by midwives rather than doctors enjoy the same quality of care from a medical perspective, but far superior care from an emotional and holistic perspective. Not surprising, considering that with a midwife you get one-on-one, constant care. In some areas, it is difficult to arrange for a midwife-attended hospital birth.
- To accomplish natural birth. After reviewing the pros and cons, some women decide that a drug-free birth is best. It’s very, very difficult to say “no” to drugs that are so readily available and widely used. Having a baby at home or in a birth center makes it easier to stick to your plan.
- To take advantage of alternative pain management. Midwives have their own bag of tricks when it comes to managing pain. From laboring in water to counter pressure to massage, choosing an alternative birth usually means gaining access to many time-tested, yet drug-free means of dealing with the labor pain.
There are many more reasons to consider an alternative birth. If you feel that a natural birth may be right for you, read up on the subject and/or contact a birth center or midwife. Some great books are “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth” by Henci Goer and “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin. You can find local birth centers at http://www.birthcenters.org and midwives at http://www.cfmidwifery.org. Best wishes as you pursue the right birth plan for you and your family!
P.S. I’ve had both of my babies at home with a midwife attending. Each birth was a powerful, precious experience that I would never give up.
– Rachel Hauser, owner and young mom