Is it Safe to Give Birth Outside of the Hospital?

“Is planned, intentional birthing outside of the hospital a safe option for couples?”

That was my question to my neighbor who was planning her first homebirth over forty years ago.  I thought she was crazy to even consider such an option.

After visiting with her for an hour, my eyes were opened to the realization that many protocols in the hospital’s labor and delivery ward were based on convenience and not evidence-based science.

She pointed out that most women are low risk.  Yet when they enter the hospital maternity ward, they receive the same care reserved for the high-risk women.  These include routine IVs, continuous electronic fetal heart monitoring, being told that they must ‘fast’ while in labor, etc.  Plus, interventions to ‘speed up the process’ are more common, due to the fact that if problems arise, there is plenty of staff and medical equipment to deal with the complication.  It’s as though the mother has no voice, no say in her options.

I didn’t know I could have a say.  What a new concept.

Compare this experience with being attended to by a midwife whose main focus is prevention.  She develops skills to recognize potential problems and to address them prenatally.  The advent of a surprise breech presentation when the mother begins labor is far less likely because the midwife has been watching for this and taken steps to encourage the fetus to rotate ahead of time.  The midwife is a guardian who carefully monitors the progress of labor without undue interference.

Birthing outside of the hospital lends itself to the mother and family being more comfortable and being able to be in an environment like home.  Women appreciate being attended to by midwives they’ve come to know and trust over the entire pregnancy.  Labor and birth progress naturally at a pace her body has determined.

Peace and serenity are commonplace words.  The midwife works harmoniously with the couple as the midwife counsels them with their options.  The couple is encouraged to voice their wishes.  These wishes are an expression of their informed consent, having carefully studied throughout the pregnancy.

“As far as safety, was there undue risk?”  This was my next question to my neighbor, and I’m betting you have asked the same thing.  (Maybe you’re asking it now, in fact.)

She explained that the fetus in a healthy woman is resilient and has a reserve of its own.  If the fetus begins to struggle in labor, it will become evident as the midwife monitors its heart rate.  Most commonly, if there are problems, the labor ceases to progress.  There is time to transfer to the hospital where the mother can receive the care that she needs.

If the baby has difficulty breathing when it is born, the midwives are trained to assist with neonatal resuscitation.  The most common complication for women is hemorrhage.  Licensed midwives have a store of herbs and drugs to assist the mother in this event.  Giving birth has inherent risk no matter where the mother is for her labor and birth.  Birthing outside of the hospital is another safe option.

I happened to be 7 months pregnant when I visited with her that day.  I pondered her words as I carried through with my planned hospital birth.  I was able to do the birth naturally but it was not punctuated with words of peace and serenity.  By our fourth child, I was ready to try something different.  We chose to have a homebirth, being cared for by a midwife we had grown to trust.

The birth was still challenging as far as labor in the natural sense, but it was also very peaceful and serene. I loved being in our home and having many more choices before us.  It was right for us.

I had a voice.

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