Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why we homebirth

I have been asked by several people lately, including my sister, why we have started having babies at home instead of a hospital. It's a great question.

First off, I want to say that I am not completely anti-hospital and doctors. There are instances which in past decades would have resulted in the death of either the mother or baby or both, are now almost completely unheard of. Although the greatest step forward in the safety of childbirth came in the mid 1800's when doctors and scientists figured out that puerperal fever (childbed fever, the number one killer of new mothers) was caused by birth attendants' not washing their hands before touching the patients. Once it became common practice for physicians and midwives to sanitize their hands before attending a birth, the death rate for mothers and babies dropped dramatically.

And there are some conditions and instances when early detection can greatly help the health of the mother (like gestational diabetes) or when a natural childbirth is impossible (like with a side long breech baby who resists being turned). I am very thankful to live in a time when we don't have to fear dying in childbirth.

However, after four hospital births, Kelly and I did run into a few problems. Let's face it, hospitals are primarily for people who are sick. Childbirth is not an illness. It is a process that for 98% of women occurs with no need for intervention of any kind. And nearly every time we had a baby, we had to fight to do things the way we wanted. The hospitals all had their way of doing things, the nurses all had ways they liked to operate, and if someone came along to mess up their system, they had to be willing to be pretty assertive to get it. And frankly, in the middle of labor is not the time anyone wants to be assertive. You go to the hospital expecting help in a most special time of your life, not a battle.

And really, I don't believe we are that picky. I prefer to keep the baby with me at all times. I don't like to be tied to the bed giving birth - I want to be able to walk around, go to the restroom, change positions, etc. And I have had nurses gripe at me for doing all the above. If I changed positions, it would cause the monitor straps (which I hate with a passion! Who wants all that stuff strapped around a belly that is contracting hard enough to push a ten pound baby out?). Because of the way a hospital is set up, they tend to treat a delivery as if it were a medical problem: they know best and you just need to shut up and do what they tell you to do. And no, it doesn't matter if it is your baby and your body, they would really rather you didn't have a say in the matter.

I know that not every facility is this bad. But I have given birth in four different hospitals in two different states, and that has been largely my experience. During my fourth labor, the nurses - who didn't believe I was in labor at all - made my husband stay out in the waiting room while I changed clothes and they asked me a zillion history and physical questions. Then they would yell at me for not answering them in the middle of a contraction (my husband is great about answering questions for me when am contracting but they treated him like an interloper). They were trying to hurry up so they could send me home because they were full up. (I got the last laugh when they discovered that my water had indeed broken as I had said and I was already 7 cm dilated! I ended up having the baby right there in the triage room!)

So rather than cooperating in a natural process, just standing by in case real medical attention was needed, we have experienced a great deal of stress in dealing with hospital staff during my labors and deliveries. But it doesn't end there. My postpartum stays in the hospital have not been pleasant either. Mainly I don't get very much rest. Not only am I in a strange (plastic) bed, but the nursing staff seems to have a natural talent for coming in to take the baby's vitals or my vitals - never at the same time - just when I have finally gotten us both to sleep after a 22 hour day. With baby four (that was the hospital stay that had Kelly and I saying "never again!") one nurse woke me up to check my Foley catheter. I didn't have a Foley - it was my next door neighbor who had had a c-section.

Again, because they need to do things on their schedule, they come in to check on us when it suits them, not when we were awake. The nurses would gripe at me for having the baby is bed with me, or for having the room too cold, etc. They would come to get the baby in the middle of the night for hearing check-ups. All this led to a very exhausted Mama by the time we got home. I was usually less rested after a two day hospital stay than I was when I went into the hospital in active labor after three hours of sleep!

With baby number five, we elected to have her at home. I didn't have to rush out the door to get to the hospital on time (always an issue with my short labors). We had a very calm labor, with the midwives allowing me to do what I needed to do to have the baby, helping when it was required. And it was so relaxing afterward. I was in my own bed or own recliner for the next few days. I took our vitals when we were already awake and recorded them for the midwife. I got more sleep and more rest after that baby than with any other one.

So basically it boils down to being able to have as stress-free, natural labor with all parties cooperating with my body rather than fighting against it, and a greater ability to rest and get more sleep afterwards. We are looking forward to another homebirth!

1 comment:

Kristen & Dave said...

Well, it won't surprise you that I could echo each sentiment here, Tami. While only the first of my two hospital births was what I could call "unpleasant", even the second left me feeling, "Why aren't I at home doing this?". And like you, we decided to never go back. I could list hundreds of reasons why, but one of my favorites is that I can go into labor, be left alone a while, call the midwife, she'll come just in time to help me deliver, and then after lots of kisses, we can just roll over and go back to bed (with no one waking me up except a hungry newborn). I love it! And when someone says to me something like "but there are so many risks...", I usually say, "you should hear the risks that skyrocket for you, the moment you walk into the hospital while laboring".