A growing number of educated, health-conscious women are opting to have their babies at home with a midwife, instead of in a hospital with a doctor. For instance, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 29-percent increase in home births from 2004 to 2009, with the biggest increase coming from married, white women who already had children.
Not surprisingly, many doctors disapprove.
The question is, who should have the final say about where a baby is born?
In North Carolina, it’s not the parent.
While it is not illegal to give birth at home — some women do it by accident — it has been illegal to do so with the help of a midwife in North Carolina since 1983. As most women aren’t willing to give birth unassisted, home birth is not an option for them.
To obstetricians looking to protect their trade, that’s a good thing. Although I’m sure they genuinely are concerned about our safety.
Even so, obstetricians actively seek to suppress home births. As partial justification, they cite a study published by the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology warning that planned home births have a neonatal death rate “at least twice as high” as that of planned hospital births.
The statistic was repeated often last summer in a legislative committee meeting, at which state lawmakers considered licensing midwives.
But the figure is misleading. A rate “twice as high” represents two out of 1,000 deaths, rather than one out of 1,000 deaths. That’s a miniscule difference, if you trust the study, which most home birth advocates don’t.
What the doctors also failed to mention is that the same study admits there is no significant difference in perinatal mortality (or the death of a fetus), which includes stillbirths.
In fact, midwives argue that some hospitals have even higher perinatal mortality rates because of babies being delivered forcibly — through labor induction and cesarean sections — before they are ready.
Additionally the study says there is no difference in the maternal death rate, and that women who planned to give birth at home were less likely to end up with episiotomies, lacerations, or infections.
More importantly, home births are much less likely to result in c-sections. Nearly one of three hospital births in North Carolina is by c-section.
C-sections have been linked to a long list of problems for infants, including premature birth, respiratory and breastfeeding complications, and an increased risk of obesity. For the mother, c-sections are associated with increased blood loss, increased recovery time, and increased chance of death.
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons more women are deciding to have their babies at home.
For me, safety was the top concern. Once I had established that my baby and I had about the same chances of survival at home as we did in the hospital, I considered all the other health risks associated with each place.
A first-time mother and a health fanatic, I did my research and concluded that the safest place for me to welcome my daughter into the world was at the foot of my bed in a pool of warm water, with the help and encouragement of two midwives.
Had I been convinced a hospital was the safest and healthiest place for her to be born, we would have been there. But I wasn’t convinced, and as a parent, I should have the right to follow my convictions about what is best for my child.
Unless someone can prove that giving birth outside of a hospital is abusive or neglectful, the government has no business telling me where I can and cannot give birth to my child, or whom I can hire to assist me.
A few weeks ago, one of my midwives was forced to sign a cease and desist order or be arrested for “practicing midwifery” without a license. She was caught after transporting a woman — whose labor was not progressing normally — to the hospital. Three other women have been arrested in North Carolina for “practicing midwifery” within the last two years.
This is outrageous. These are competent, educated, and skilled women, who have helped deliver thousands of healthy babies. Hundreds of women in this state love and rely on these women. Without them, we will be forced to cross state lines to deliver our babies in peaceful, non-hospital settings. Some, who don’t have that option, will resort to going it alone.
Instead of throwing midwives in jail — which makes them afraid to transfer women to hospitals when necessary — the state should respect women’s choices and legalize them. Before the short session ends would be ideal, but if not that soon, at least before I’m ready to have my second child.
Sara Burrows is a contributor to Carolina Journal.