NEW YORK — One mother chose home birth because it was cheaper than going to a hospital. Another gave birth at home because she has multiple sclerosis and feared unnecessary medical intervention. And some choose home births after cesarean sections with their first babies.
Whatever their motivation, all are among a striking trend: Home births increased 20 percent from 2004 to 2008, accounting for 28,357 of 4.2 million U.S. births, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in May.
White women led the drive, with 1 in 98 having babies at home in 2008, compared to 1 in 357 black women and 1 in 500 Hispanic women.
Sherry Hopkins, a Las Vegas midwife, said the women whose home births she’s attended include a pediatrician, an emergency room doctor and nurses. “We’re definitely seeing well-educated and well-informed people who want to give birth at home,” she said.
Robbie Davis-Floyd, a medical anthropologist at the University of Texas at Austin and researcher on global trends in childbirth, obstetrics and midwifery, said “at first, in the 1970s, it was largely a hippie, countercultural thing to give birth outside of the hospital. Over the years, as the formerly ‘lay’ midwives have become far more sophisticated, so has their clientele.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which certifies OB-GYNs, warns that home births can be unsafe, especially if the mother has high-risk conditions, if a birth attendant is inadequately trained and if there’s no nearby hospital in case of emergency. Some doctors also question whether a “feminist machoism” is at play in wanting to give birth at home.
But home birthers say they want to be free of drugs, fetal monitors, IVs and pressure to hurry their labor at the behest of doctors and hospitals. They prefer to labor in tubs of water or on hands and knees, walk around their living rooms or take comfort in their own beds, surrounded by loved ones as they listen to music or hypnosis recordings with the support of midwives and doulas. Some even go without midwives and rely on husbands or other non-professionals for support.
Julie Jacobs, 38, of Baltimore, who has multiple sclerosis, said she “chose midwives and hypnosis because I wanted to surround myself with people who would support me as a birthing mother, rather than view me as an MS patient who would be a liability in need of interventions at every turn.”
Her first two children were born in a freestanding birth center operated by midwives. After the center closed, her third child was born at home in 2007. “If I had been in a hospital I probably would have had C-sections for all three,” she said. “With the first, I would have been terrified to try a home birth. After the second one I was like, hey, I can’t necessarily walk in a straight line, but I can do this.”
Some home birthers cite concerns over cesarean sections. The U.S. rate of C-sections in hospitals hovers around 32 percent, soaring up to 60 percent in some areas. In some cases, there’s a “too posh to push” mentality of scheduled inductions for convenience sake (Victoria Beckham had three).
Gina Crosley-Corcoran, a Chicago blogger and pre-law student, had a C-section with her first baby and chronicled nightmarish pressure from nurses and doctors to abandon a vaginal birth with her second. She followed up with a third child born at home in April.
“I do think there’s a backlash against what’s happening in hospitals,” she said. “Women are finding that the hospital experience wasn’t a good one.”
In Portland, Ore., acupuncturist Becca Seitz gave birth to both her children at home, the first time in 2007 because she and her husband were without insurance.
“It was never on my radar, until we couldn’t afford otherwise,” she said. “I’m granola, but not that granola. It cost us $3,300, as opposed to over $10,000 in a hospital.”
Her midwife was prepared with the drug Pitocin, oxygen and other medical equipment.