A big part of my pregnancy is planning for my labor and delivery. I do this a little differently than most, and for anyone who might be planning a natural birth, I thought I’ll start sharing more about how we do things, starting with some frequently asked questions. I get asked a LOT of questions about home birth and natural birth and I am always so happy to answer. There are a lot of misconceptions about birthing this way, so I’m happy to clear some up in my own terms.
To give a little back info, I had my first baby in a hospital with an epidural and pitocin and all the seemingly “normal” things you’ll find in a hospital birth these days. When feeling like I had missed out on some of my experience, I started looking into different ways to do things. 19 months from my first (hospital) delivery, I delivered another baby girl completely natural in my bedroom. It was the best experience of my whole entire life and I honestly can’t wait to do it again.
Because I have experienced things both ways, I feel like I’m not quite as biased as someone who has only done it in a hospital or at home, or just medicated or natural. I’m so thankful for both of my experiences as they benefited me greatly as a woman, and I’m fortunate to have both perspectives.
1. How do you plan for a natural birth?
Preparing for a natural birth is essential to succeeding with a natural birth. You’ll hear often “education is power”. I took this very seriously and ready every birth book I could get my hands on. I found it to be so much easier and more enjoyable in my delivery when I knew what was going on with my body. I knew what transition was and it wasn’t as overwhelming or “scary” to go through because I knew just over that hump, my baby would be here. I also educated myself on WHY I was choosing natural birth. I read the affects of medication and interventions commonly used in birth in hospitals and it made it easier knowing what I wanted for my baby. Just like I would research any medication or food I was giving my kids out of the womb, I do the exact same thing while they’re still in. I think educating yourself and preparing yourself is essential in a great birth experience. They often compare natural birth to running a marathon. When you’re trained and prepared to do it, it can be a wonderful and gratifying experience. If you’re not properly trained, it could be painful and miserable!
2. I could never be go natural! How did you deal with the pain?
I have said in my lifetime, “I would never have a natural birth.” In our culture, it’s been taught as such a scary thing. If you can do it without any pain vs. doing it with constant excruciating pain, why would anyone consider the latter? Right? Wrong. Natural birth is almost NOTHING like you expect it to be, and nothing like it’s portrayed to be in our society. It’s not excruciatingly painful.. in fact I hate even using the word “pain” to describe childbirth. I always say, it’s the most intense you’ll ever feel, and the most uncomfortable you’ll ever be, but I wouldn’t call what it feels like “pain”. We’ve all heard the horror stories or someone going into the hospital and it’s too late for her epidural and she says it’s the worst thing she’s ever done. All I can think of is that poor poor girl who was so unprepared for what she was about to do. It would be the same thing if you hadn’t run a day in your life and I forced you to run a 26.2 mile race. You would say it was miserable and you would swear up and down you would never, ever do it again. But there are people who run the marathon year after year, so there’s got to be something to it, right? There’s so much more to natural birth than what appears. It’s spiritual and emotional and it will help you connect with yourself as a woman like nothing else. The hormones involved are what help you bond with and love your baby and your partner. To experience your own instincts and capabilities that God created for you is truly just amazing. The contractions are intense and sometimes hurt, but the peace between the contractions is probably the best you’ve ever felt in your life. It’s a constant surge of oxytocin (your “love hormone”) after each contraction and it feels like complete euphoria. When you have no medication augmenting your contractions (like pitocin, cytotek, etc.) your body can do exactly what it knows to do. You can’t push yourself past your level of pain tolerance, which is why you can’t break your own arm or stab yourself in the leg. Natural birth is the same concept. Your body knows exactly what it can handle and absolutely will not push you beyond your limit, whatever it may be. I think that was the most comforting thing for me to experience during my birth. How well my body takes care of itself. It gave me such an appreciation for it. During my labor I would have a really intense contraction, but then the next few wouldn’t be very bad at all, my body’s own way of giving me a rest.
To prepare for labor, we did the Bradley Method which is just one of the ways taught to deal with natural birth. The Bradley Method is “husband coached childbirth” and it was the perfect fit for us. The class focuses on methods or relaxation during contractions, yoga-type poses to help your body strengthen for labor, and the importance of the partner’s role during labor and delivery. I think this method really helped my labor go smoothly.
3. What if something goes wrong at your home birth? (my number one question)
I get this question ALL THE TIME. Especially from my nurse friends and people who have had something go wrong with (or know someone who has had something go wrong with) one of their hospital births. It’s a completely valid question. If something went wrong during my home birth, I would do the exact same thing if something went wrong in a hospital birth. If the baby was in distress, I would be given oxygen at home, just like you would be at the hospital. My midwife might have me change positions, etc. to see if that helped take the stress off the baby. If that still didn’t help, we would start discussing our options and if we felt it was urgent enough, we would transport (3 minute drive) to the hospital where we would wait to be consulted by the doctor and he would wait and monitor me to decide what was best. The only difference between me at home and you at the hospital would be my quick drive there instead of waiting in my bed. Babies show sign of trouble usually long before the true danger is there. Babies are so smart and somehow know exactly what they need to come into this world. You’ve probably never heard a realistic story of a baby getting stressed and a doctor running into the delivery room with his scalpel and cutting the baby out without anesthesia because there was no time. There is time, sometimes less than others, but there is and should be time for you to decide with the explanation of your doctor and/or midwife what is best for your baby.
Another thing to consider as far as safety goes.. To have a home birth, you must be “low risk”. Over 90% of low risk births wont need any medical intervention, or hospital for that matter, which makes them safer than the flu or common cold. Also, the majority of complications during labor and delivery in hospital births are actually due to the unnecessary interventions (pitocin, epidural, medicine reactions, infections, etc.) With each intervention, your risk for c-section and baby/mom safety goes up. If you’re low risk, laboring at home free of any unnecessary interventions, you have a very, very low risk of things going wrong. In fact, if you are a low risk delivering mother, your risk of developing an infection at the hospital you’re delivering at is greater than the risk of something going wrong with you or your baby… which makes home birth actually a safer option for you and your baby (where infections are virtually non existent), statistically speaking. (this is based on my own extensive research and a slew of medical statistics reviewed, and actually confirmed by my OBGYN. If you are considering either a home birth or a hospital birth, I recommend you doing the same type of research to determine what is the safest option for you and your baby.)
4. Why do you choose home birth over natural hospital birth?
This is also a great question. I think that because I choose to deliver at home, people think I am a pro-home birther and anti-hospital birther. Not even. I am a birth photographer and see beautiful hospital births on the regular. I have heard of wonderful experiences to be had at the hospital and nothing makes my heart happier than someone who has sought out a great hospital delivery and got it! I don’t think home birth is for everyone, just like I don’t think hospital birth is for everyone. The only thing I am absolutely “pro” is CHOICE. We live in a free country and how wonderful it is that we can choose where and how we birth. This is a big deal, sisters! Nothing, nothing, nothing will shape your life like your delivery will. You should have the kind experience you want.
In my experiences, to get the experience I want, a home birth is just so much easier. I don’t have to fight anyone on anything, I don’t have a single soul telling me what I need to do for my baby, no one gives me dirty looks or threats when I say “no shots at birth” or “no goop in the eyes because I don’t have chlamydia or gonorrhea”. For me, the success of my experience is based on one thing: the success of my baby’s experience. I don’t like the regular protocols in hospitals (being strapped in a monitor, needles in my arms and not being able to freely do what I want while I’m uncomfortable and achy), I don’t like the disregard for my experience and my baby’s experience (hospital staff treating it like their everyday job and not my once in a lifetime exerience.) I don’t think they’re gentle and loving with these new little lives (taking baby from mama straight away to weight/clean/diaper when babe wants to stay with mama and mama wants to stay with babe). It IS possible to surpass these things, but it is not easy to do. To have the experience I want, I would have to fight for every single step of the way and be treated like a thorn in the side because of it. When I birth at home, I choose every aspect of what I want for me and my baby. It’s safe and comfortable and no one interferes with that. I know everyone there and when our baby is born, a celebration is had by all – including my midwife and birth team. It’s very intimate and personal. It’s exactly what I wanted after my hospital birth and it’s exactly what I got. I birth at home because it’s the kind of intimate experience I want to have, I am low risk and so it is safe for me, I love my midwife and I feel she gives me exponentially better care than any OB. Bottom line, I trust my body. I’m not sick or have a medical emergency on my hands. I am simply doing exactly what I was created to do, and God willing, I have been able to successfully deliver my children without a problem.
5. Do you have a midwife at home? And also, what is a midwife?
I birth at home under the care of a midwife. Some people do not, this would be called an unassisted delivery, which are more uncommon than a typical “home birth”. A midwife would be the attendant at your birth, similar to your nurses + OBGYN at your hospital birth. There are a few different kinds of midwives that receive their training in a few different ways. You can find certified nurse midwives who deliver in hospitals and usually work in your OB’s practice. For a home birth, you would typically be delivering with a certified licensed midwife or a direct-entry midwife. I can’t really tell you what the best option for you would be, but look into the different kinds of midwives and what type of experience you’re looking for to determine what’s best for you. I interviewed several midwives before I felt a connection to one. I always recommend doing the same. My perfect midwife may not be your perfect midwife and vise versa. Janae was a perfect fit for me. She’s sweet and mellow and extremely level headed. When I get anxious or worked up, her calm and assuring energy is the perfect match for me to get me back to a calm state. She loves my babies both in and out of the womb and trusts my instincts before her own for my own children. She never judges me and listens to each and every one of my concerns. She treats me like me, like a woman carrying a child with fears and worries and needs, not like a statistic. She knows me and knows my body and I feel like my care is much greater and more thorough with her than it has been with any of the OB’s I’ve seen during my pregnancies. I had wonderful, top of the line doctors who I trust, but nothing can quite compare to the level of care my midwife can offer to me and my sweet baby.
When I had Stella, she came when I wanted her to, she didn’t push me to be checked when I didn’t want to, she left me and Brady alone to enjoy our experience together, only coming in to listen to the baby’s heart tones and check on my breathing and sounds to get a feel for where I was in my labor. She encouraged me through my transition, offering advice and suggestions on what I should do next and what I should expect. She let me deliver my own baby with my own two hands. She waited until I told her it was okay to leave my house a few hours later and called to check on me that night. She called me the next morning and answered each and every (twenty or so?) texts I had sent her. On day 2 or 3, I got a little bluesy like I do with my new babies. I called Janae and within 5 minutes she was at my house. She rubbed my feet while I cried to her for a few minutes. She held my baby while I showered and put a splash of make-up on my face to make me feel better. She changed Stella and got her ready to go for a little drive so I could get out of the house for a minute with my family. She prepped Brady for what my emotions were doing and told him to call her any time for support. She was a true angel to me then and she continues to be one for me now. She gave me so much more than any doctor could have given me and I am eternally grateful for the experience of my hospital birth because without it, I would have never have been lead to my home birth.
I felt lead to write this post because it’s something I would have loved to read when I was first preparing for my home birth. I am just a very normal person, I don’t live in the woods and I do shave my armpits. ;) I may not look at all like the type of person you would think births her babies at home, but I am. I choose this type of birth for myself and my babies and I hope if anything, this post is just an inspiration to look into the kind of birth experience you want to have. Whether it’s at home or in a hospital, a c-section or vaginal delivery, whether medicated or unmedicated. I am happy to answer more questions in the comments or by email at cassmillerphoto (at) gmail (dot) com. Please remember that this is my personal choice and not a judgement on anyone else’s.