A former client recently emailed me, asking me to write a post about home birth. She was searching for information for the ongoing debate with her husband. Even though it is the woman who must ultimately make the decision about her birth setting, it is imperative that her partner is included in the process of informed choice, and comes to understand and support her decision, without fear.
Since I'm known as the research-oriented and pragmatic doula, I'd better throw in some evidence. So, here are a few things I want you to consider:
1. When you are presented with two equally effective treatments, then "best practice" requires that you take into account the patients' preferences (that means HER).
2. The Province of British Columbia Ministry of Health fully funds care by registered midwives, both at home or hospital.
3. A 1986 World Health Organisation report concluded that “home is the most appropriate birth setting for most childbearing women. Women (and their attendants) choosing this option must be provided with necessary diagnostic, consultative, emergency and other services as required, regardless of place of birth.” See College of Midwives of British Columbia.
4. In 2002, the "Outcomes of planned home births versus planned hospital births after regulation of midwifery in British Columbia" was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The results showed that "women who gave birth at home attended by a midwife had fewer procedures during labour compared with women who gave birth in hospital attended by a physician." "Comparison of home births with hospital births attended by a midwife showed very similar and equally significant differences." The final interpretation of the study was that "there was no increased maternal or neonatal risk associated with planned home birth under the care of a regulated midwife."
5. In September 2007, the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence issued clinical guidelines (The NICE Intrapartum Care Guidelines) on intrapartum care of healthy women and their babies during childbirth. Under ‘‘key priorities’’ it stated: ‘‘Women should be offered the choice of planning birth at home.’’ Information suggests that for ‘‘women who plan to give birth at home or in a midwife-led unit there is a higher likelihood of a normal birth, with less intervention’’.
6. In November 2012, the BC Health Minister encouraged home births in BC in low risk cases. Margaret MacDiarmid, the former president of the B.C. Medical Association, "is encouraging women with low-risk pregnancies to plan their deliveries at home if that's what they'd like, citing B.C. research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2009 as the safety standard."
After attending over 1200 births in my 28 years as a doula, I can now say that I'm most comfortable with clients at a planned home birth. But that client must have come to this informed decision freely, is autonomous, is physically and emotionally healthy. Her midwives (there are always two present at a planned home birth) must be trusted and respected by all of us, and she must be supported by a partner who fully supports her decision without fear. The couple must be totally accepting of a transfer to hospital, if needed. But that's how I feel. Just me.
I'm not the woman giving birth. I can't squish a woman into that mold. I would never want or expect everyone to be "that woman". A woman must go on her own unique and challenging journey to trust birth that much. I trust each woman to make the decision regarding the best place FOR HER to give birth, and with whom to give birth. I support each woman without reservation, no matter what her choice. In order to give birth at home, a woman has to gradually grow into the person who can make that decision. I know I didn't reached the point where I would have chosen home birth until I was 31, after giving birth to two children, and after attending over 100 births (many at home). Until then, I simply didn't have enough information to make an informed choice about home birth myself, even though I HAD made the amazing, and life-changing, leap to midwifery care for my second birth!
So, to the couples who are spending evenings debating home birth (she wants it...he's not sure...grandma says "over my dead body"), please do your homework. The research is clear. The more difficult task is to deal with the images swirling in your heads - images born of myth, misinformation, and fear, fueled by society's expectations and the media's lopsided representation of birth. You need to talk to people who have the facts. Call me - my clients would love to share their personal experiences of home birth. You can watch movies which include home births (like The Business of Being Born or Le Premier Cri), and understand that choosing home birth doesn't lock you into that option. It just means that you can now include another option in your choice of birth places - you can now tick the "home" box.
When asked where she was planning to have her baby, one family doctor with four children would always say, "Wherever it wants to come out!" In the end, she had #1, #3 and #4 at home, and #2 at the hospital. Because, on the big day, if you've given the body and the baby both options (hospital AND home), their final choice is always loud and clear!