Birth, like sex, can be an intensely exhilarating, intimate and empowering experience. The women who report feeling this way in Australia are most commonly women who have chosen to give birth at home.
Women who choose homebirth come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. We choose our homes as the place to welcome our babies for many reasons. Some of them are:-
Safety - high routine intervention rates in hospitals and birth centres have made birth potentially dangerous and traumatic for women and babies. Spontaneous, normal, physiological birth is the safest way for babies to be born and very difficult to achieve in a medicalised setting.
Natural Birth – natural birth is important to us and we see how difficult it is to achieve normal physiological birth in a medicalised setting. Midwives carry medical equipment the same as most birth centres but it is rarely required in an unhindered birth.
Birth after caesarean – planning a vaginal birth after previous surgery is fraught with stress and difficulty in hospitals. Because homebirth midwives provide evidence based care, birth after caesarean is viewed no differently from any other birth. Our birthing potential is in no way diminished by previous caesareans and many women birth beautifully at home even after several surgeries.
Midwifery model of care – we choose a model of care which asserts pregnancy and birth are normal physiological states not medical emergencies. Your midwife should promote and maintain an evidence-based practice. Regardless of the model of care you choose, remember to always remain a consumer and advocate for yourself and your baby.
Experience – we choose to have the most personal, intimate moments of our lives take place in our homes where our children are conceived and surrounded by people we know, trust and love. This might also be very important to us if our children were conceived via methods like IVF which can be impersonal. We want to be the first person to hold our babies and have them on our bare skin from birth without any interruption.
Avoiding trauma – we choose to remove ourselves from the medical system which may have traumatised us and our babies at previous births or choose to avoid trauma with our first baby.
Community - we choose a midwife who is part of our local community network and who will sometimes continue to be an important and cherished part of our families after the birth of our children.
Breastfeeding - women who birth at home have greater support and better experiences with breastfeeding. We also establish breastfeeding from birth as our babies are not taken away from us and the hours after birth are crucial in this process.
Siblings - we may want to have our children at the births of their siblings thus including them in the ordinary miracle of birth. This is a loving gift which will stay with them the rest of their lives.
Knowledge - we choose to be active and proactive in how we labour and birth and learn as much as we can. We take the power of knowledge with us into birth instead of giving others responsibility for our care, choices and outcomes.
Health care crisis – we see that our hospital system is in crisis partly because of an unhealthy emphasis on birth as a medical event and that the funds spent on unnecessary interventions and obstetricians would be better placed giving women access to midwifery care. The outcomes of other countries, like New Zealand, where midwifery care is the norm are significantly better than those in Australia.
Gentle parenting – we want our babies to enter the world gently, without harsh lights, unnecessary intrusive procedures and strangers. Our relationship with our children gets off to the best possible start when the natural processes of labour and birth are unhindered. Babies are designed to birth, they are not designed to cope with unnecessary drugs and surgery.
Control - we want to have complete control over the environment in which we birth without having to negotiate with strangers who have timetables and ideas about birth that don’t match our own.
Continuity of care – we see one primary midwife through our entire pregnancy, for monthly appointments of up to, or more than, an hour. Some midwives visit our homes each month, some will alternate between their office (often in their homes) and ours. Some women hire a second midwife who arrives towards the end of labour. Our primary midwife will visit a number of times in the weeks after the birth of a baby as well to monitor our wellbeing and that of our babies. She will also be on call through this time. Many women also like to have a doula or birth attendant as well. Some women choose to only have family members present at their birth.
Memory - we want our memories of birth to be of hard work with passion and accomplishment. We remember how we first met our babies for the rest of our lives so we owe it to us, and them, for that to be on our terms and as beautiful as we can make it.
How to choose homebirth in Australia
You need to find a midwife in private practice with whom you feel comfortable. Just as you engage any other professional to provide you with a service, you have the right to interview, ask questions and meet a midwife face-to-face and make sure she is the right midwife for you. In the unlikely event that you choose to transfer to a hospital, she will provide you with information to help make the decision and will also accompany you. There are publicly funded homebirth programs in some states but these are only open to a small group of women. You need to book in early and fill strict criteria to access them.
Contacting your local homebirth support network will help you meet other women and families for whom homebirth is an important and normal part of life. They can also talk with you about choosing your special birth companions. Joyous Birth meets all over Australia.
Learning about pregnancy and birth
Your midwife should be able to share a great deal with you such as videos, books, journals and experience so you can begin to gather all the vital information around you for achieving a homebirth. There are a number of groups in Australia which provide excellent classes and discussion groups on homebirth and natural birth and you can easily access these as well. Both your support group and your midwife can give you contact details. The Joyous Birth forums are chockfull of information to ensure you achieve the safest and best birth for you and your baby!
This article was written by
Janet Fraser for Joyous Birth
© Janet Fraser 2004