Recently I watched The Business of Being Born, a documentary about the way births are performed in the U.S. I think the title of the documentary is very tongue-in-cheek, because it explores the way in which birth really has become a business in the U.S., a business that is about expediting processes and making money (much like the majority of healthcare in the U.S.) rather than looking out for the best interest of the woman and the baby. It was really disturbing to hear experts talk about how interventions made by doctors can actually create complications in the birthing process, how there is a correlation between drugs given to women in labor and the likelihood of a caesarean section, and the lack of choice the women have in all of it.
C-sections are absolutely terrifying to me. All of the sawing through flesh and muscle and maneuvering around internal organs is just a little too gruesome for me. But what is almost more terrifying is the fact that the rate of c-sections has increased tenfold, and that nearly one-third of births in the U.S. are performed through c-sections. If there is something wrong with the baby or a complication in the delivery, I absolutely think that a c-section should be performed; but for the most part these days, it’s an issue of time efficiency. If performing births really is a business, then the concept that time is money definitely applies, and if a woman is in labor too long, taking up space in the hospital, a doctor can find an excuse to propose a c-section just to move things along. And then there are women who actually opt for voluntary(!) c-sections because it’s quicker and easier than huffing and puffing and pushing and screaming. You get a nice sedative and wake up with a baby, and have no thoughts about the complications that may arise further down the road.
After watching this documentary, I’m definitely interested in finding out more about home births. And though my giving birth is, like, years and years away, I was already certain that I wanted to have a midwife instead of a doctor. There’s something so much more calming and relatable about a midwife, like they’re actual normal people, as opposed to doctors who sit up on a high horse of knowledge and bask in their own loftiness… but maybe that’s just me. There’s also something much more reassuring about putting your child’s birth in the hands of someone who has specialized knowledge about the birthing process rather than a doctor who has a broad and limited understanding of it and who has probably never witnessed a live birth before. Did you know that in Europe and Japan, a midwife is present at over 70% of births, whereas that number is less than 8% in the U.S.? And yet, the U.S. has the second highest infant mortality rate of all industrialized nations. I see a correlation there.
But let’s return from that tangent back to home birthing. The film shows several different women performing home births (some of which are in little pools!), and, bloody mess aside, it was a really beautiful thing to witness a birth happen naturally, the way that it’s supposed to be. It was so different from the horror show that birth is depicted as on TLC shows, so much more calm and fluid and positive. I never before thought that I could possibly do a home birth; I thought home births were for crazies. But from watching these home births in the documentary, there are several things that appeal to me about it for myself:
- It happens in my home, a place I’m familiar and comfortable with and that isn’t cold and sterile. And I know where the bathroom is.
- I’m allowed, nay encouraged, to move around instead of laying on a bed for hours upon hours, and I can even take a nice bath if I so choose.
- There aren’t hoards of medical professionals intervening without my consent. There is one midwife (and maybe a doula), and she is focused on me and my experience and committed to seeing it through to the end. I don’t have to worry about her rushing off to someone or something more exciting.
And I think #3 contributes to the greatest reason why home birth appeals to me: because I get to be in control. I want to be free to do what I’m comfortable with, to be fully present in the experience of the birth of my child and be an active participant instead of a passive observer. I want to have the final say in all decisions and work with someone who is there through the entire process with me and who respects my wishes; I don’t want to be at the mercy of a doctor who tells me that a c-section is the best option because he wants to make it home in time for dinner. One of the midwifes in the film said something that I really liked: she was talking about home births and said that it was based in “the philosophical underpinnings of giving the power back to the woman.” I don’t think there’s anything more I could ask for than that.