By Mayim Bialik, Ph.D.
My second son was born at our house, in the middle of our living room, just under three hours after my labor began in the darkness of dawn. I would like to speak to the most commonly cited reasons not to have a home birth to try to illustrate why we chose and advocate home birth for women eligible for and interested in this experience.
1) Birth needs a hospital. For all of human history, save the last 200 years of the organized medical establishment, birth was managed by women, for women in privacy and comfort, giving them a safe, dark, quiet place to labor, providing fluids and rest over the days that labor usually takes (that's right, ladies: days of on-and-off labor is not unusual), and attending to the needs of mother and baby throughout the exciting, powerful, and earth-shattering emotions and sensations. Birth centers that seek to mimic a home environment are a great option for many women, and have started popping up all over the country.
2) Interventions may be necessary. The administration of uterus-contracting drugs like Pitocin, the injection of anaesthesia into your spinal cord (an epidural), extraction of the fetus by vacuuming it out of your body, cutting open the vaginal wall and perineum for faster labor (known as episiotomy, which is no longer routinely recommended by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists): These are interventions that are designed to help hospitals and doctors get the baby out of your body faster, which is not biologically preferable nor healthy for mother or baby. The first intervention most often given, that of Pitocin, brings on contractions more powerful and spaced more closely together than nature intended (which can lead to lowering the fetus' heart rate, thus causing alarm and often calls for a C-section); it's no wonder Pitocin very often leads to epidurals. One intervention often snowballs into another, and this is part of what has led to the astounding rate of unnecessary C-sections in this country.
3) What about the pain? Birth is intense; squeezing a baby out of your body is a challenge, no matter what your "pain tolerance." However, our culture medicates routinely for a variety of "normal" emotional experiences (encouraging medication for people in the early stages of grief comes to mind), and medicating for the emotions of birth is no exception. The vocalizing and emotional experience that is commonly referred to as "complaining," "screaming," or "suffering" is a normal part of labor. Birth is not neat and fast and quiet: it's gritty and primal. But it's nothing to fear unless you also think we ought to fear women crying when they are sad or laughing when they are happy. There are numerous effective pain-management techniques to use in labor. I used self-hypnosis for both of my natural labors as well as showers and baths, massage, homeopathy, and the greatest power of all: the power of my mind to force out the notion that pain with purpose – labor -- is something to fear.
4) What if something goes wrong? Midwives are qualified to manage a variety of medical complications, and any good midwife knows when transport to a hospital is necessary (as occurred with my first birth). Midwives can stop hemorrhaging, midwives unwrap umbilical cords from around necks and torsos (as happened to my little bundle of joy), and midwives do not need electronic fetal monitors to know the baby's heart rate, position in the birth canal, or when the next contraction is coming (any un-medicated mother will make that abundantly clear). If we stop viewing birth as an emergency waiting to happen -- it's NOT -- then we can stop imposing anxiety on women about birth. I hear many stories about women and babies dying in childbirth that are designed to make me doubt the power of the human body. I grieve for every woman and every child who has died in childbirth, but I honestly resent being encouraged to make decisions based on these stories. It's irrational, it's hysteria-inducing, and it's insulting to any woman's intuition and intelligence.
Our culture has instilled in us a fear of the natural experience of birth and a fear of our bodies. In countries where women are supported in their desire and ability for a natural birth (Northern Europe leads this charge), babies and mothers have the lowest mortality rates. Natural birth is not for hippies; it's for anyone who wants to work hard at breaking down what they have been told is true about birth, pain, and the human body and spirit.
Home birth is right for people who want to take natural birth to the next level: Let me birth in the place this baby was created. Let me labor on the floors I paced in anticipation, let me labor in the rooms of the house where I mused on sleepless nights what this moment would be like. Let me birth with the smells of the kitchen and the faint giggles of the boy who will be this child's buddy. Let me birth with music playing, with my grandfather's prayer books looking down on me, with my hair flowing, my inhibitions gone, the doors of my home flung wide open as if to say: I am open to this process, World. I was made to birth this baby!
TODAY Moms contributor Mayim Bialik starred in the early-1990s television show “Blossom” and currently appears on the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” She earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007, and wrote her thesis on Prader-Willi syndrome. The spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network and a certified lactation educator, Bialik is writing a book about attachment parenting, and she has two sons, Miles, 5, and Frederick, 2. She will be blogging regularly at TODAYMoms.com.