I Am An Unapologetic Homebirther

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Over the past week, I have been writing posts signaling that while I think more parents should seriously consider homeschooling, I am sympathetic to the parents who are passionate about traditional schooling and find private or public school to be a good fit for their family. If you ask me, I think the 80/20 rule would work well for education, with 80% of families choosing traditional schooling, and 20% choosing homeschooling, compared to 3% currently. (For comparison, currently about 11% of students in the U.S. attend private or parochial schools.)

Homebirth, on the other hand....

I wonder if it's because I have seen both sides of birth that I am unapologetically pro-homebirth, to the point where I think the 80/20 rule should mean 80% of births are at home and 20% are at hospitals, compared to 99% currently. I experienced first-hand the serious, even life-threatening, complications resulting from big hospital births and unnecessary inductions with my first two babies. I finally realized with my third baby that I HAD to have a natural, non-interventive birth if I wanted to have a safe delivery, and the only way I felt certain of having a completely natural birth was to have one at home.

In my third trimester of my third pregnancy, I went for a tour of the smaller hospital's labor and delivery (L&D) ward, the hospital where I was considering giving birth with a midwife instead of the big hospital with the OB that I had experienced previously. This smaller, regional hospital had a good reputation for valuing natural childbirth, but almost as soon as the L&D tour began, I knew I couldn't have a baby there. The clincher for me was the big, red, digital timer clock on the wall of the delivery room. When I asked the tour guide the purpose of the big timer, she downplayed its importance, saying that it may be used once a laboring woman's water broke or once she started pushing. To me, it was like the overtime stop-clock for a Celtics-Lakers game, measuring my every move against a hospital's policies and expectations. At that moment, I knew I couldn't have a hospital birth. On the ride home from the hospital tour, I called my homebirth midwife to sign on for what would become a defining, life-changing experience.

So this homebirth experience leads me to wonder: would I be more relentlessly, unabashedly pro-homeschooling if I had a poor traditional schooling experience? I am relentlessly, unabashedly pro-homebirthing because I honestly and with full conviction believe that most babies should be born naturally, at home, with trusted midwives. But I have seen the other side. I have seen first-hand--TWICE--the clear and present dangers of hospital births, and I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that for most women birth belongs at home.

But homeschooling? I had a decent K-12 public school experience, though I feel that much of it was a waste of time. I liked school, participated in many rewarding extra-curricular activities, got accepted to top colleges. But still, I want more, better for my children. My reasons for advocating homeschooling and homebirthing are different. Both are ideologic and personal, but with homebirthing, I have witnessed first-hand the other side, the dangers of an OB-orchestrated, institutionalized birth.

The passion I feel for homebirth, then, may be similar to the passion friends of mine feel about homeschooling, friends who have "seen the other side," whose children have been betrayed by a large, traditional government-school system that operates under its own rules of efficiency and self-protection just like hospitals.

So the bottom line is that while I am passionate about both homeschooling and homebirthing, for me, the latter is much more of a rejection of currently accepted practices while the former is an acceptance of a particular family lifestyle and child-rearing approach.

What about you? Are you accepting something for what it promises, or rejecting something for what it fails at?


  1. I TOTALLY agree. My first child was born in one of the "top five" hospitals in the country. It was a scary experience that left me seconds from a c-section, terrified and crying tears more from relief than joy when my daughter was placed in my arms. My second child was born at a small, community hospital with midwives; it was a better experience, but the required 48-hour stay seemed to drag on, minute by minute, as I just wanted to me home with my whole family.

    My third child was born at home. My midwife became a part of my family through the whole process, as it was guaranteed that she would deliver me. My children fell in love with her and still ask when we can go see her. Funny...she was the one who told me that my children would be good candidates for homeschooling. :)

    I'd like to have a fourth child one day, and there is absolutely no question in my mind: I would plan for a homebirth. My youngest daughter, nine months old, sleeps in the bed she was born in. She is by far my calmest baby. And everything about her birth was magical, especially having her two older siblings rush into the room mere minutes after she was born.

    My decision to homebirth, then, would be two-fold. A rejection of hospital births, a rejection of birthing my baby anywhere but her home; but also an acceptance of the added value of homebirth—not just what the hospital subtracts from the experience, but also what the home adds.

    And as I type this, I realize why you blogged about it. Homebirthing and homeschooling are not unrelated, in the values you want to impart to your children, about the comfort, love and naturally good feelings that accompany it. It feels right. So perhaps you've brought me one step closer to homeschooling. :)

  2. Thanks for this fantastic comment! It is so interesting to see that we had a similar path toward homebirth-- and I'm delighted that you are inching closer to homeschooling!


  3. With my recent difficulties with the medical profession, you are probably right about homebirth.

    While 20% might be a great goal for homeschooling in the next several years, you sound like you think that 20% is about all who SHOULD homeschool. I am curious as to who you think they should be. Only parents who want to? Only people who can afford it? Only those whose parents are college educated? Only people whose schools in their district are of low quality? While not everyone can homeschool, if the option is so good, why not as many as possible?

    If your intention with the 20% figure was more of a goal, then I fully agree in light of the private school data you cited.

    1. Hi Liz, yes the 20% is an initial goal for homeschooling. I think there is no reason homeschooling should at least be comparable to private school attendance numbers and hopefully surpass that if real education reform were to take place providing an entirely new model--or rather models--of learning.

      With homebirth, though, there really doesn't need to be a huge structural shift to have more women give birth at home. The vast majority of women have uncomplicated pregnancies and births and are therefore great candidates for homebirth; they just need to make the choice.

      As always, I appreciate your honest insights.


    2. I understand. While I had some interventions with my first pregnancy, it wasn't a disaster, but the second one that was so fast and natural I barely made it to the hospital, was much better.

      Further, now that I am dealing with a chronic, but not life threatening, health condition I am seeing in the biggest way how messed up the medical profession is. It wants me to medicate and make my severe fatigue and fog worse to relieve moderate pain while possibly putting on forty pounds, raise my blood pressure, etc. Other than the fibro, I am in superb health. Why would I mess with it? Yes, I over did it yesterday and am going to bed in five minutes at 7:10 pm and if I don't swim and stretch 3 times per week I stiffen up. Still, as hard as it can be, managing symptoms with extra sleep and good exercise is far better than upping risk factors for life threatening conditions. If I was in severe pain it might be different, but that is why an approach tailored to each patient would be better.

      They have figured this out with cancer. The wonder stories I hear from how cancer institutes treat the whole person are amazing. They go out of their way to think about all the patients' needs during a difficult time. For other conditions and procedures, including childbirth, they just can't be bothered to tailor treatment in a way that best serves the patient including higher risks, worse outcomes higher costs.

      I have been sort of fortunate because at least my OB/GYN and primary don't force treatments on me even if they are displeased by my aversion to drugs. Specialists though have been horrible. They know that there aren't many and if you don't mesh with them you won't find another for a long time.

    3. Liz, it must be hard going through these health challenges and feeling that there are not as many integrative approaches available to you as you would like. I have a friend with fibro who swears by acupuncture and traditional chinese medicine, neither of which are covered by insurance and can get quite costly. I hope we can get to a more holistic model of care in this country-- and like with homeschooling, homebirthing, etc., it begins with individuals who question mainstream practices and demand something better!

  4. I had three children in a hospital with midwives. My first daughter we had planned a homebirth, but after no progression and many many many hours, my midwife (who was also my aunt) suggested we go to the hospital. I had a wonderful experience there, with just the right amount of intervention. So when my second child was due we went back. I have to admit I liked being away from home. There was something nice about taking time out of 'real' life. And again, there were complications that my midwives dealt with with just the right amount of intervention. I trusted them completely. However, it was also a really hard and scary experience, and when I became pregnant with my third my fears about the birth, and my trust of the midwives at the hospital led us back. This time though, doctors got involved, and my birthing experience was frustrating, medicated, and not at all in my control (although in the end the least eventful.) If we have a fourth I don't know what I would chose. I admit there is fear. Fear I can't do it. And longing. Longing for that magical home birth experience. I've had amazing hospital births (with midwives who wanted to be birthing me at home or a birthing center, but couldn't due to certain annoying insurance legalities) and I've seen beautiful homebirth experiences.

    It's the same with homeschooling. I had a really fabulous school experience. I remember every single one of my teachers and the amazing projects we did. I remember the students, both older and younger than me, and how I learned from them and also taught them (mixed classes.) My girls (in school now) have had really amazing experiences. But I've also taught in schools where the pressure and the academics got in the way of real learning. And I've seen amazing homeschoolers. Something calls to me about the lifestyle. I really WANT it to be the only choice, the best choice for us (just like homebirth)

    So I guess the reason it's so hard for me is that I am neither embracing or rejecting. I see the good in both, and so I have a hard time choosing one. Add there is the fear of the unknown (counter-culture homebirth and homeschool as the unknown) and it makes it hard to take that leap. I am so close to it though, and I'm really excited about that. I just hope it won't be as scary or hard as the birth was ;)

    1. I am loving this discussion! It's so interesting to hear why we make the decisions we do and to probe whether or not we are rejecting or accepting, being reactive or proactive.

      Your thoughts, Leigh, are really interesting in that you highlight the many shades of gray in decision-making: that it's not always so clear which is the right choice for us. Just fascinating. Thanks for sharing!