Hiram College

Written by Stacia Schaffer ’17 for her Women’s Health in the Headlines assignment in her course “Issues in Women’s Health” with Dr. Erin Lamb, Professor of Biomedical Humanities.

Is it safe to have babies while lying flat on your back in a sterile, cold room pumped full of drugs? Is it safe to have a baby in your living room with no medical equipment available if something goes wrong? The criticisms of women and their choice of birthing location are always present. It is a “damned if you do” and “damned if you don’t” situation.

The article that sparks this debate is titled, “Home births, midwifes, hospitals and the battle over being born” written by Wendy Thomas Russell, a journalist for PBS.org. Russel gets into the differences of home vs. hospital births and raising tough questions about why the birth location matters.

The criticism of women in the home birth vs. hospital birth debate seems to be never ending! The debate was sparked again recently due to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The data in the study is based on two years of births recorded in the state of Oregon. The results of the study revealed that planned home births are associated with a small increase in fatalities for both mother and baby.  Planned hospital births resulted in 1.8 deaths per 1,000 deliveries, while planned home births resulted in 3.9 deaths per 1,000 deliveries.

Having a baby in the hospital does have its advantages. They offer immediate intervention if something were to compromise the baby or the mom. The baby could be delivered within minutes, and the mom could be provided with any medical treatment that she may need. But, some women find the hospital setting to be overwhelming as the nurses hook them up to all types of monitors, tell them that they need to lie down in bed on their back, and they can’t eat anything until they deliver. One interesting statistic from the Oregon study was that nearly 25 percent of hospital births resulted in Cesarean sections, compared to only 5 percent of home births. Many hospitals will not let women who have had a previous C-section deliver their subsequent children vaginally. A place that is supposed to be the best place to deliver a baby doesn’t seem all that appealing when women want to exercise their own personal choice in decision making regarding their birth experience.

Since the beginning of time, women have delivered babies at their homes. Women can feel comfortable and relaxed in their own home surrounded by those who are there to support them. Women can labor in any position that is comfortable and can deliver in any position that feels natural for them. There are risks of home births though. Having a certified trained midwife can decrease some of the risk, but not having medical equipment in an emergency situation could result in the death of the mom and/or her child.

The beauty of this article is that the author does not condone one birthing location over the other. Instead, she wonders why either birthing location matters. What should matter is that the woman is getting to call the shots as to how and when she gives birth. The only person who knows a woman’s body is that woman. Delivering a baby is a personal experience and where that woman delivers should be a personal choice. No childbirth, regardless of where it happens, if risk-free. Nothing that is done in life is risk free. But, if a woman wants to have her baby in a hospital, at home, or in the middle of a field, there will always be risks. Location doesn’t change that. It’s her body so it’s her decision.

This blog post was inspired by: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/column-enough-with-the-birth-shaming/