Home Sweet Home Birth

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While the term "home birth" may bring to mind Call The Midwife references, the somewhat unconventional method—at least by modern medicine's standards—of actually having a child isn't wholly untouched-upon around these parts (just today, Josie Maran mentioned giving birth to her daughter under a tree on her Pennsylvania farm). To investigate matters further, we spoke with singer and pianist Sarah Silverman, a few days before the birth of her second child at home (congrats Sarah!). As follows is a little bit about the practice, from her personal experience:

"My mom’s a midwife, so I grew up with home birth as my normal. As the oldest of four, I have very vivid memories of my youngest brother being born. When I got pregnant, it wasn’t even a question of if I was going to have a home birth; it wasn’t something that I had to discover on my own. I was just assuming like 'Of course, we’re having a home birth'—I couldn’t even imagine being in a hospital.

I have a Certified Nurse Midwife. Like finding an OB/GYN, you meet a lot of them, and you have questions that you ask to decide if they would be a good fit or not. We met with three and initially decided on one who has a practice in Harlem. But once I started having my appointments, I left every one feeling like I couldn’t ask questions and crying. So that fit wasn’t right. Then we met our current midwife and as soon as we did we thought, 'OK, we’re in good hands.'

Having my child at home is beyond description. It’s not just simply 'It was empowering' or 'it was traumatizing,' 'It was painful,' or 'it was amazing.' It’s all those things wrapped into one. Regardless of the fact that I thought I knew what I was getting into, when your body starts to take over and knows what it’s doing, and the contractions—it’s very awe-inspiring and humbling. It was very, very intense. I sort of equate it to a marathon—It’s not something I would want to do every single day. [Laughs]

After my daughter was born, we were skin to skin, letting her figure out how to nurse. Then my midwife came in—she cleaned her, weighed her, did a full neonatal exam. Our families all came. We ordered food. It was really cool to be here at home. In the entire birth experience with her I never once had a flash of fear, never once questioned what am I doing here. It was the opposite, I was so grateful. I was so grateful I didn’t have to worry about getting somewhere.

Now that I’m pregnant with my second, I'm not really excited to experience contractions again. But I sort of approach it from the perspective that you’re giving birth to a human being—it’s not supposed to be easy, and it’s not supposed to be painless. But there are things you can do to make it more comfortable—we’re getting a birthing tub. Having the freedom to move and alleviate pain is really helpful. When you get out on the other side, there’s this unbelievable feeling of 'Wow, I’m never going to be afraid of anything again.' It’s a transformative experience and the idea of numbing that isn’t something I would ever want to do.

With my daughter, I remember times when it would have been really helpful to have some kind of meditation, or mental focus, or idea of how to breathe to get through contractions because that was the most intense part for me. I started looking into HypnoBirthing, which I was skeptical of when I was first pregnant. I ordered their meditation CDs that have really lovely music and visualizations and get you into a really deep relaxation state. So that is the biggest thing I’ve done differently this time around. The idea behind the hypnobirth stuff—and I’m just on the surface of it—is that they don’t use the word 'pain.' So changing your association with that feeling mentally might make it into something you want to feel that helps the baby come out. I like that as a concept but I don’t know if it will actually work out that way.

Beauty-wise, I don’t dye my hair and right now I’m more sensitive to smells, so I can’t have any perfume around me. I use essential oils from Young Living that smell really great. I do strength training twice a week. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I did Bikram yoga and I loved it at the time, but the minute she was born I never stepped into a Bikram class again. I do Vinyasa now. There’s this phenomenal website called YogaGlo, that has pre- and post-natal yoga, which has been amazing. When my daughter falls asleep, I spread my mat out for 30 to 45 minutes. I also started taking Capoeira in my pregnancy, which is really fun.

At the end of the day, I don’t think home birth is for everybody because you have to feel really safe. If you don’t feel safe, then you’re not going to have a positive experience. Every woman and every birth is so different, so I’m also very aware that I have no idea what’s going to happen with this birth. You’re never really ready. It’s kind of a great foreshadowing of what parenting is going to be like, too. Notoriously, second babies are faster so I’m focusing on that. I keep having dreams of this baby just flying out. [Laughs]"

—as told to ITG

Sarah Silverman photographed by Alexis Cheung.

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  • Paulina Villalpando

    So inspiring! More and more women in Mexico are choosing to have home births partly because its so expensive and partly because there is a tendency to return to more natural methods. It has its risks, I assume? It would be interesting to read more about the pros and cons.

  • bluesky557

    I had an emergency c-section with my first kid because he was completely wrapped up in the umbilicial cord. If I'd had a home birth, he would not have made it out of me alive. I think it's great to want to have as little medical intervention as possible, but it's worth remembering that until very recently childbirth was the most dangerous thing a woman could do. In fact, women used to write their wills as soon as they found out they were pregnant! Modern medicine and the medical establishment aren't perfect, but they have saved a lot of people and completely changed women's lives. I'm glad Sarah had good experiences, and I'm equally glad to hear her say that she doesn't think home birthing is for everyone.

    • Leith

      Just so you know, something like that would have been noticed by a properly trained midwife in a homebirth environment, and that momma and child would have been transferred to a hospital very, very quickly with a prearranged back up doctor for emergencies. midwives who deliver at home aren't doulas, they have years and years of medical experience and training, as well as tools and equipment like fetal heart rate monitors for what to do in the event that something like what happened to you and your sweet babe occurs. I suggest you and in fact everyone watch the movie "The Business of Being Born" which features this exact thing happening- a woman planning a homebirth who is taken to the hospital for a emergency c-section that saved her son's life.
      I am so, so happy that you are your child are healthy happy and ok. Blessings!

      • bluesky557

        It took 2 minutes from the time they decided I needed a c-section until my son was out. There's just no way that kind of speed could be duplicated in a home birth setting, and sometimes minutes matter. I'm very glad we're healthy too!

    • Lauren Cooper

      It has also been the hyper-medicalization of a completely natural process that has caused many of the problems. For example, drugged women are unable to push, laying on your back is not conducive to labor (for most), and strapping women down...dont get me started. Good midwifery (especially with a CNM which is no joke level of education...its nearly equivalent to a doctor with 7 years of school (at least) would identify those as high risk. If you are low-risk, going to hospital can expose you to disease, put you at risk for dangerous interventions (including c-section), and generally make you more uncomfortable since its completely unnatural for a mammal to relocate in active labor. Giving birth is always high risk but with a highly trained midwife and a good back-up plan, its a wonderful option.

  • Haiku Jew

    I've never had kids
    'cause I didn't wanna repeat
    my mother's mistakes.

    • http://covenlosangeles.tumblr.com Luna

      Can I like this 5 thousand times

  • http://retrococktail.blogspot.com/ Jodie Melling

    I wouldn't be brave enough I just had my first child a daughter 6 weeks ago and the cord was wrapped around her neck twice and I needed emergency forceps to get her out. They knew this due to the heartbeat monitor showing her declining heartrate. I can't help but think that if i'd chosen to have her at home then she wouldn't be here in my arms now.

    Jodie x

  • jess

    Why risk it? Just so you can feel comfortable in your own home?
    You can still have a natural birth with just a midwife in a hospital, no drugs ect. but you have a team of nurses and doctors just a few rooms away if something goes wrong....

  • Aurélia Diotima Bode

    I was born at home by accident! No midwife, no drugs. Perhaps we were just lucky x

  • MoseyM

    An important piece of advice for every US person planning a home birth, who recently gave birth at home, or who was born at home: apply for you passport ASAP!

    Particularly in the state of Texas (I haven't heard of it happening in other states but I wouldn't put it past, say, Arizona), if you were born at home, to get a passport you must prove you were physically born in that city and state. The midwife's paperwork and birth certificate should be enough, legally, but it isn't, and while the ACLU as sued over this, you still need to provide three additional forms of proof, ranging anywhere from local church records of your infancy to tax record proof your parents were in the city and state at the time, to daycare records; and that stuff can be really difficult or impossible to obtain later on. And no, proof of military service does not count. It's effed up, but hopefully timely advice for anyone involved in a home birth.

    • http://insertwth.com/ Denisse

      Wow, that's pretty ridiculous and something I didn't know. Thanks for sharing that with people!

  • aurore

    I can never be enough thankful for living in France where giving birth safely in a hospital is 100% free..

    • Tatiana Depetris

      I live in Argentina (a third world country) and here hospital care is also 100% free.

      • Lol

        Tatiana did YOU have a baby at a hospital in Argentina?

      • Lol

        In Argentina having a baby at a hospital (for free as you say, I'd said its funded (poorly funded) with tax payers' money) is for those who cannot afford private health care (those generally give birth in private clinics), mainly because whoever could afford it would probably not want to experience that (insecurity, mistreatment, verbal abuses, in the great majority of cases).

    • Lol

      Gave birth naturally in a hospital in Saint Germain en L, great experience, great assistance. Also thankful about that, I felt 100% safe knowing I was in good hands, especially if there were any complications.

  • April Payan

    my mother had me 32 years ago at home in southern california. said it was the most amazing experience ever. I would love to experience this if I am blessed with another child.

  • Martha S.

    It's very misleading to transpose a hospital birth experience onto an imagined home birth and state that the same events would have occurred. Your labour experience and birth outcome would not be the same at home. There is no way to know what would have happened, but we DO know that women feel different in hospital, practitioners feel and practice differently in hospital, and more interventions are used (unnecessarily) in hospital. All of these things affect the woman's mental/emotional state, therefore they affect labour progress, the interventions used, and birth outcomes. When unexpected emergencies happen at home, you are so fortunate to have a trained midwife at your side. She is the "first responder" on scene and has the knowledge, skills, equipment, and medications to manage the emergency and stabilize the woman and/or baby. Paramedics are so relieved when they walk into these calls because they know the midwife has stabilized everyone and they can "load and go".

    • Mady

      While midwives are a great resource and can manage many problematic situations, it's false to say they can manage all the emergencies. If this were true, it wouldn't be a requirement in hospitals for midwives to transfer care to the obstetrics team as soon as there's a significant possibility more intense intervention will be necessary. Sure, women electing to give birth at home are low risk, but major emergencies can arise very quickly. Not even an obstetrician could necessarily manage these situations without the necessary medication, equipment and personnel.

  • Mady

    Totally. Ask even the newest obstetrics or paediatrics trainees about home births and they'll shutter, because they'd have already seen enough unexpected emergences a few weeks into their training to become terrified of delivering outside of a hospital setting.

  • Alma

    I highly recommend Hypnobirthing (the Marie Mongan method). I was new to meditation when I got pregnant, but Hypnobirthing gave me the mental focus and the breathing skills I needed to give birth to my daughter three years ago. The birth was quick, calm and peaceful and I was free from the fear most women seem to have when faced with the event. In fact it was the most empowering experience of my life so far.

    I would have like to have a home birth but insurance won't cover it here in Finland. We had a midwife, which is the norm in this country - and the one we had was very respectful of our wishes and was amazing all around.

    Best of luck to Sarah on her birth. How lucky to have been raised to see home birthing as the norm. I sincerely believe birthing should be treated as a natural process our bodies were designed to go through rather than as a medical event.

  • Tatiana Depetris

    :-)

  • Charlotte

    I totally agree- I understand why people want to have home births, but many of them want them even without a nurse-midwife or without even a doula! Even if you live in a city, an ambulance can take 30 minutes to arrive. When your child's umbilical cord is wrapped around their neck, every single moment that they are in that position harms them.

    Someone I know decided to have a home birth. It was her first child and she had her mother, a nurse practitioner, with her. Everything was going great until, 30 minutes after the baby was born, that she was hemorrhaging. She lost a large volume of blood and almost died on the way to the ER. She had several transfusions and was in the hospital for a week, away from her baby.

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