‘The “midwifery model” is based on the belief that childbirth is a normal physiological process, for which women’s bodies are well designed. Midwives and doctors educated within this framework believe it is important for women to feel confident about their body and their ability to give birth. They believe the environment and the things done to women can help labour go smoothly or interrupt the flow.
The “medical model” is based on the belief that evolution has done childbearing women no favours – the human brain is now big and our pelvises are narrow – and birth is only normal in retrospect. Doctors and midwives who have been educated in this frame of reference tend to relate to pregnant women as cases with the potential for complications which must be managed to avoid disaster.’
Mary Newburn, Head of Policy Research at the National Childbirth Trust, The Independent, Aug. 30, 1999
There are few things as beautiful in this world as the birth of a baby. It’s a truly sacred moment when a new little person arrives all of a sudden, pushed out from within another. The problem, though, is that the medicalization of birth nowadays too often destroys the beauty of the experience for everyone, especially the mother. So many women I’ve talked to have horror stories to tell about their births and it sounds as if most of their negative experiences could have been avoided if the general hospital birth philosophy were different. Unwanted interventions, nasty doctors or unpleasant nurses, lack of information and compassion, and pressure tactics are all cited as relatively common complaints among my own acquaintances.
Yet giving birth is one of the most basic and healthy things a woman can do! I hated the idea of being treated like a sick patient, like someone who had something wrong with them. That’s why I went the home birth route, and it was the best decision I could have made. My first son was born in a bedroom at the back of a midwifery clinic in Toronto – nothing more than an old Victorian house in the east end of the city. There were always girls working the street where the clinic stood, but my midwife only joked about how it made quite a bit of sense to have the world’s two oldest professions next-door to each other!
My second son was born only 10 weeks ago, in our living room – a less risqué location, but no less exciting! Labour began on a snowy November night and as the contractions intensified, I was relieved that I didn’t have to go anywhere, that my caregivers would come to me instead. I tucked my two-year-old into bed, my mom cleaned up the dinner dishes and put a pot of rice pudding on the stove to simmer away, and my husband waited with me till the three midwives arrived.
They entered the house, lugging the equivalent of a Level 1 hospital (minus the ability to give epidurals). The foyer of my house soon looked like a mini hospital by the time they were done setting up: a resuscitation station with oxygen tanks for me and the baby, an IV drip set up on the coat tree, warmed blankets, trays of needles and syringes, and much more. These women are highly trained experts in labour and birth, able to read the subtlest signs in a labouring woman and tell a lot about the baby just by feel. (I once heard from a midwife that midwifery students in Ontario must attend 60 births as a requirement for graduation from their 4-year Bachelor of Health Sciences program, whereas a GP only has to attend 3 in order to complete medical school.)
The active stage of my labour was spent on the futon in the living room. The three midwives sat on the sofa, monitoring me and the baby closely, writing detailed accounts in their records, while drinking tea and discussing the great books on my shelves, travel stories, fertility artwork, languages, and food. When contractions hit, I fell silent and the conversations continued to wash over me like waves in the background – the comforting sound of being at home. No harsh lights, no beeping machines, no IVs or bedpans, no strangers anywhere to make me feel less than completely secure.
My baby arrived within 4 hours – perfect, beautiful, and calm. I have no doubt that the peacefulness of the location into which he was born had something to do with his demeanor. The midwives stayed for another three hours (legal requirement), and then I went to sleep in my own bed, my newborn baby in a basket on the floor beside me.
There are people who call it irresponsible. Others think it’s dangerous. I know it’s not for everyone, but based on the research I did, I felt fully comfortable giving birth at home. I wouldn’t exchange my memories of the experience for anything.