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Believe in Birth
by Beth Leianne Curtis

home birth midwife

Photo Pauline Breijer/Shutterstock

Imagine the following scene: I’m on my bed, on my hands and knees, head thrown back, as I lean over on my husband. I’m moaning, groaning and my sounds are getting louder and louder. Candles burn on my bedside table; the room smells of lavender essential oil and the sound of thunderstorms echo on our CD player. Now before you turn red and think you are reading an “adults only” magazine, look again! The aforementioned love scene is actually from the home birth of my third born child. My amazing daughter was blissfully born minutes after those moans reached a crescendo, in the presence of my husband and my preceptor midwife. Out my daughter came, in to my arms, and we tucked in to bed for a well-deserved rest. Delish!

Delish, you ask? Is this woman mad, you wonder? While this may seem too impossible to believe, for those of us lucky enough to witness women giving birth in the comfort of their own homes, this amazing, dare I say, sensual scene, is really quite the norm. You see, my name is Beth, and (insert pregnant pause here) I am an Apprentice Home Birth Midwife.

As it turns out, home birth is not just for those women who fit a narrow stereotype of loving granola and Birkenstocks. (Although who doesn’t love a good homemade granola?) The women whose births I have attended come from every demographic. I have assisted the births of women who are Fundamentalist Christians, traveling the globe as missionaries in between giving birth to six or seven (or more) children. I have caught the babes of European women, who relocated to the U.S. due to the great globalizing economy. Then there are the women with tattoos and piercings who give birth to thundering rock and roll music. What all of these women have in common, though, is something profoundly simple. They all believe that birth is not a sickness. They all know in the core of their round pregnant bellies that in most cases, birth is a healthy, normal event. Indeed, these intelligent women believe that birth is an active process and that they are strong enough and capable enough of making informed decisions about the birth process. Moreover, all of these women believe that they are able to handle the quite incredible, yet normal and purposeful pains of labor, especially when surrounded by supportive friends, family and midwives.

The idea that high-tech, hospital-centered birth is the safest way to have a baby is an idea that is actually not substantiated by years of solid research. For example, the U.S. surgical birth rate is at an astounding all time high of almost 30 percent, while surgical delivery accounted for only five percent of American births back in 1970. The Centers for Disease Control recently released a report that shows maternal mortality rates are the highest they have been in decades. One of the factors, they say, is the rising Cesarean surgical birth rates. Additionally, the U.S. ranks an astonishing 27th for infant death rates among industrialized nations. Compound these statistics with the fact that the World Health Organization states that the Cesarean birth rate should not exceed 15 percent, even in high-risk populations, and you begin to understand that we are in a birth crisis. We are using more technology and medical interventions than ever, and we are not improving birth outcomes. For healthy women, home birth offers a safe, peaceful alternative to the medicalization of this normal process.

Another home birth secret is that when a woman is in her own space, she is able to really let the energy of birth flow freely. She experiences pain in a very different way than her sister who is flat on her back hooked up to beeping monitors in the hospital. In fact, many of our clients choose to give birth in water, either in their own bathtubs, or in rented, pool-like tubs that can easily be disassembled after the birthday magic occurs. Watching a new little human swim out and up in to mom’s eager arms is enough to make a grown man cry and, believe me, most of the dads are sobbing with joy as they watch these strong, confident women give birth to their new babes.

True, being a home birth midwife is not an easy profession. Babes get born at all hours of the day and night and in all types of weather. It seems as though childbirth is not without its sense of humor, because if it’s 3:45am on a frigid ice storm of a night in February, you can bank on the fact that a baby will choose to come through to Planet Earth at that barometric moment. In fact, one of the first babies I caught (midwives say babies are caught, pizzas are delivered) was a wiggly, warm, beauty named Raina. The day she was born in her parent’s bedroom was an April day with absolutely torrential storms, complete with major flooding. The wind and the rain, thunder and lightening all made quite a dramatic backdrop to her otherwise quiet entrance into the world. So while my car was being flooded out in the driveway, there I was inside, quietly touching the miracle of new life in my hands!

Another of my favorite births was on Halloween. A mom was laboring away in the birth tub, making those animal-like deep growls that tell midwives that the baby is coming soon, when her baby’s head, shoulders and body slid out contained within the unbroken amniotic sac. This little babe, born “in the caul” as midwives and the American Indians say, was an amazingly rare sight to behold! According to Native American tradition, a baby who is born floating in his amniotic sac will be a shaman, a wise one and a spirit guide. This rare occurrence often gets missed in hospitals, because many doctors are quick to artificially “break the bag of water” or use other more invasive techniques. How wonderful that on that Halloween, I got to witness a new baby already born in his ghost-like costume. Talk about a treat!

All in all, I find it incredibly empowering – dare I say addicting? – to be in the world of home birth. Being a midwife appeals to my grassroots political sensibilities and my holistic spiritual side all at once. Seeing women feeling strong and powerful in their bodies, witnessing women letting go of all programmed inhibitions; this is the gift of midwifery.

Make it a point to support midwives in your community. Educate yourself about the full range of your childbirth choices. Just remember, when you see that car speed by you with the “Got Midwife?” bumper sticker, to smile and wave. Behind the wheel is probably some adrenaline-filled midwife cruising to a home birth, ready to catch the future in her hands.

Beth Leianne Curtis owns Believe in Birth in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When this article was published in 2008, she was a Home Birth Midwife completing her Certified Professional Midwife credential. She is also a Certified Childbirth Educator and Certified Birth Doula.


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