Birthing at home

Like most first-time moms to be, Stacy Aberilla took her prenatal vitamins, shopped for supplies and prepared her home in anticipation of her new arrival. But unlike many, she also prepared her home to be a birthing center.

After writing an honors thesis exploring different cultural perspectives on pregnancy and childbirth for her bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University, Aberilla was concerned that the medicalization of the natural birth process was causing more harm than good to babies and their mothers. She decided to take a more natural route to bringing her baby into the world. Her decision to work with a midwife also reflected her belief that she deserved more personalized attention than she would get with an obstetrician. “I spent more time with my midwife at my first appointment than my friend did with her doctor the whole nine months,” she says.

Her midwife, Jude Melton of Sunrise Midwifery in Phoenix, says that normal, healthy women with normal, healthy pregnancies can deliver at home with about the same risk level as a woman giving birth in a hospital and that home birth results in fewer interventions (episiotomies, artificial rupture of the membranes, forceps, vacuum extraction, cesareans, etc.), and fewer complications during and after the birth. She notes that midwives are trained to recognize the warning signs of any condition outside the range of “normal” and refer women to a physician when necessary.

Arizona law requires that midwives undergo extensive training to become state certified. They must complete a three-year midwifery program and a five-year apprenticeship with a certified midwife or a nursing degree and a nurse-midwife apprenticeship.

“Each visit is like a childbirth class instead of just taking measurements and checking blood pressure,” remembers Stephanie Fox, a Gilbert mother of two. She describes her first pregnancy visits with an obstetrician as rushed and routine. She wanted a better experience than her first delivery, which began with an unnecessary induction. She found that personal attention under Melton’s care. “It was the greatest comfort through my labor looking into Jude’s and my husband’s eyes. I had gone through prenatals with them and spent so much time discussing and preparing. She knew me and my house, my family, my temperament, my diet… we’re still friends now.” Fox also claims that she felt only “a tiny fraction of the pain” that she experienced during her previous birth.

Critics of home birth maintain that all births require the presence of a full medical staff and access to medical facilities should things take a turn for the worse. Jude points out that midwives are trained to handle emergency situations and will transport patients to a hospital if complications arise. Many situations that often lead to cesarean delivery can be avoided with changes in the mother’s position and other natural techniques, she says. “Doctors rely on machines to take care of women; we use our hearts, our minds and our hands.”

A growing number of parents are returning to the belief that birth is a natural process that generally requires little or no intervention. They enjoy the various “fringe benefits” that the home birth experience has to offer: eating and drinking throughout labor, a familiar environment, the presence of family and friends and even a substantial financial break.

Catherine Moldenhaur, a Queen Creek mother of two, was between jobs and without maternity coverage when she found out that she was expecting her second child. After researching the cost of a hospital birth, she and her husband looked into home birth. “My first delivery was textbook,” Moldenhaur says. “[The baby was] born on the due date and everything, so my husband and I decided it was safe to have a home birth. It was good experience. I wasn’t connected to any monitors, there were no strangers coming in or out. It was a nice surprise for our older son to wake up and meet his new little brother.”

How to find a midwife

Several online databases offer search options to find a midwife, but networking with other moms in your neighborhood, online or at La Leche League or Attachment Parenting International meetings may be more effective in finding a tried and true midwife with a good reputation. Melton recommends interviewing several prospective midwives to find a good fit.

Ask lots of questions:

– Does she share or respect your values and beliefs?

– Does she offer nutritional support throughout pregnancy as most midwives do?

– Do your personalities click?