“I had a Natural Home Birth”: A Doula and Yoga Teacher Shares her Story

People asked me if I was scared when I told them about my plans for a home birth. 

Of course I was scared – I’ve never given birth before! But I wasn’t terrified and my fear had nothing to do with the planned location of my birth.

 

While I knew our culture and media make birth seem terrifying, I had more realistic expectations. I knew what public health research said about low-risk births, and I remained low-risk throughout my pregnancy. I also knew my midwives were well trained in determining risk. They would immediately transfer me to a hospital (like the one around the corner from my house) if the situation, or I, demanded it.

[bctt tweet=”Birth decisions are framed by a distorted culture of birth and pressure to have the “ideal birth”.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

My experience – from choosing a birth location to questions about fear- came to encapsulate for me, just how much birth decisions are framed by a distorted culture of birth and pressure to have the “ideal birth”.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]In much of the developed world, including Brussels, it seems birth options are limited less by resources and more by societal and cultural expectations[/perfectpullquote]

Perspectives on Birthing

My hopes for my birth were in sharp contrast with the birth culture here in Brussels where I live. Birth here is viewed through a medical lens. About 99 percent of births occur at hospitals, mostly under the care of doctors [note]http://ftp.vub.ac.be/pub/exchange/ndacosta/outgoing/download/publicKeys/download/CEPIP/rapport_CEPIP_Bxl2010_fin.pdf[/note]. Episiotomies are still extremely common, with a rate of 30 percent. Almost 55 percent of first-time mothers receive an episiotomy [note] http://ftp.vub.ac.be/pub/exchange/ndacosta/outgoing/download/publicKeys/download/CEPIP/rapport_CEPIP_Bxl2010_fin.pdf [/note]. Doulas are uncommon in Brussels. Although doulas are non-medical care people, and evidence shows that the presence of a doula reduces the risk of most medical interventions, C-sections and negative outlook on birth [note]https://evidencebasedbirth.com/the-evidence-for-doulas/ [/note], most doctors and hospitals do not “allow” doulas at births.

[bctt tweet=”In Western media, home birth is often depicted as “hippy-dippy” and anti-science/medicine. ” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

In Western media, home birth is often depicted as “hippy-dippy” and anti-science/medicine. And while it is true I am a doula and a yoga teacher, I also hold a Masters of Public Health and have spent most of my adult life working in maternal and reproductive health in countries all over the world. I often feel like I exist on both sides of the birth “debate”, I know the importance of both low and high intervention births, as well as everything in-between.   

A Home Birth for Me

When I became pregnant, I knew right away I wanted a home birth. I also wanted to avoid hospitals for the anxiety they provoke. I knew I wanted health providers who would take time to listen to my concerns and desires.

 

Photo Courtesy: Emily Gold


At first, I brushed off peoples’ questions about my fears, but the more people asked me if I was scared the more it began to grate on me. I got angry. When a pregnant person or a new mother asked me this, I would imagine asking them if they were scared of a forced episiotomy or infections. I stopped telling people I was planning a home birth. Instead, I said that we weren’t sure yet or were considering the local hospital-based birth center. The more I lied about it, the less confident I became in my choice.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I realized I was becoming scared about my informed choice. I knew something had to change.[/perfectpullquote]

The Decision

I sat down one day and thought about everything I knew about birth. I thought about the births I’d been to, both the ones that went as planned and the ones that didn’t.  I thought about what I learned in my master’s program and doula training. I journaled. I meditated. And I reminded myself that I had done my homework, I wasn’t planning a home birth because I had “something to prove” or based on fake science, I was making an evidence-based choice for me and my family.

[bctt tweet=” I wasn’t planning a home birth because I had something to prove. Read more from a doula and yoga teacher.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

After this, I became more confident. When people asked I proudly told them my plan, and let them know I would be happy to answer any questions they had.

While no birth goes exactly as planned, mine was pretty close and while I can’t say I enjoyed it, I can honestly say I loved it! I loved that we never had to leave our warm cozy home. I love that I still cuddle my baby on the very bed that he was born in. I loved that I learned to breastfeed him in the place I would continue to feed him. I first swaddled him in the very bassinet he completely refused to sleep in. I love that I was able to walk around in my favorite places and use the breath work and positions that I had practiced by myself and with my husband. No one was pressuring me for pain relief I did not want. I love that if that had changed, I had only to tell a midwife and we would have been at the hospital in minutes.

 

Photo Courtesy: Emily Gold


I’ve gotten used to the surprised look on people’s faces when they ask about the birth. I smile and talk about how great it was. 
I know I was lucky not only in how everything worked like it was supposed to but also in knowing how to seek out the birth I wanted.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Yet, maybe avoiding interventions isn’t always the right goal. Many babies, including me, had their lives saved by C-sections.[/perfectpullquote]

I’ve always seen C-sections as an absolute blessing; I’ve met mamas that don’t have babies and the babies that don’t have mamas due to limited access to C-sections and other interventions in the developing world.

When we are pregnant we talk about “birth plans” as if we have all the options in the world. As women, we often are made to feel like these decisions define who we are. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Yet as a society we leave women with very few choices. If we stay within the local birth culture, which in much of the West is very medicalized, we are shamed for not trying hard enough or “failing”. Yet if we go our own way, an empowering step, we are made to feel ashamed, scared or guilty of taking too much of a risk.[/perfectpullquote]

Perhaps we can replace the fear of birth, and the sense of unrealistic expectations, with improved access to prenatal education and an early awareness of the full spectrum of birth options.

Did you have a birth plan? Were you able to get the birth for which you had planned? Share your story below. 


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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Severine Perronnet says:

    I did have a birth plan, and, as my midwife recommended, it was as flexible as possible. I went through all possible scenarios, from an easy going birth to one with lots of problems and difficulties. I learnt a lot while writing it, because I had no idea about most of the things I was supposed to make a choice about: what would I prefer in case I needed to be induced? What if i had to have a C section? What if the baby was not descending? What if they had to chose between my life and my baby’s? In the end, things went according to my plan, thanks to the support of my gynec, who believed in me. So I had my natural water birth 🙂 But I was ready for any other option.
    When it is true that in the West, birth is seen through a medical lens, I am happy to say that in Brussels, where I live as well, many hospital have the Mother and baby Friendly UNICEF label, and a lot of alternative options are available for mothers like you and me, who want to try a different way of giving birth.

    Like

    1. Emily says:

      This makes me so happy to hear!! So many women I have talked to were not really told to think about options. After a prenatal yoga class one day 2 women were discussing a 3rd women’s (not present) desire to not have an epidural. They both couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to do that. I pointed out that some people really want to know they can move during their birth, especially if they want to utilize some of the yoga we were doing. Neither of them had ANY idea an epidural usually means you can’t move from the waist down! And they had both had the “epidural session” at the hospital! That really upset me.

      Being ready with all the options is the way to go! It has been great to see that even in the past few years there are more Baby Friendly Hospitals here 🙂

      Like

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