The doubtful father’s guide to homebirth

Today, I’d like to address fathers, specifically fathers whose wives are trying to convince them to give their approval to homebirth.

You were expecting all along that your wife would give birth to your baby in a hospital, but then she watched some movie by that girl who was in “Hairspray” and that convinced her that homebirth is just as safe or even safer, and so much more spiritual.

You are doubtful. You’ve asked her how homebirth could be safer if you are far from help if something goes wrong in childbirth. You wonder if someone who is not a doctor and who shuns technology can keep your wife and precious baby safe. You are dubious that a woman whose main professional qualification is her vow not to “interfere” could possibly provide anything that a laboring woman and her baby needs.

I have two things to tell you:

First, you are right and your wife is wrong.

Second, don’t back down because your child’s very life may depend on your insistence that he or she get the best possible medical care.

You are right that it cannot possibly be safer to deliver far from the help you need in an emergency. Your wife insists that the “research” that she has done proves otherwise and wants to “educate” you. Be very wary.

Do you really need to learn about a movement whose main thought leader is washed up talk-show host Ricki Lake? No you don’t, but your wife insists that there are professionals who have done scientific research showing homebirth is safe. Professionals? Hardly. Ina May Gaskin is a “self-taught” self-proclaimed “midwife” who has NO EDUCATION OR TRAINING in midwifery, nursing or medicine. One of her own children died at a homebirth and she refused to seek help for that baby and watched him die.

Henci Goer is a self-appointed “expert” in childbirth research, yet she has no advanced degree of any kind, not in medicine, not in nursing, not in science and not in statistics. And she is only an “expert” to her followers. She doesn’t teach in any university, doesn’t practice in any hospital, and doesn’t serve on expert panels.

These three woman, who don’t have a single relevant credential between them are the “thought leaders” in homebirth advocacy. Not surprisingly, they have no idea what they are talking about. For regardless of what they say, all the existing scientific evidence, all state and national statistics show that homebirth increases the risk that a baby will die. The increase is in the range of 200% or more. In fact, the latest statistics from the CDC show that planned homebirth in 2007 with a homebirth midwife (often called a certified professional midwife, CPM, or licensed midwife, LM) had a newborn death rate more than 7 TIMES higher than low risk hospital birth.

Death at homebirth isn’t rare; it is all too common. Read the birth stories at Hurt by Homebirth. One of the many moving stories is written by Wren’s dad, Josh.

It’s now been a year since our beautiful boy Wren was born, lived, and died. At first, I was surprised at just how few people knew about Group B Strep, and I latched onto it as a “cause” that could bring some meaning for me to the events that transpired. However, it quickly became obvious that it wasn’t GBS that was the real problem… although our friends and relatives hadn’t heard of it, it is well-known throughout the medical world, and the reason there isn’t much heard about it is that we have a completely safe, 99.8% prevention method for it.

It eventually dawned on me that real smoking gun in this situation was our decision to do a home birth. My wife had gotten interested in home birth partly through seeing “The Business of Being Born” and because she didn’t like going to hospitals. She really just liked the comfort of being at home. I was skeptical about the risks at first, but after we went to a couple different providers around Los Angeles, I came up with a mental model that made me comfortable with the idea: home births were like whole foods!

Which brings me to my second point, don’t back down when your wife tries to convince you that homebirth is safe. You may be the only person standing between your baby and brain damage or death.

Your wife may be seduced by self-proclaimed midwives whose primary goal is receiving their fee. They will do what they know how to do (which is pathetically little) and then insist that anything they can’t do is “unnecessary” and hinders the birth “experience.” Don’t believe them when they dismiss risk factors as meaningless, ignore obstetric standards of care or pretend that there is always “enough time” to get to the hospital.

Don’t be fooled into thinking these women are real midwives. In the US, real midwives have a college degree in nursing and a master’s degree in midwifery. These women (CPMs and LMs) may have nothing more than a high school diploma, if that. That’s why they are not eligible for licensing in the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia or ANY country in the first world. They don’t meet the basic standards of education and training required in ALL other industrialized countries.

This baby is your child too, and his or her protection is your responsibility. Yes, your wife may have her heart set on a homebirth, but she also has her heart set on raising a live baby, and homebirth diminishes the chance that your baby will survive childbirth.

As Josh explained:

You don’t know what “really good” midwives are. The ones we picked are licensed by The California Medical Board and certified by the North American Registry of Midwives. They are CPMs, LMs, MPHs, and LLCs. They’d been in business for decades and delivered thousands of babies. It turns out that … they actually have no medical training…

Overall, I just feel like a fool. My entire focus throughout the pregnancy was on the labor, the delivery, [my wife’s] experience, and maybe the first few minutes after birth. Once he had ten fingers, ten toes, and a lusty cry, I figured we were in the clear.

I was wrong, and our poor defenseless baby boy Wren paid for my ignorance. I thought I had everything figured out, I thought we would glide right through it all, I thought we were so cool.

Don’t let your child become a homebirth statistic or a sad story on Hurt by Homebirth. You are right that homebirth is not safe and it is important for you heed what you know to be true. Your wife may be disappointed that you do not approve of homebirth, but that is nothing compared to the lifelong heartache both she and you will endure if your baby dies at home because the emergency treatment he or she needed was too far away to make a difference.