I pull back the curtain and show the often ugly reality of homebirth

Close up of hand in white glove open the curtain. Place for text

In the world of homebirth, I am known as “Satan,” or “she who must not be named,” or worse.

Why? Because I pull back the curtain on the often ugly reality of homebirth.

Promoting homebirth (or natural childbirth, breastfeeding or attachment parenting) depends on commodifying a romanticized ideal. The clearest expression is the hiring of a birth photographer, a previously undreamed of manifestation of privilege.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I rip away the gauzy trappings and expose the ugly reality: an injured, dying or dead baby.[/pullquote]

It isn’t enough to remember the event; it isn’t enough to have a partner or friend take pictures. A professional is required:

…[Her] role is critical … because she is fluent in the alternative symbolic orientations to and understandings of natural birth … [She] also provides her association and emotional support either by sharing beliefs about the experience or by affirming the woman’s right to assign her own unique beliefs to birthing. This seemingly simple service of association and presence is a critical social need in the context of extraordinary experiences and rites of passage that depend a shared cultural consensus for their significance.

The above quote comes from Great Expectations: Emotion as Central to the Experiential Consumption of Birth by Markella Rutherford and Selina Gallo-Cruz. They are referring to midwives, but the point also applies to doulas and birth photographers. It’s all about creating a carefully curated view of birth (or breastfeeding, etc.)

One of the reasons I inspire such a visceral reaction from homebirth advocates it that I pull back the curtain on such carefully curated set-pieces and expose the ugly reality behind them. And I never lack for opportunities.

It’s not simply that there are so many homebirth deaths and disasters that I can pick and choose. It’s that even mothers who have let their babies be profoundly injured or even die in the quest for the idealized birth experience try to make sense of that experience by romanticizing it (“born sleeping”) and boasting about it.

I pull back the curtain on that fantasy and expose the ugly reality:

  • A baby has been profoundly injured or died
  • The mother is romanticizing a catastrophic injury or death
  • The mother is still boasting about HER achievement
  • The incident is a cautionary tale for anyone else contemplating homebirth

Not surprisingly, that results in considerable backlash. Women have created manicured tableaux to absolve themselves of responsibility and I tear that away. They post tasteful, artistic, carefully curated photographs to convey their understanding with the symbolic orientations of the natural birth community and I rip away the gauzy trappings and expose the ugly reality: an injured, dying or dead baby and a mother who bears responsibility for that outcome.

Consider the most recent case where, fortunately, no one was injured. A birth photographer posted a dramatic photo of a baby falling into the midwife’s hands — literally. The baby fell a distance of several feet, the umbilicus experienced tremendous traction and the cord tore open, artfully spraying the field with the baby’s blood.

I reposted the picture on my Facebook page with a question. How do the same people who insist that delayed cord clamping is critical to ensuring the baby get it’s “full blood supply” suddenly find it completely acceptable to spray the baby’s blood everywhere?

Here’s typical response:


Gabrielle Hyde (I have no idea of her connection to the photo) writes:

Why post things you don’t understand. Were you there? You do know what happened? It was made aware it was perfect birth. Obviously you have no idea what professionalism is. And I will through my professionalism out there and call you a cunt. Please do not shame mothers, midwives or any other woman who knows how to make big girl decisions. You, in your old age, need to grow the fuck up.

And when I ignored it, she followed with this:

No response? It’s okay to tear people down and break someone’s soul? Yeah, okay. It’s time for you to retire. Birth is the most amazing experience a woman can go through and you tore it down like wallpaper. Get off the internet, because you have no couth.

Gabrielle wanted a response, so here it is.

The wording is remarkably revealing.

The birth was “perfect” even though the clown of a midwife let the baby dangle by its umbilical cord, tearing it open and spraying the baby’s blood everywhere. How can it still be “perfect” even though the baby was harmed? Because the baby is simply a prop in the mother’s piece of performance art.

The choice of words — “tear people down,” “break someone’s soul” — illuminates how homebirth is about building the mother’s self esteem; what happens to the baby is irrelevant.

Thank you Gabrielle for illustrating the ugly reality behind the carefully curated images of homebirth. I pulled back the curtain and you helpfully provided the commentary:

A perfect birth is one that soothes the mother’s soul, baby be damned.