Women Giving Birth at Home Without Midwives

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When Jennifer Margulis went into labor with her fourth child, she sent her husband off to take the kids to school, then waited at home for her body to do what she felt confident it had evolved over millions of years to do on its own.

There was no rushing to the hospital, no midwife ... Just Jennifer and her husband, home alone, giving birth.

"I think a lot of people think a woman who would want to have an unassisted birth would be a little bit crazy," said Margulis, who holds a Ph.D. in literature, and is a contributing editor for Mothering Magazine. "I think I may have had that reaction as well. I am definitely not a crazy person. I am a very educated, thoughtful and caring person. I am not a person who takes a lot of unnecessary risks. The whole point is it is not risky if you do your homework."

Nationwide, 90 percent of births still take place in hospitals with doctors attending ... 8 to 10 percent are with midwives in hospitals or birthing centers. And 1 to 2 percent are at home.

... Internet traffic and books on the subject indicate more women are choosing to take control with what is becoming known as freebirth because they are concerned about the United States' dismal record of maternity care and skyrocketing rate of Cesarean births, now at nearly 32 percent of all births ...

... "... they are trying to find a way to work around a system they see as very problematic."

Though the United States spends more money on childbirth than any other nation, it has one of the world's worst records for infant mortality and maternal mortality ...

... Margulis, a freelance writer, decided to have her fourth child at home without the help of a doctor or midwife. There are signs more women are choosing to do this ... because they want a more private and intimate birth.

... an obstetrician and gynecologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard medical School, said most women can give birth alone without any problem, but there are still small numbers — as high as 10 percent — who will run into complications, often without warning.

"What worries me is that very often women who have absolutely no risk factors develop an emergency complication," she said. "I can't imagine how you can possibly recognize that yourself, particularly if you have no medical training. Sometimes you have only minutes to intervene."

Tracy said the increase in C-sections appears driven by the high rate of obesity in America, more births of twins and triplets, more women asking for them, as well as the fear of lawsuits ...

"None of these make it, I think, a wise choice to have a delivery in a setting where no one has any training," she said.

... [Margulis] had a bad experience with her first birth in a hospital, and her second birth, which was with a midwife at home. A midwife also assisted with the third, but this midwife had half of her own 10 children unassisted, and was an inspiration for the idea. Margulis began interviewing midwives for her fourth birth, but as she learned more about doing it herself, she became convinced she could.

"I felt like when I read other peoples' stories, I felt like those were the most amazing women in the world and they were all so much stronger than I am," she said. "... if we let our bodies do what they evolved to do, what they know how to do, then any woman can have a safe unassisted home birth."

Jennifer Block, author of the book, "Pushed," said while it is impossible to track the numbers of women doing unassisted childbirth, they are highly educated, committed, motivated, and frustrated with mainstream medicine.

"... Women should be able to be in control and still have trained support with them. Emergencies do happen. I can't imagine trying to resuscitate my own infant, or if I had a hemorrhage."

... Laura Shanley, a leading advocate for freebirth, had her first child in 1978 without a doctor or midwife at home. She and her husband were inspired by the book "Childbirth Without Fear," by the late British obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read ... She went on to have all five of her children that way.

Melissa Maimann, Essential Birth Consulting 0400 418 448