For the last few years, studies done on home births have shown that birthing at home for low-risk pregnancies were just as safe, as if not better than hospital births. The most recent study, the Wax study, has tossed more fuel to the home birth debate. The conclusion of that study reports that less medical interventions result in “a tripling of the neonatal mortality rate”. Many critics are saying the study is flawed and an investigation was opened by the AJOG (American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology). AJOG concluded that there were flaws in the study, but not enough to warrant a retraction.
Having had five successful home births, clearly, I disagree with the Wax study.
Hospital births are a recent phenomenon. Babies have been born at home with a midwife (or not) since the beginning of time, this is fact. What is also fact is that humanity has managed to survive. A Paradigm shift occurred. Attitudes towards birthing at home are uniform in perception that home births are dangerous and unsafe. Women who do them are selfish and crazy. How did such a shift take place? How has what’s been normal since the beginning of time, turn into something abnormal and wrong?
Is it the fear of nature and faith in science?
All cultures develop technologies. But most do not supervalue their technologies in the particular way that we do. This point is argued clearly by Peter C. Reynolds in his book, Stealing Fire: The Mythology of the Technocracy (a technocracy is a hierarchical, bureaucratic society driven by an ideology of technological progress). There he discusses how we "improve upon" nature by controlling it through culture. - The Rituals of American Hospital Births
Is it a form of control?
In spite of tremendous advances in equality for women, the United States is still a patriarchy. It is no cultural accident that 99% of American women give birth in hospitals, where only physicians, most of whom are male, have final authority over the performance of birth rituals--an authority that reinforces the cultural supervaluation of patriarchy for both mothers and their medical attendants. - The Rituals of American Hospital Births
Is it the American ideals for capitalism and production?
The rising science of obstetrics ultimately accomplished this goal by adopting the model of the assembly-line production of goods as its template for hospital birth. Accordingly, a woman's reproductive tract came to be treated like a birthing machine by skilled technicians working under semiflexible timetables to meet production and quality control demands. As one fourth-year resident observed:
We shave 'em, we prep 'em, we hook 'em up to the IV and administer sedation. We deliver the baby, it goes to the nursery and the mother goes to her room. There's no room for niceties around here. We just move 'em right on through. It's hard not to see it like an assembly line. – The Rituals of American Hospital Births
Something went awry, and home births became the pariah of normal birthing behavior. Whether you agree with the Wax study or not, the fact remains that 99 percent of women do birth in hospitals. Considering this, our infant mortality rank is abysmal. Studies like the Wax study are better geared towards the issue of our infant mortality rank in a standardized hospital setting.
Like breast feeding, home births require a change in perception, and cultural values. It can be normal, safe and empowering for the low-risk woman. I truly believe that the empowerment of a un-medically managed birth can facilitate a strong bond between a confident mom and her newborn.
However, unlike breast feeding, I believe this perception will be even tougher to change. Hospital births are not only ingrained in the American culture, but tie intimately into the capitalistic culture and turf of OBGYNs. You can bet that they will not relinquish it without a fight. I believe the modern culture of hospital births are geared towards money and control. It is by no accident…while we rank poorly in infant mortality, we also spend the most money on births.
Hospitals may be the modern standard, but do you believe in the safety of a home birth for low-risk pregnancies?