A few months after I gave birth to my son, I volunteered to help my midwives staff their booth at a birth fair, where families go to learn about local birth options and baby-related services. A woman walked up to me and we started talking.
"So where were you born?" she asked, smiling at my son, who was also in attendance.
"At home," I responded cheerfully.
Her eyes darted up to my face, opened wider than I've ever seen before. "On purpose?"
I laughed. There are a lot of things people don't realize happen during home births, that can make a planned home birth a safe (and often, wonderful) option for birthing moms. "Yep, on purpose," I replied.
At my son's birth, my husband and two midwives assisted me from start to finish. While some folks who birth at home do so assisted by professionals, they usually call their births "unassisted" or "independent," so when I talk about home births in this piece, I'm talking about the kinds attended by trained midwives. In addition to helping me stay as comfortable as possible, my midwives made sure my baby and I were safe at all times. We had a contingency plan in place just in case, but based on my own feelings and regular checks with their handheld ultrasound, they could see that we were both tolerating labor well. So I continued to labor at home, on purpose; dancing with my husband, singing and swaying in my tub and later my shower, and rolling on my birth ball. Nearly a day after labor started, I finally pushed my son into the world. The midwives checked both of us while he lay on my chest, and once his cord was ready to be cut, we were separated for the first time in his short life, and my husband poured two glasses of my favorite champagne.
Not all home births feature champagne toasts, but the advance preparation and ongoing care and attention that made my home birth possible are the norm, as are the following:
Moms Create A Birth Plan…
In addition to getting to know each other over the course of the mom's pregnancy — learning about her hopes, fears, and wants for her birth experience — home birthing moms also have birth plans to clarify things like which post-birth procedures the family does and doesn't want (like vitamin K shot, eye ointment, etc.), and preferred hospitals and care providers to call in case of transfer.
...And Put Together A Birth Kit
Several weeks before my estimated due date, we received a huge kit which basically looked like the most deluxe first aid kit you could possibly think of, plus medical under pads (cause birth is messy), latex gloves, and the like. We also added in anything I thought I might want during birth; wash cloths to keep me warm or cool as needed, a couple of heating pads, straws to sip drinks to stay hydrated, receiving blankets for the baby, and more.
Midwives Bring A Lot Of Equipment...
Our midwives also brought their own equipment (because no, midwives attending home births aren't just pulling a MacGyver with whatever random stuff moms have at home). They come with all the equipment they need to do both routine post-birth exams on the baby and mom and stitch up minor tears if needed, as well as equipment like oxygen and neonatal resuscitation equipment on the off chance something goes wrong, so they can begin care while facilitating a transfer to the hospital if mom or baby need emergency care. (As a total geek, I thought it was really cool to watch my favorite midwife use a pulse oximeter on me and my baby while we lounged in my bed.)
...And Check Continuously To Make Sure Everyone’s Safe
In addition to staying with the family and observing how she's feeling and moving, midwives use their equipment to make sure everyone's tolerating labor well. Just because a birth starts at home doesn't mean it has to finish there; if something goes wrong, or if the mom changes her mind, they transfer.
There’s Often Lots Of Food
In my nesting frenzy, I put together a postpartum recovery station (aka "Food I Couldn't Eat While Pregnant" Central) that we raided a lot during my birth (in addition to a main course in the kitchen).
Birth takes a while and it's a really physical event, obviously. That's true for the birth team as well, so it's customary to ensure there's enough food for everyone to eat as needed.
Moms And Our Birth Teams Find Different Ways To Create Our Ideal Birth Environment...
For me, that meant just my midwives and my husband, surrounded by candlelight and music that helped me stay relaxed and energized as needed. Some moms have lots of family and friends surround them, others go all out decorating with flowers and other things that make them happy or feel like celebrating. One of the cool things about birthing at home is it's your space, so you can do whatever you want with it.
...And Keep Her Comfortable
Because no: moms who birth at home are not just biting a bullet and suffering. Heat, massage, tubs, giant birth balls, dancing, singing, sensual touch, meditation, and anything else they can think of, are all in play.
Midwives Check To Make Sure Mom And Baby Are Healthy...
Once the baby is born, the midwives weigh them, check their reflexes, and pretty much everything else that normally happens after a baby is born elsewhere. Families also make advance arrangements for other checks that can't be done at home, like hearing tests and follow-ups with the baby's pediatrician.
...And Clean Things Up While The Newly Expanded Family Bonds
Because birthing at home doesn't mean your home will forever look like a horror movie set, or that you'll have to worry about cleaning in your postpartum state. (My midwives didn't even want me to climb our stairs more than once a day after giving birth.)
Once they were sure we were healthy enough to be left alone, we snuggled in bed with our new baby while our midwives quietly cleaned up the room around us, did some laundry (forever cementing my love for them), straightened up the dishes and other things we used, then let themselves out of our house. So helpful.