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Dying to Birth at Home: Is Homebirth Worth the Risk?

Updated on June 28, 2011
Getting ready for an emergency transfer to the hospital after twenty hours of labor.
Getting ready for an emergency transfer to the hospital after twenty hours of labor.

I absolutely understand the appeal to homebirth. What could be a more organic, wholesome welcoming to the world than in the comfort of your own environment? If this has attracted you to look into homebirth as a viable option, I can assure you midwives are going to entice you with visions of candles, a relaxing birthing tub, the freedom to move as you wish and eat what you desire during labor. Once you have them talking, they will also beguile you into believing the hospital will deny your every wish. You will be forced to labor on your back, denied food and water, made to take drugs, bullied into a c-section, circumcision, and immunizations should you choose a "medicalized" birth.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I know; I once was a staunch homebirth advocate. Until my own. When my midwife arrived at my home to help me birth my first child into the world, it was a nightmare few women can imagine.

My midwife asked if she could use my oven to sterilize her instruments. She tried giving me someone's prescription to induce labor. Although she used a Doppler, she did not know the correct position my son was in. She told me her assistant was also a midwife- nowhere in my state does she have a CPM license. She did not allow me to labor in a position that was comfortable for me. Despite being GBS+ (Group B Strep- an infection that is harmless to the mother, but can be deadly to the neonate), she assured me homebirth was still safe and that using a Hibiclens rinse would effectively combat my GBS. She broke my water even though in our birth plan, due to the GBS, we agreed that breaking the water was not safe. She made me start pushing after she broke my water. I pushed for three hours with no results. She kept saying she could see my son's head, telling me he was right there but I wasn't fighting hard enough to bring him into the world. Later at the hospital, I learned what she saw was actually a blood clot on my bladder. After 15 hours of labor and 3 hours of pushing, I was so weak and confessed to her that I felt as if I could pass out at any moment. She “administered” oxygen to me and left the room, but it wasn’t helping. Because she forgot to turn it on. At that point, I wanted to be in a hospital. I simply wanted my child to survive.

At the hospital, my midwife refused to give the hospital staff any of my charts when I transferred the hospital, so without evidence of prenatal care, both my son and I were drug tested. My midwife would not stop arguing with the nurses when I was being admitted. Two Labor and Delivery nurses, an OB, and a resident checked my dilation- only 6 centimeters. An ultrasound showed the baby was asynclitic posterior, so not only was he face up, but his head was not engaged properly in my cervix. At home, my midwife told me my son was LOA, the “easiest” position to labor in. It took two skilled nurses a half an hour to properly insert a catheter because I was so extremely swollen. A fetal monitor showed my baby going into distress and I was relieved to be wheeled down to the O.R. for an emergency c-section.

My son had to resuscitated at birth. He required so much care; I did not get to see him for two hours after the birth. I had a severe bladder prolapse; my surgeon said he had to literally pick up my bladder and put it back where it belonged from pushing for so long without being fully dilated. Despite everything, we were inexplicably, undeniably lucky. Thanks to an amazing hospital staff, we lived. While my son is healthy, my body is not unscathed. I have a tilted bladder, incontinence, and uterine trauma. I will never naturally birth a child. Every pregnancy from now on carries a higher risk of placental abruption.

To top it off, although my midwife’s 2,000 dollar fee had been paid after my 36th week of pregnancy, she began fraudulently charging my insurance for ridiculous things like $800 for "whirlpool therapy." That has to be the most expensive bath I ever had in my own tub at home.

Carrying a new life inside of you can be such a wonderful gift, but also a daunting task that can shake us to the core of our very being. In times as such, women often have a renewed sense of faith to ease into the rhythm of maternity. Faith that we are entering a sacred bond with nature; our bodies are working as they were designed; we are capable and strong. While these are wonderful mantras, when it comes to choosing a birthing environment, do we own the rights to test the epistemological validity of faith in our bodies? Or is faith truly opposed to reason?

Few women begin their journey into motherhood without fear. Fear of anything- be it needles, stretch marks, pain, parenting, labor, birth, even death. Nothing is safe about birth- there is an instinctual reason women fear it. No one can guarantee a positive experience or a safe outcome, so beware anyone who wraps an anecdotal birth with a bow of empowerment and tries to sell it to you. You could be bargaining your baby and your life for an experience that may not turn out the way you were promised.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      If any of you midwives are still reading this thread, my story is even worse - my son died because my midwife screwed up. I had Premature Rupture of Membranes at 41 weeks. I had minor contractions, my water broke (filled with meconium), and then labor stopped. My midwife said it was no big deal, and that I could still wait for labor to re-start and then birth at home. 4 days later (yes, you read that right, a full 4 days), I finally went into labor again. I labored at home for about 18 hours and still wasn't in transition. The midwife was doing hourly checks of the fetal heartbeat, which had been fine, and then one time she checked and there was no heartbeat. We immediately went to the hospital, where they used an ultrasound to confirm the baby was dead. Turns out that I had contracted a uterine staph infection and my cervix wouldn't open, essentially killing my son by not letting him out. I had to have a c-section to deliver his body, and three weeks of antibiotics. The infection was so bad I may never be able to have another child. This was my first.

      My midwife was incredibly experienced and wonderful at pre-natal appointments. The problem was that she failed to recognize how abnormally things were going. I was completely pro-midwife before this, and now I will never recommend midwifery to any of my friends or relatives. My only child is dead because of her incompetence.

    • holly-turner profile image

      Holly Turner 

      5 years ago from Falmouth

      Again, your titles are somewhat inflammatory "Dying to birth at home"? what do you think that immediately says? That was a terrible experience, really shows that the US requires harder legislation for midwives. Would also be great if US hospitals offered support for women who want to birth at home, lowers costs and home births for low risk pregnancies often result in less invasive procedures to induce.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Wow, I am so deeply sorry for you what you and your son went through. I know most midwives do not operate the way your midwife did. Home birth is safe, but of course anything can happen and things do go wrong both at home and in hospitals. I hope you are emotionally recovering for your ordeal and moving on to a wonderful life with your son. Please don't believe that home births aren't safe because of your experience... I know that may be hard to believe right now.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am so sorry that you had such a terrible experience. I am a CPM and work extremely hard to provide my clients with homebirth where the emphasis is on safety as well as providing my moms with an accurate depiction of what they can expect at a homebirth with me, stressing that it isn't all candles and waterbirth. Unhindered birth, which allows a woman to birth without unnecessary interference is the safest way to give birth at home. I pray that this negative experience won't hinder you in your future births and hope that your journey from here on with your precious baby is a peaceful one. Know that there are many midwives who would read this and feel sick for what you went through.

    • SkeptiMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      This article isn't for or against homebirth.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


      Your story sounds like an absolute nightmare. Your midwife should definitely have her license revoked. I am so glad that you and your baby are ALIVE and healthy, and although you will have lasting consequences, that you don' have to deal with the loss of a life. I have had all 3 of my babies at home, and my first birth, was similar in experience to yours. I also was manipulated into pushing at 6 centimeters, though my midwife performed a manual cervical dilation on me during each contraction. She calls this method "powerbirth", though I knew nothing about it before she gave me the option after 19 hours in labor to "keep laboring for 2 more hours, or see my baby in 30 minutes". Although my baby was out in 30 minutes, I suffered many consequences after delivery including severe blood loss, uterine prolapse, ruptured blood vessels in my face, and extreme pain and fatigue for a week after my birth. I could barely even turn over. She also insisted that I keep pushing for a ten count and not rest in between. I have had other women tell me that this is because the cervix can swell up and tear if the baby doesn't get out quickly. I completely understand how you feel about your experience. My daughter is now 7 and it has taken me years to get over my birth experience. As someone who has felt as you have, please understand that I'm not trying to insult you when I say this. I don't think it's fair to say that you were "hurt by homebirth" and begin campaigning against it. You were hurt by your abusive midwife, just as I was. I have had 2 subsequent births at home, and both were incredible experiences. I used different midwives each time, and both were incredibly attentive to the safety of myself and the baby, didn't try to push anything on my that I didn't want, guided me through the birth, held my hand, massaged me, ensured I was hydrated, fed, and rested, they were wonderful! Although my births were uncomplicated, I personally know mothers these midwives attended to in the past who required transport to the hospital for C-sections. These midwives recognized the signs of distress and did not hesitate to get those mothers to the hospital. It really isn't the fault of homebirth that you and I had bad experiences. The fault lies with the individual caregiver. Honestly I have heard a lot more nightmares about hospital birth. My own sister lost her full term son due to gross negligence on behalf of her doctor. She was rewarded a settlement for it. It was definitely his fault. There are good and bad doctors and good and bad midwives, and they both also make mistakes. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves about birth, be firm in our desires and decisions, and be proactive about our own safety and that of our babies, no matter where we choose to give birth. I definitely think you should go after this midwife legally, but going after homebirth I don't agree with.

      Blessings to you and your little Zen....


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Any chance this midwife was a practicing PowerBirth midwife? From what I have read from other women writing about this, the midwives did not disclose their "model of care" with clients and then proceeded to perform multiple exams, instruct women to assume certain positions, attempted to manually dilate the cervix and instructed women to push from very early in their labour. Like you, the women were physically and permanently damaged. I am so sorry this happened to you and your baby!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Zia - I don't see any arguments here that "all midwives are terrible." Rather, this is a personal story that sounds more like the sorts of propaganda the midwife community is usually telling about hospital births. The take-home message here, I think, is that anything can happen, so making choices based on sound, evidence-based practices is best. In a hospital, at least there is oversight. When you put your life (and your baby's life) in the hands of a midwife like this, there is no oversight. You are completely surrendering to their choices.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      You had a terrible midwife. That doesn't make ALL midwives terrible or things they promote lies. It doesn't mean the medical community is great, either. There are wonderful and terrible experiences on both ends of the kind-of-birth spectrum. Trying to convince people all midwives are bad just seems disingenuous and like an emotional reaction instead of well-reasoned.


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