Is home birth safe?

Most doctors in the US will say no, absolutely not. But is that really true? Here are a couple studies so that you may decide for yourself.

1. 2009 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ)
Conclusion: “Planned homebirth attended by a registered midwife was associated with very low and comparable rates of perinatal death and reduced rates of obstetric intervention and other adverse perinatal outcomes compared with planned hospital birth attended by a midwife or physician.”
 Details: This is a very good study because it looked at only women who were low-risk; even the women who gave birth in the hospital would have qualified for a home birth if they had desired. Therefore, the study is not biased in favor of homebirth, but is as fair as humanly possible. For a planned home birth, rates of perinatal (baby) death per 1000 births was 0.35. For the planned hospital births with a midwife, rates of perinatal death per 1000 births was 0.57. For planned hospital births with a physician, rates of perinatal death were 0.64. Notably, the study finds that women who had planned home births were significantly less likely to have bad maternal (mother) outcomes, such as severe tearing or hemorrhage.

2. 2005 study published in the British Medical Journal
Conclusion: “Planned home birth for low risk women in North America using certified professional midwives was associated with lower rates of medical intervention but similar intrapartum and neonatal mortality to that of low risk hospital births in the United States.”
Details: This study looked at all of the planned home births in 2000, attended by Certified Professional Midwives in the US and Canada, in locations where home birth is not integrated into the healthcare system or well-accepted by most medical providers in the area.

3. The Maternal Mortality Rate in the U.S. is atrocious, for how medically advanced we think we are. 
Instead of having fewer mothers die in childbirth now as opposed to 20 years ago, the US has actually seen an increase in maternal deaths since 1990. This means that a woman in her twenties is more likely to die in childbirth than her mother was. As an industrialized country, we fall dismally behind countries such as Canada, Japan, and the Netherlands, all of which have midwives attending the majority of births. We rank 39, which means that 38 countries have better maternity survival rates than we do…and most of them are substantially better.

So what have we done wrong? Why are women more likely to die in childbirth than they were only 20 years ago? Could it be  due to the skyrocketing unnecessary medical interventions such as induction and cesareans? Could it be that maybe, with all our medical advances in case of emergency, we’re so on edge that doctors actually create the very circumstances they were trying to avoid? Could it be that most births are not medical emergencies, and that most women will give birth safely to healthy babies if left to their own timing, with a midwife who will offer support and appropriate medical care throughout this phenomenal life change?

Maybe. Maybe we’ve had it all wrong.

Birthing Positions

Traditional medical practice dictates having a laboring woman laying on a table during delivery. In fact, most people tend to think of birth as happening in this position. However, this is not for the mother’s benefit in the least. Instead, it is for the benefit of the doctor, so he or she can easily see without having to crouch or get on hands and knees. Can you imagine a typical doctor in the “good ol boy’s” club at your local hospital kneeling beneath a a woman to catch the baby while the mother sits on a birth stool, squats, or stands?

No, I can’t envision that either.

Despite ease for the doctor, this position is less than beneficial for the mother or baby. In fact, it is quite easily the worst position she could be in. Lying back closes the pelvic opening, making it more difficult for the baby’s head to get through. It also ensures that the mother has to work against gravity, trying to get the baby up and out. This is not a recipe for success, and along with the labor pain medication many women are given, it frequently creates serious trouble for the baby. You may have heard of terms such as “fetal distress” and “failure to progress” to describe the reason for an emergency c-section. These are listed side effects of labor drugs, but they are also caused in part by the difficulty of getting a baby through that closed space.

Convenience for the person who is not in labor doesn’t seem like a very good reason, does it?

So, if back-lying is not ideal for birth, what are the best positions? Really, a mother given freedom of movement throughout labor will generally be able to intuitively find the best position for her, and for that particular labor. However, here are what are generally the best positions for birth:



Squatting is virtually unpracticed in most Westernized countries. However, it is by far the best way to give birth. In a squat the pelvis opens up fully, and gravity helps draw the baby down. For women who live in countries where squatting is culturally normal, this is also an easy position to hold for the length of time necessary for birth. For someone unused to squatting, an assisted squat while holding onto a bar, partner, or rope is possible.

A squat is a great exercise to practice during pregnancy in preparation for birth. To do so easily, especially with a large baby belly, open a bedroom door. Place a foot close to the edge on each side and hold onto the doorknobs while you lower yourself into a squat. You can sit there a while before standing. Repeat as many times as desired. Even if you decide not to use the position during labor, it is a great prenatal exercise.


For women who prefer not to squat, sitting with knees spread wide apart is very similar in benefit. Using a birth stool or toilet (the latter is usually not recommended because you don’t want the baby to drop into cold germ-water!), just sit upright or slightly lean back or forward as desired. This is easier because we’re used to sitting like this on the toilet, and it also opens up the pelvis and uses gravity to our benefit.

Sitting up is my personal birth position of choice. The first two births I was not allowed to sit up, even though I had an overwhelming urge to. I still get frustrated just thinking about the individuals who hindered me. My third birth I was able to sit on a birth stool, and it was the best labor I’ve had. No screaming, no yelling, no frustration. Very little pain. My body was exactly where it needed to be.


Standing also uses gravity to help bring the baby down. To do this the mother stands, leaning and holding onto her partner or a chair for support. She can either face her partner, or be supported under her arms while she faces away. This also works while kneeling on a bed, facing her support. These first three positions are very beneficial because they are types of vertical birth.


Finally, kneeling is chosen by some women during labor. A woman can kneel on the floor and hold onto the bed or chair while pushing.


Really, there is no “wrong” position for birth, as long as a woman is able to choose her own position. If she is listening to her body and given the freedom to do so, then she will naturally shift and adjust to what is best for her unique birth. For labor-support, follow her lead. If she seems unsure, ask if a certain position listed above sounds good. If she tries it and hates it, no harm done, but she just may discover the perfect place for birth.

I sat on the toilet in our bathroom, holding onto my husband and drowning in sheer misery. This labor was too hard. I felt like I was about to die from pressure and pain. Or scream in frustration.

It wasn’t this difficult last time, was it? I’m sure it wasn’t. Nothing could be as horrible as what I was going through at that moment. Nothing.

I looked up countless times to tell my husband that we were having no more kids. No more! I’d say. I am finished doing this! But the words never made it past my lips. Instead I thought it to myself, drowning in pain and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. This was one experience I couldn’t escape. The baby was coming, whether I wanted her to or not.

Sometimes, staying pregnant seems like the easy way out.


Transition. As any mother who’s given birth sans intervention knows, this is arguably the most difficult part of labor. After hours of work – of contractions and no sleep – it strikes. Suddenly, you feel helpless. Contractions double up and barely pause between surges. Each can last two minutes, with barely 30 seconds of rest between. It’s impossible to get comfortable and becomes difficult to handle the intense pressure of the baby descending. Women get nauseous and have hot or cold flashes. They may start spitting, burping, or vomiting.

The worst part is the hormonal upheaval. A capable woman who was handling labor well will suddenly feel like she can’t do it. She may want the baby out right now, just to no longer experience labor. These feelings are due to a surge of adrenalin released into the brain that triggers our “fight or flight” response. Temporary fear, panic, nausea, and shaking are normal during transition.

But transition is actually a very good sign. This is what our bodies do immediately before pushing the baby out. The emotions and sensations tell us that our bodies are nearly ready for birth. It is during this short period of time that the cervix finishes dilating and the baby’s head begins pushing down into the vagina.

Although transition is difficult, it is also only lasts a relatively short period of time. Usually between 5 and 20 contractions occur. A woman’s partner or birth assistant can help her get through this difficult time by encouraging her, and reminding her to breathe deeply through each contraction. Some women find physical touch extremely comforting, some prefer not to be touched at all. No matter which type, no woman should be left alone during transition.

For anyone supporting a laboring woman, it is very good to know the signs of transition. Due to the “fight or flight” response, women may ask to go home if they are laboring in the hospital. This is also the time when many women will ask for an epidural or other labor drugs. We want something – anything – to stop labor pangs. Even if a woman has decided that she really wants to give birth naturally, she may ask for drugs or an epidural. I have to be careful here, but asking for a painkiller does not necessarily mean that she actually desires one. Some women ask in response to their sudden intense desire to escape labor, but would not want the drugs any other time. Now, if she keeps asking, then of course give her the painkillers, but also know that all the signs of fear and panic and a feeling of helplessness and an “I can’t do this anymore” mindset means that the baby is coming soon. A drug or sedative is not going to help for long, and will be a hindrance during pushing. Encouragement and support are extremely helpful at this time, and gentle reminders that she gets to meet her baby soon.


I wanted a c-section. Or to just go to the hospital for some serious drugs. Time lost meaning as I sank deeper into labor-land. Then the contractions paused briefly. I sat, relishing the break. Suddenly my body instinctively bore down in a push. I reached my hand down and felt hair on top of a tiny baby head! 

A surge of renewed energy snapped through me as I made myself ready to meet my baby.

Charlie came two weeks “late.” And five weeks after I had my first major set of contractions. The summer just dragged on and on, while our hopes of a late-June baby turned into hopes of a July 4th baby, and then into hopes of a baby before summer’s end. I felt like I might just be pregnant forever, and got to the point of dreading the next batch of contractions because I knew it most likely wouldn’t bring a baby. Although I tried a couple natural ways to bring the baby, and walked every day, David and I decided to just let this third baby come in her own time, rather than in our time. We just enjoyed our last moments as a family of four and waited.


Finally, one morning I woke up around 3am with strong contractions. They were inconsistent, but strong enough to make me uncomfortable. By 5am I couldn’t sleep through them, so got up and read on the couch. Every ten to fifteen minutes I’d have another, but they didn’t get stronger or closer together. After several hours I called Marlene and she said that I should try to sleep and eat a little. She also suggested that I go see Jessica and have her do some labor-inducing acupressure (not acupuncture… needles and I don’t get along!) and massage.

I called my mom and she came to pick up Natalie and Felicity so I could get some rest. Then Jessica called and offered to come by and work on some labor pressure points for me. She came soon after and massaged my ankles, hands and lower back. It felt incredible, and I kept having those steady contractions, even with the distraction of talking and laughing with her. Every time one came I was surprised because I was certain they’d peter off and I’d never get to meet my baby!

Around 1pm, I suddenly got my appetite back and had a craving for pizza. So I ordered one and ate the entire thing. At that point my contractions started spacing out, though they stayed strong, so I called Marlene and informed her that I was going to take a nap, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be seeing her that night. I lay down and dozed for a little while. Around 3:20pm I suddenly wakened with a double batch of serious surges that I couldn’t relax through, even while breathing deeply. So I got up and went to the bathroom. I had a desperate desire to not be alone anymore so I texted David and asked him to come home sometime soon.

Should I leave work at 3:30 or 4? came his reply.

While he wrote that I had an off-the-chart surge and wrote back

Come home



He was home in ten minutes.

I went out into the kitchen and called Marlene. She didn’t answer so I left a desperate-sounding, probably nearly-incoherent message. I started worrying that she wouldn’t get the message, and I needed her with me, darn it! As soon as David got home I demanded that he call her so he did and thankfully she was just next-door, so arrived with everything by 4pm.

As soon as David got home I stopped my anxious pacing and was able to relax better. I knelt down in front of the couch and rested my upper body against it. David walked around, putting blankets over windows and lighting candles. Marlene came in with her comforting presence and quietly set up, and Jessica arrived not much later. I didn’t feel the need for Marlene to check me, because I knew this baby was finally on the way. I did ask her if she thought I was in labor and after watching me breathe through a surge she chuckled that she had no doubt.

My first two births had a sense of a surreal dream to them. I lost track of time frequently, and patches of what happened are completely lost to my memory. This birth, however, was different. I felt clearheaded and with it the entire time. Between contractions David and I discussed names. We tossed out the ones originally on our list for both boys and girls, and came up with brand new ones. Marlene and Jessica just kind of watched and stayed a bit out of the way; I could hear them talking quietly once in a while. Each contraction was strong, and I moaned through them. Marlene reminded me to breathe deeply and asked if it would help to move around. No, I can’t relax my muscles if I’m moving. So I stayed in the one position. I heard Marlene murmur to Jessica that I was either at the very beginning of labor or at the very end.

Suddenly I started crying. I gasped to David, I can’t do this. I got scared and thought that this has to be the beginning of labor and I knew I couldn’t do it all night! My emotions were completely unmanageable. I tried to control myself, but kept crying and felt totally trapped and alone. Marlene reminded me feelings like those mean that the baby is coming soon. My logical part knew that she was right, but that side was completely taken over by the illogical, emotional hormone surge of transitional labor.

Right after that I started pushing a little bit with each surge; it felt right to do so, though it wasn’t an overwhelming urge yet.

You’re pushing, aren’t you? Marlene said, in more of a statement than a question.



She and Jessica immediately finished setting up, and got the birth stool ready close behind me in case I wanted it.

I stayed there at the couch a little while longer, then asked for the birth stool because my legs got tired of half squatting, half kneeling. Everyone helped me up, and I got comfortable on the stool. I asked Jessica for pressure on my lower back, and it felt good to have the tension there with each contraction. Marlene had the warm compresses on my perineum, and I could feel the baby move down.

Everything felt right. I felt like I was in the exact position my body needed to be in and I was completely comfortable with the three people there. There was no insecure feeling about it still being daylight. Our little basement apartment felt secure and homey, and I was surrounded by people I trusted and who trusted in my ability to give birth in the best way for my body and my baby. David sat close and encouraged me, but barely touched me at all. It was almost like he didn’t want to disturb me while I was tuned in to my body. Or maybe he just didn’t know how to help.

Marlene gently reminded me that I had the option to catch the baby if I wanted to, and I nodded. Yes! I want to! I moved my hand down and felt the bag of waters bulging over the baby’s head. Marlene commented that my water hadn’t broken, and the bag was slowing me up. She said I could push against it with my finger each time I pushed the baby down to try to break it. I did, and it finally broke and the baby’s head pushed out. I felt hair and a tiny little face. Marlene told me to pause for a moment, and she quickly un-looped the cord from around the baby’s neck. Later she told me she wanted me to be able to bring my baby straight to my chest at the moment of birth instead of having to wait for her to untangle us.

Okay, she said, now you can push.

I did, and suddenly that little baby was cradled against my chest. I honestly have no idea of the mechanics of how I brought that squirmy, wet little baby from birth to chest; it’s as though instinct took over and I just did it without thinking at all. I started laughing and crying and saying you’re so beautiful! over and over.

David jumped up and started pacing, saying That was amazing. Oh my gosh that was crazy! What do we have? Is it a boy or a girl? Holy cow that was incredible!

I tried to look a couple times, then finally said we have a girl! And David got even more animated in his pacing, saying Another girl! Holy cow I can’t believe it! Oh she’s so beautiful; Babe you were awesome! I can’t believe it!

Our baby was crying, kind of a sputtering cry because she had a little fluid in her lungs from birth. She kept coughing and cleaned her lungs out herself. Marlene didn’t suction, just checked our new daughter while I held her, and none of the four of us could believe how small she looked. I had been convinced that I was going to have an eight-pounder at the very smallest, because of how late she was and how huge my belly got. We laughed that it was a good thing she didn’t come five weeks earlier! She knew what she was doing by staying in there so long!

I was helped to the plastic-covered couch, so sat there holding our baby and watching David, who could not sit still. I had started calling the baby Charlie right away, because it seemed to fit her and that was the name David had brought up during labor. After possibly-Charlie has suckled a little and the afterbirth was born, I went to sit in a warm bath for a few minutes alone in peace while Marlene and Jessica did all the weighing and testing and David got to hold his daughter for the first time.

While sitting there I heard them all start laughing and exclaiming, you have to tell Beth! Jessica came in and said that our tiny-looking baby was 7 lbs 12 oz, which is big for a high-elevation baby! Marlene and Jessica stayed for a little while longer, and we all had some fresh fruit David cut up for us. Then they left, and we snuggled with our new little baby daughter. After much debate, we decided that we shouldn’t just name her Charlie, but that it should be a nickname, and her official name on the birth certificate should be more traditional. Therefore,



Charlotte Jane was born Tuesday, July 12, straight into her momma’s hands. She had dark hair, chubby cheeks, and dark brown eyes.





To check out Charlotte’s older sister’s birth stories:

Natalie’s Hospital Birth Story

Felicity”s Home Birth Story

Several weeks ago I wrote on medical methods of induction, many of which are no-nos if you’re wanting a natural birth. So now it’s time to write about natural induction (which, by the way, I now have plenty of experience with after my third daughter was two weeks later than planned. We were expecting a late-June baby, and ended up with a mid-July baby).

First, let me say this: it is best to let a healthy baby come when she or he is ready. If you are pushing your “due date” or it has already passed, then the best thing to do is just relax and allow the baby to begin labor when ready.  There are things you can do to speed up the process by a couple days, but if your baby is not ready to come, then baby won’t come unless you force the issue.



Male sperm works to soften the cervix and causes contractions. Obviously this will not work if you are using condoms, but women more sexually active during late pregnancy tend to have babies come earlier than those who don’t, according to Ina May Gaskin, who is considered the nation’s leading midwife.



The swaying motion of walking helps move the baby down and into the correct position for birth. If the baby is already low, the movement will start to press her head against the cervix, helping it to open and efface. It also keeps mama healthy, which is essential for a natural birth. Don’t walk until you’re exhausted because you’ll need energy for labor, but a good 30-minute walk every day will help the birth process.



Okay, this may sound counter-intuitive, but getting adequate sleep is important for a mother about to go into labor. If your body is worn out from miles of walking and too much sex (like there ever is such a thing!), then it will delay labor in an attempt to rest. If this is the case, then sleeping is the best thing you can do because you do not want to begin labor exhausted. Especially if you are a first-time mother. Get enough rest! It will make labor easier.


Nipple Stimulation

Stimulating a pregnant woman’s nipples will contract the uterus. After giving birth, a nursing baby’s suckling helps the uterus contract back down quickly, thus reducing a woman’s risk of hemorrhage. Before the moment of birth, nipple stimulation helps start contractions or keep them going. For some women this is a sure-fire way to start labor. Oral stimulation is best, either from a nursing toddler or a spouse, but manual stimulation or using a breast pump work as well. Used in conjunction with intercourse, it is extremely effective. This also happens to be a great way to try to jumpstart a slowed labor in the hospital rather than using Pitocin or Cytotec.



There are pressure points on a woman’s body that help initiate labor contractions. A massage therapist trained in what is safe for pregnancy and labor is a great person to see. Someone trained in acupuncture and acupressure would also know what to do. However, you don’t necessarily need a trained professional to do the massage. Although a professional will be more experienced, a friend or partner can firmly massage the following areas:

~Hand: massage the webbing between thumb and index finger.
~Ankles: massage the ankles all the way up to mid-calf, focusing on the inside of her leg, a couple inches above the ankle bone.
~Sacrum:  massage the lower back right between her hip bones, focusing on the two dimples just above the top of her buttocks crease.



There are a couple of homeopathic remedies that can encourage labor to begin. Most midwives will not distribute them prior to your “due date,” but check with your midwife or a naturopath to get some. The great thing about homeopathics is that they will not force a baby to come who is not ready. Using them will just give a baby who’s ready a little nudge to start labor. If they don’t work and just cause annoying contractions that do nothing productive, drinking a small cup of coffee will stop them. Caffeine counteracts homeopathics. Also, be warned that taking too much of a homeopathic will cause the reverse of the desired effect. I learned this the hard way with my third child when I accidentally stopped a batch of promising contractions by taking too many pills.


Castor Oil

Okay, castor oil is disgusting. But it is a fairly fool-proof way of starting labor. It is a little more aggressive than any of the previous natural inductions listed. A tablespoon with breakfast should start some strong contractions that turn into labor. If you decide to try castor oil, make sure your care provider knows what you are doing so she can be ready for you. Be warned, castor oil is a laxative, so it will clean you out as well as get your baby out.



A good midwife or naturopath will be able to prescribe herbs to induce labor. These are similar to castor oil in that they are more aggressive than the first few methods listed. As with the homeopathics, I do not want to list particular herbs because it is something your care provider (who knows your medical history and situation) should recommend. If you are seeing a regular doctor who doesn’t know about herbs, try going to a naturopath or acupuncturist who works with pregnant women.



If you don’t mind needles, then seeing an acupuncturist may be a good way to start labor. When choosing a provider, however, make sure you go to someone with excellent references and experience in working on pregnant women. If you’re nervous about needles, as I am, many can also do acupressure and heat over various points to initiate labor.


Sweeping the Membranes

This is apparently a fairly effective method of beginning labor within 24 hours. During a vaginal exam, the doctor or midwife can gently insert a finger into the cervix and swipe in a circular motion to stimulate contractions. This method does, however, carry a slight risk for breaking the bag of waters with a sweep that is not quite gentle enough. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, except that having a broken bag of waters but no labor carries a risk of infection for your baby, and will necessitate medical induction within a day or so if labor does not begin.

Felicity’s Homebirth Story

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write about Felicity’s birth. Maybe I’ve just gotten lazier about writing over the years. Maybe. But I think it has more to do with how the birth actually went. I think I simply couldn’t bear to face the facts of my second birth. Not that anything terrible happened, but the whole experience was somewhat miserable until Felicity was actually born. And I expected more of a homebirth. But after that birth I was thinking that I actually enjoyed laboring in a hospital with Natalie more than at home with Felicity, and that was hard to swallow. And almost impossible to admit, even to myself. As I think about it, I think it had much to do with the midwife’s attitude and not as much to do with the labor process itself. The most I’ve told anyone about my labor is that it was longer and harder than Natalie’s, and that I didn’t get to push how I wanted. As much as I don’t want to relive that labor, I don’t want to forget. So, 18 months later, here is the story of Felicity’s birth.


I wasn’t very healthy while pregnant. We lived on the third floor in the city, and had to drive somewhere else in order to get in a decent walk. So, living up three flights of stairs with a toddler, combined with the effort required in order to actually be outside, made exercise difficult. I’m sure eating a Culver’s snack pack meal a couple times a week didn’t help in the health department, either. David was working crazy long hours, so to pass the time I’d eat. I think that had a lot to do with making the labor so difficult.


Anyway, Tuesday night I was having strong contractions, after having mild ones steadily all day. For some reason the main thing I remember about that day was that Natalie and I went to Costco to stock up, and I was thinking I may be in labor. What a mundane thing to do the day labor begins. I called Sally*, the midwife, that night and told her, but said it probably wasn’t the real deal and I was going to bed to try to get some sleep. That was 9pm. Around 11pm I woke up wanting Sally there, and woke up David. He convinced me to wait a little while and to walk around so he could time the contractions. We walked around the apartment, and the contractions were close, but kind of inconsistent. I was feeling nervous and unsure about whether I was in labor or not. Finally, David called Sally around 2am, and she showed up an hour later.


Because I was so unsure I wanted her to check me to make sure all the contractions were actually doing something. She did, and I was four centimeters. So, she said my body is working, but that I shouldn’t wear myself out by walking around since my body will do the work no matter what. I knew that walking around would speed up labor and help the baby get in a better position, but I was tired and felt a little insecure about speaking up since I was new to homebirth. So David and I cuddled up on the bed and waited. He fell asleep, I dozed on and off between contractions. Sally and Michelle, her assistant who came to watch Natalie, slept in the livingroom. Later I got really uncomfortable and so got in the tub (the wonderful, huge, garden tub!), but didn’t stay too long.


It was starting to get light when I started feeling like I wanted to push. Everything before then was kind of a blur. I knelt on the bed, held onto David, and pushed, but it was taking a little while. I felt self-conscious in the daylight. Then Sally asked if I was sure I actually needed to push. She checked me and said that there was a tiny lip of skin still blocking the baby’s head, so that I couldn’t need to push yet. She made a comment about how moms who’ve ever given birth in a hospital don’t know how to push. I got upset with her, although I didn’t say a word, because that was totally untrue. When I felt the urge to push last time, I pushed and out came a baby. No one was telling me when to push. I listened to my body. This time, I felt insecure and uncertain about the entire thing, and I felt like Sally was treating me like I didn’t know my own body just because I’d given birth in a hospital before. And then she made assumptions based on that, without the facts of how that labor actually went.


Around this time, Natalie woke up and came in to see us. She was sweet, and wanted to see how I was doing…frequently. However, I was having a rough time with her coming in and touching me during contractions. I was distracted, upset with Sally, uncomfortable about being in labor in the daylight, without the night to embrace and protect me. I felt exposed and alone.


Finally I escaped to the bathroom with David, and Sally and Michelle stayed in the livingroom and Michelle played with Natalie. That’s when I started to feel safe again. I sat on the toilet and felt like I didn’t want to do this ever again. I felt sick and over it. I almost looked at David and told him no more kids. I vaguely remember Sally coming to check and David telling her we’d be ready for the birth stool soon. She left to get it out of the car. Then I felt a sudden urge to push. I actually gave in a couple times and pushed before realizing what I was doing and reaching down to feel what was happening.


And there was a baby’s head! I could feel her hair. I kind of gasped and exclaimed, I’m pushing!


David called for Sally, and she immediately came in and said lets move her to the bed.


 I told her I wanted to stay there, but Sally didn’t listen and moved me anyway. Apparently I wasn’t adamant enough. David later told me that when she moved me our baby’s head went back up inside. I kneeled next to the bed and held on to the blankets while I pushed. It was terrible. I felt like I was in a bad position, but knew I wouldn’t be able to hold a squat long enough and Sally hadn’t brought the birth stool in. I was frustrated and upset, and as a vent screamed each time I pushed. Poor Natalie got really worried and came running in. She saw me screaming and started crying. David held her and explained what was happening, but at the end she got scared and ran out of the room. I pushed for what seemed like a really long time.


Finally I felt the baby’s head come down, and I gave a huge push and her head came out. Then I pushed out her body and suddenly she was in my hands as Sally handed her to me. Here’s your baby.


As soon as I looked at my daughter it was all worth it. She was beautiful. She had tiny hands clenched into fists, a tuft of jet black hair, and her tiny little body was covered in a soft layer of chub (compliments of Culver’s burgers, I’m sure).  I sat on the floor next to the bed and held her for a while; Natalie came in and met her sister for the first time before David and Sally helped me into bed. Once the cord stopped pulsing, Sally showed David how to cut it, then everyone left us for a short time while David and I cuddled on the bed with our second-born daughter. She nursed a little. As soon as the herbal bath was ready I got in with the baby. I held both my hands under her head and upper shoulders, and let the rest of her float free. She completely relaxed all her muscles and just floated in the warm water. It was peaceful and quiet. David sat with us, and we talked about names. We wanted to name her Noelle, but couldn’t think of a good middle name to go with it. So, instead, we used it as the middle name and named her Felicity, which means “happiness.”


Felicity with her big sister, Natalie



Felicity Noelle was born February 2010, at 9:37am. She was 6 lbs 12 oz, and had a black baby mohawk that stayed with her for the first year of her life.


*I changed the names of the midwife and her assistant for their privacy.

We used this particular midwife because our insurance covered most of her fees. Moral of the the story is: find a midwife you “click” with, even if she may cost a little more than one who’s just “okay.” It is so worth it to have a great midwife you feel comfortable with!


Check out Felicity’s sister’s birth stories:

Natalie’s Hospital Birth Story

Charlotte’s Home Birth Story

I recently read Born in the USA by Marsden Wagner, who is the former director of women and children’s health for the World Health Organization. He made a great observation on the essential difference between midwives and the majority of doctors when it comes to childbirth.

Doctors view birth as something that happens to a woman.

Midwives see birth as something a woman does.

Seemingly a minor difference, but it means everything for how women in labor are treated.

Midwives assist a laboring woman give birth. Everything they do is to provide support for the woman while she works to birth her baby, and they are there in case something should go wrong. Women are considered “clients,” not “patients” because they are not sick. They are simply pregnant.

On the other hand, doctors deliver a baby. They see women as patients with a condition that must be fixed. Namely, she is pregnant and she should not be pregnant anymore. The goal is to get the baby out as quickly as possible, generally through medical methods and by their own expertise. It is rare to see a doctor who is willing to allow a healthy labor to happen naturally without attempting to meddle. Doctors are expert meddlers. It’s really all about control. But labor cannot be controlled, and when doctors (or nurse-midwives) attempt to control the uncontrollable, they tend to end up doing things that are not necessary or beneficial for the mother or her baby.

Doctors should be backup for when a woman actually does need assistance, not the default option for every woman in every birth. We need support during pregnancy and birth. Not always a medical degree.

Less than three weeks ago I gave birth to my third daughter. Exciting, right?! Well, I’m excited. She’s adorable and it was literally the perfect birth. Absolutely perfect. Once I finish writing my birth story I’ll post it for anyone who wants to read about a home birth. Anyway, since I’ve now had three natural births, one in a hospital and two at home, I think it’s time to write about pain management during labor.

Although the majority of women in the U.S. choose to get an epidural to block feeling, there are definite risks to the procedure, both for the mother and her baby. I don’t think anyone would disagree that a drug-free vaginal birth is by far the safest. Unfortunately, not many women believe that they are capable of a drug-free birth. Most, if not all of this is due to our cultural opinion of birth. Nearly everyone, from doctors to the media, treats labor and birth as a medical condition that requires medical intervention and a highly-specialized doctor present to “get the baby out.” However, a healthy woman, left to herself or with a trusted labor assistant, will also give birth, and generally much more quickly and peacefully.

With all that being said, let’s talk about labor pains.

Now, labor is a lot of work. It is hard work. And for good reason. During labor our bodies go through incredible physical and hormonal changes as the baby moves down the birth canal to be born. How many are in awe that a baby is able to fit through an opening that is so small? I know I am! With all the changes occurring within a laboring woman’s body, there is also a level of discomfort. Each woman experiences it differently; some refer to the sensation as an intense ache on her pubic bone, some women describe extreme pain.

Whatever experience you’ve had or heard stories about, there are ways to alleviate painful sensations during each contraction (also called a surge or rush by many natural childbirth books – I like those terms much better, don’t you? They describe labor much more accurately than contraction does. What a distant, medical word) – without drugs. Here are some ways to handle the surges:


1. Relax

Seems counterintuitive, right? When we experience pain or discomfort our natural reaction is to tense up in a “fight or flight” mentality. Our adrenaline kicks in and we’re ready to react. Normally, this is a good thing. However, labor is not something we can escape from, and it is not something to fear. We are bringing new life into the world, and that is a wonderful thing! Tensing muscles during a surge will only make the pain worse. Our tendency is to tense up, then when that makes it more painful we tense up more, which creates even more pain. It turns into a vicious cycle in which a woman even begins to tense up in anticipation of the next contraction.

In order to break free of that cycle, it helps to relax our muscles, especially in the abdomen, butt/vaginal area, and jaw. If you’re having trouble relaxing those muscles, allowing your mouth to fall open in a “duh” expression helps open up the birth canal as it lessens tension in your vaginal muscles. I know, it sounds weird, but those two sets of muscles are connected. It is possible to relax all these muscles even while you’re using others, such as while standing or kneeling.

2. Breathe, Breathe

“Breathing” does not mean the short, “hee hee hoo hoo” breaths that classes like Lamaze teach (well, they used to, at least; maybe they’ve changed). Patterned breathing techniques like that are only used to try to distract a woman from her contractions. When I say “breathe,” I mean deep, full, belly breathing. The kind we all used to do as children, before our culture taught us to never let our bellies stick out. Breathe like an opera singer or a baby. With each breath use as much lung space as possible. If you do it correctly, your belly should rise with each breath, but your chest barely moves. Try to visualize sending air down into your vagina instead of your chest. Deep breathing takes more oxygen into your body, which alleviates pain. Focusing on the breathing is also calming and brings your focus inward as you “give in” to what your body is doing.

3. Set the Mood

Just as there is a certain ambience that creates a romantic mood, there is an ambience that is good for labor. There are exceptions, of course, but most women need dim lighting, a peaceful atmosphere, and a very few trusted people in the room with her. If laboring at home, you can set up candles, play music, and hand-pick who is allowed to be there. If at a hospital, it will probably take a little more effort, but it is possible. Some hospitals provide cd players and bedside lamps, but others don’t. Find out beforehand and, if they don’t, you can bring your own stereo or light if you desire. Having only a few trusted people is also nearly impossible at a hospital, but you can limit who enters the room and when. In this case, a spouse or friend may have to keep unwanted people out. Also, if a nurse is rude or makes you uncomfortable, you can tell them to leave. Remember: you are paying them to help you during labor. Don’t be afraid to request a different nurse.

4. Move Around

I’ve written before that lying flat on your back is the worst position to labor and birth in. It not only closes the pelvic opening so that the baby has a hard time getting out, but it also makes contractions much worse for the vast majority of women. Early in labor, walking is great because it helps the baby move down and into a good position for birth. Later in labor, moving around to find the most comfortable position will help alleviate pain. Also, your body will tell you if you’re in a bad position for the baby as she moves down toward birth. Listen to your body, and if you don’t feel like being in a certain position, move (between contractions!) to a different one. Here are a few positions women find comfortable during late labor:

-standing, leaning forward against someone
-kneeling on all fours
-kneeling and resting upper body on a couch or bed
-sitting on the toilet, an exercise ball, or a birth stool
-resting in a tub of warm water
-lying in a side-relaxation position (on your side, slightly leaned forward, with top leg propped on a pillow and another pillow under chest and head)

5. Visualization and Listening

Many women find exercises such as visualization or self-hypnosis to be very helpful for labor. Hypnobirthing is an entire childbirth class that helps a woman learn self-hypnosis. There is also a good book on Hypnobirthing if you are unable to find or afford a class. Other classes, such as for the Bradley Method, teach visualization exercises. One popular one is called The Rainbow Visualization. Have your birth support read it to you in a calm, low voice in the months leading up to the birth, and then during labor they can read the whole thing or just the parts you find most soothing. A familiar voice is a very calming thing to listen to during labor. Have someone tell you a story, or read poetry or passages in Scripture to you. You can even recite favorites to yourself.

6. Massage

Nearly every woman loves some type of massage. During labor there are certain places that, if massaged, make labor easier. A skilled doula or labor assistant will be able to try various things to discover if one feels particularly nice. But, you don’t have to have a trained professional do it. Whoever you choose to be with you during labor can do it. One of the universal labor massage areas is the sacrum. This is the part of the lower back that lies roughly between the hipbones, just above the tailbone. Many women find that pressure on this area during contractions and even during pushing feels good. If your birth partner is unsure, have them start out firm but not too hard, then if you want more pressure, ask for it. Other good places to massage are the hands (especially between the thumb and index finger), feet, and ankles.


So, there you have it! During labor remember: relax and give in to labor – you can’t escape it so work with it!; breathe into your pelvis; set the mood; don’t be afraid to move around; listen to a soothing, calm voice; and utilize the hands of whoever is in the room with you!

The Mini-Midwife

During my bouts of pre-labor contractions with number 3, one of my favorite positions was to kneel in front of the couch and lean forward so my upper body rested on the seat cushions.

One such time, Felicity, my 16-month-old daughter, decided to investigate. She came up behind me and started rubbing my lower back. Then she patted my butt, lifted up the skirt of my dress, and peered underneath.


I think she may grow up to be a midwife.


The Miso Tablet

Not too long ago at a birthday party I talked to a mom of a brand-new little baby boy. Her fourth baby. She was telling me about her birth; that she was five days past her due date and the doctor decided she “had to” induce. So, this sweet lady went in and was given a magical little “miso pill,” as she called it. “It’s a tiny little white pill they stick next to your cervix to start labor. My baby was born at noon. They had to do that to get my third baby out too.”

I stood there talking to her, trying to act normal and fervently hoping my look of horror didn’t show. That little “miso” pill, as she called it, is none other than Misoprostol, the generic name for Cytotec, a drug used off-label that has caused the damage and death of myriads of laboring women and their babies. Of course, I wasn’t horrified at the mom. There is no way she could know that the doctor she trusted was essentially performing an experiment on her to start labor. I was shocked that the doctor (who also happened to be my childhood doctor, which made it even more disturbing) would knowingly put this mother at risk without giving her any information on the drug she administered.


Miso was first used as an induction drug in the mid-1990s. FDA approved as an ulcer drug, this pill has never been tested or approved for use on pregnant women. In fact, in 2000, the manufacturing company sent out a letter to all obgyns and midwives, warning against the use of miso because it causes uterine rupture (the uterus detaches and breaks open) and can harm or kill both mother and baby. And yet, eleven years and many deaths and lawsuits later, doctors still use it.

Essentially, the pill is dangerous because it’s unstoppable. With other induction drugs, like Pitocin, Prepidil, or Cervidil, the source of the drugs can be removed or slowed if a woman’s uterus shows signs of hyperstimulation or the baby goes into distress. Those drugs aren’t foolproof, but they don’t have as many cases of infant or maternal mortality due to uterine rupture as does misoprostol. A “miso” tablet, once absorbed into the body, cannot be stopped. It is an all or nothing deal. Therefore, even if the contractions strain the uterus to the point of rupture, there is no way to reverse or slow down those contractions.


Talking to that mother got me thinking… if you know something about a drug a woman is given for childbirth, what do you say? Should you just stay silent, even though you know it causes death, disability, or infertility? Is it even ethical to stay silent? Do you tell her that the drug is that dangerous? Do you tell her to research it, knowing that she probably won’t? What on earth do you do in a situation like that?

In my mind, it would be different if the information was well known and in the news, such as the dangers of smoking cigarettes or binge drinking or a mainly fast food diet. Then I wouldn’t say anything because I know she made a conscious, informed choice. But medical interventions or prescriptions are an entirely different ballgame. We tend to trust our doctors and what they give us, believing that they have done the research and will give us the most beneficial treatment. This is not always the case. Most women don’t even know the potential side effects of labor drugs until it is too late and they’ve experienced the damage.

Women like the one from the party are the reason I started this site. Every woman deserves the right to make an informed choice about what is done to her body, especially during one of the most normal and natural processes she experiences: bringing forth life.