Two-month-old’s giggles may just cure cancer and create world peace, my husband quipped the other day.
We’re in the baby giggles stage now, those amazingly heart-melting “hyuk-hyuks” parents are rewarded with when we smile and laugh with baby, nuzzle his neck with our kisses and tickle his belly.
Yes, dear reader, babies do bring joy to a household. Gabe makes me smile every day and my heart is 110% taken by him.
We’re far enough away now from the birth experience that I’m glad I was taking little notes that week, because I’d probably forget everything negative and anything important about the whole thing.
If you haven’t yet heard my birth story, I really wrote it for me and to Gabriel, but I’ll let you read it:
I promised you a rundown of the pros and cons of a homebirth, and I’m finally delivering.
Just so you have a little background, this was our fourth birth but first homebirth. We have had three hospital births, all “natural” without pain medications or inductions, each progressively quicker than the last: 13 hours labor, 7 in the hospital with number one; 5 hours labor, 39 minutes in the hospital for our second; and 2-ish hours labor (or two days), 3 minutes in the hospital.
Yeah. You read that right.
Baby number three was an emergency room birth, and because of that rather hectic experience plus my distaste for hospitals and medicine, I said at that time something like, “If God has another baby in mind for us, I’m never giving birth in a hospital again!”
Good old God. He has a great sense of humor.
When Gabriel was conceived, I thought, “Uh oh. I was pretty clear about that, and of course it’s in writing…I guess I have to put my money where my mouth is and figure out how to have a homebirth (and how to talk my husband into it)!”
It was a rather major discussion for a couple months, and we interviewed a few midwives in the area, ultimately deciding on knowledge over experience and going with a Certified Nurse Midwife, Leslie Cornwell. She had attended far fewer births than the other two midwives we talked to, but she had more training and more knowledge of what to do in emergency situations.
I also felt I connected with her personally, and that’s really important in my opinion when choosing a midwife (or doctor or medical professional of any kind, really).
Before the birth itself, there were a few major advantages in my book about working with a midwife, and this one in particular:
- She came to my house for 100% of the prenatal appointments. (I really lucked out here as her office was 45 minutes away but her parents lived 10 minutes from me, so she was happy to come my way. Cannot. Say. Enough. about how awesome that was for my schedule and sanity!) My kids loved being her “assistants” as you can see in the photo above.
- Number of appointments was flexible. You know how at the end of pregnancy you have to go in every week for a 5-minute checkup, but it takes 90 minutes out of your day including driving, waiting room time and possibly childcare for other children? We had fewer appointments because I was doing well and was comfortable with that; Leslie let me choose. Again – awesome.
- I didn’t have to drink the orange stuff. I was able to simply prick my finger and take blood sugar about ten times, upon waking and then after carb-filled meals for part of a week. There are lots of alternatives to avoiding the orange drink for glucose screening, and you can talk to any provider about them, but it was awfully nice to be offered the option instead of having to talk someone into it.
- In general, working with a midwife typically means less hassle about choosing to opt out of medical procedures that are unnecessary, and working with a CNM means that on the flip side, you can get any procedure you wish as well. I felt very respected and like I had not only a voice in the process but a knowledgeable ally.
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Taking the Plunge: Water Birth
I didn’t head into the homebirth process planning on a water birth.
I had read about other people’s water births, and they always sounded peaceful and fairly idyllic, possibly even unrealistic. They sounded nice, but I never strongly desired one.
When Leslie asked if I wanted a water birth, I responded with, “Tell me about what that would be like.”
When she described the process and said that it can reduce the chance of tearing, I perked up. She explained the choices for the tub (rent a professional grade tub for $150 or buy a backyard pool on Amazon for about $30), and somehow I was making water birth lists.
I barely remember the process of discussing it with my husband before we were just kind of heading in that direction. I’m happy I did it, but it must be said clearly that having a homebirth and having a home water birth are two totally different questions when it comes to a pro/con list (mostly because the supply and preparation lists are so different). I’ll note the water-birth-only parts below.
Advantages of Having a Home Birth
Please keep in mind that these are 100% my opinions based on my experience. Your lists may be radically different based on your own personality, philosophy, local area and provider.
No driving involved.
I hated making the call about when to go to the hospital, since I didn’t want to be there too long in labor (and clearly cut it a little close with baby three). It was so peaceful NOT having to make that call, and also NOT having to sit down and drive anywhere at all. I hate sitting in labor, so the car ride was always one of the worst parts.
It sounds small, but that was just a huge grace about the experience for me.
You don’t have to deal with paperwork and administrative stuff while you’re in labor.
All the forms are already signed, you know exactly who is coming over to your house and you only have to remember to turn on the outside lights and unlock the doors, not check in at a desk and sign your life away on a clipboard.
You have the midwife all to yourself.
My husband added this one, and I agree with him. In the hospital, the doctor generally is very in and out, and they may not show up until it’s the very end. This made my husband a little nervous and can be a hectic feeling. Once the midwife had arrived, we knew she was 100% there for us. Note: Be sure to ask your midwife about her backup procedures if she has two women in labor at once, or obviously this advantage could turn into a problem quickly!
It’s all natural, no matter what.
Some may put this on the disadvantage list, but for me, it’s nice – almost neutral – to have no pain meds available. I wouldn’t take them anyway, so it’s fine that an epidural isn’t around the corner. Definitely something to keep in mind if you’re considering a homebirth for your first birth and you don’t really know what to expect from labor, though.
No eye goop, etc.
I explained in this post how we opt out of the ointment put on baby’s eyes immediately after birth, among other things. Nurse midwives can administer antibiotics, the Vitamin K shot, and pitocin, but it’s much easier to opt out than it is in most hospitals.
For me, this was a big plus, as was not being pressured to administer vaccines, since no matter what decisions we make at monthly intervals for Gabriel, I don’t do any at birth, period.
But if you want birth-day vaccinations or circumcision, know that you’ll have to make separate appointments for both, rather than the convenience of having it all done in the hospital.
Midwives stitch differently than doctors.
This was a surprise to me. Leslie explained that for some tears, there would be no stitching at all, and for those that did require stitched, she would use far fewer actual stitches than an M.D. normally would.
Doctors stitch a tight, straight line, which is aesthetically nicer but pulls and stings much more when moving around and urinating in the first week. (Who really cares about aesthetics down there???)
Midwives stitch the muscle together and leave a lot up to the body to heal. That’s good and bad: you are asked to keep your legs together for the first 4+ days, which drove me NUTS because I prefer to tuck my legs under or sit pretzel style while nursing. Many early nursing sessions were very uncomfortable for me because of that.
On the flip side, my stitches hardly hurt at all while they healed. I never once had painful urination or stinging on the toilet, and even the first BM wasn’t the awful experience I remember from other births.
Overall I’m a fan of midwife-style stitches, but I imagine this one could go either way. I have one friend whose midwife didn’t stitch at all, and she still has pain four months later. She nearly had to have surgery to repair the crazy way everything came back together, so I don’t think she would agree with me on that one.
You get to eat your own food.
When number three was born, my husband brought in a massive amount of food for me, and I used the hospital cafeteria service only to supplement what I was already eating. I ordered a baked potato, some steamed broccoli, maybe a chicken breast or something…but not much. I was happy this time to have my own kitchen, refrigerator, and food there for me, and since my husband was able to take a few days off, it was even easier for him to just heat up leftovers for us than haul food to the hospital for me.
The comfort of home.
No bright, glaring hospital lights, no beeping machines…I did like knowing where everything was and just being home, particularly the next morning when we introduced Gabriel to his siblings and grandparents.
My husband shared that he has a very fond memory of waking up in the morning and making me breakfast, knowing that we were both peacefully in our own home, that he could serve me by bringing me something he knew I would like to eat, and that no one was going to bother us.
This one can have its disadvantages as well, as you’ll see below, but after the first night passed, I truly enjoyed just being home without having to transition from the hospital, buckle baby into a carseat, etc.
Life goes on.
Some people would say they dislike this part of being home right away, that they embrace the “break” from parenting other children that a hospital stay affords, but I really liked being able to be there for my kids 12 and 24 hours after giving birth.
Our two younger children were at their grandparents across town for two nights, and our oldest decided he just wanted to be home the night after Gabe was born, so we had a really nice, quiet evening, a fun dinner with our first baby, and then our 9-year-old held the newborn brother while he read his book before bed.
It will remain a favorite memory of all time, made possible by homebirth (and generous grandparents who kept the little ones).
Nobody wakes you up at night (other than the baby).
I nearly killed the young phlebotomist who came into my hospital room at 5 in the morning after giving birth to baby number three at 10 p.m. That moment, while not one of my proudest, was a major motivation for going with a homebirth. I strongly believe no one should wake a new mother unless they are about to nurse on her breast!
Disadvantages of Having a Home Birth
Again, remember these are just my opinions based on my own experience and personality.
Gathering supplies is necessary.
Your midwife will give you a list of things to buy/collect for your “homebirth supply kit,” and while none of them are revolutionary or extremely difficult to find, it’s still something you need to think about and be willing to do.
For a water birth: The supply list is MUCH longer and more complicated, including finding a hose attachment for your sink, testing that out, purchasing/renting and inflating (if necessary) the tub itself, and some clean-up items, towels, etc. This was a not-so-minor task for our non-shopping family…
If you do a water birth, we highly recommend turning up the temp on your water heater a few weeks in advance. Had we not done that, we would not have had enough hot water to fill the tub.
You still technically have to pack a hospital bag.
I didn’t, really, because I figured if we had to go to the hospital, my husband could come home and get clothing for baby and me before we had to go anywhere, but you’re supposed to in case of a transfer.
Prepping the room is a new labor task.
When we had our birthing classes back with baby number one, I remember the instructor talking about a “labor task” that you could choose to do in early labor, something mindless to keep yourself busy, from magazines to knitting to playing cards.
Mine was making dinner, of course, and my husband’s was prepping the room.
We had all the supplies in there and ready to go, but some things can’t be done in advance. He had to get the tarps laid down, fill the tub, and put plastic sheeting on the bed plus another set of sheets (so that after the birth we could strip those off and have regular sheets underneath for everyone to rest/sleep on).
That all went fine and we had time to finish everything, but I know he was rushing around like a madman for a while there. Note: the plastic double sheeting would need to be done, and maybe some tarps if you choose to protect the carpet like that, but the tub of course is water-birth only.
Relying on someone else to get there.
Even though we loved not having to drive anywhere, it’s still a slight disadvantage that you have to wait for your provider to come to you and can’t take action to go to them. Our midwife was very good in assuring us she’d take every precaution to get there on time – and she did – but when things are out of your hands, there’s a feeling of helplessness.
On the other hand, if we didn’t make it to the hospital, that’s a big hairy ugly scary deal, but if the midwife didn’t make it, at least we’d have the supplies for an unassisted homebirth! Small consolation.
There may be space issues.
We have a ridiculously large master bedroom – not something we were looking for in a home, honestly, but it proved handy for a water birth tub, and now a crib, changing table and rocking chair. Not everyone has such space though, so one thing my husband mentioned was that there was some bumping-into-each-other issues and general cramped feeling as everyone was bustling around after the birth.
Not a huge deal, but one more thing to consider as you discern about a homebirth decision.
What if something happens?
This is the quintessential homebirth question: what happens in case of a crisis birth? It’s a lot more time and effort to transfer via ambulance or private vehicle to a hospital than it is to have a team of doctors come down the hall right to the room you’re already laboring in.
Certified nurse midwives are trained in newborn resuscitation among other emergency procedures, but there’s no denying that a hospital is better equipped to handle problems.
My husband had some sleepless moments imagining what it would be like in reality to carry a laboring, in-trouble wife down our stairs and out to a vehicle. Leslie assured him it would be easy…but carrying anything down the stairs does not fit that description, especially a person whom you love more than anything who is likely in a heap of pain.
I’m really glad nothing went wrong. Period.
You’re all alone.
The midwives stay for at least two hours after the birth, but then when they left, my husband and I looked at each other in our bed and gulped. “We’re on our own to do this thing!” There is a certain security in having nurses a call button away to answer questions and give second opinions about things babies do. Leslie was only a text or phone call away, but it’s still different.
We both thought that we wouldn’t want a homebirth for our first child when we were rookies, considering we are quite experienced parents and still felt a little anxious at that moment. (But that’s just us! A friend locally had a homebirth for her first and loved and appreciated the whole experience. She chose the path because she felt that, since both she and her husband are introverted by nature, her labor would have been negatively affected by people she didn’t know coming in and out of the L&D room – anxiety can slow labor down and might lead to unwanted interventions in a hospital setting.)
No automatic hearing screening OR birth certificate registration.
A lot of stuff happens while you’re in the hospital after you give birth, and I was totally unprepared for the fact that I’d have to make an appointment, go to the hospital, and pay for the newborn hearing screening, as well as go downtown to get Gabe’s birth certificate.
We skipped the hearing screening, mostly because I didn’t want to make another appointment. I checked with our family doc at Gabe’s first checkup and he said he concurred that it wasn’t totally necessary, so hopefully that doesn’t bite us at any later point. (The information from the midwife leaned on the side of “it is really necessary,” so I’m taking a risk with that choice.)
The birth certificate appointment turned out to take an entire morning because, lovely, it happened on the day of a super big snow storm and a 20-minute drive took 45. Big time fun with a 3-year-old and a newborn in the car, but thankfully Gabe slept the entire time. That kind of made up for some of those prenatal appointments I didn’t have to drive to!!
The comfort of home (revisited).
I said above that this one is a two-edged sword. While it’s nice to be at home, you also end up worrying about getting blood on your carpet, sheets, mattress, etc.
We had zero spots anywhere, thanks to my husband’s great tarping and the plastic under our sheets, and the midwives got a load of laundry all the way through and another one started, and they assured me they are pros at spot cleaning blood on the carpets, but nonetheless, there was a worry.
No hospital bed.
As much as I might complain about not sleeping in my own bed during a hospital stay, it can’t be denied that for the non-sleeping times, a hospital bed that can mechanically help you sit up to nurse is darn handy.
I felt very uncomfortable right after birth, trying to comfort and nurse a very fussy baby who had no interest in nursing. I couldn’t get him high enough, I couldn’t prop myself up comfortably, and I found myself very much wishing for “up/down” buttons on the bed… My tip for you is to have about ten pillows available, no exaggeration. We had four or five, but it just wasn’t enough.
It’s not a ton of work, but you are responsible for folding the laundry the midwives get through, finishing load two and dealing with whatever might be soaking in hydrogen peroxide water (I ended up having to do a second soak with oxygen bleach (found on Amazon) to get some blood out of sheets and our receiving blanket).
The good thing about laundry at our house? When you use natural laundry detergent like Molly’s Suds, you don’t have to think about separating baby stuff from the rest of the household. I’m always grateful that our sheets, my clothes, etc. are free from fragrances and toxins when baby is resting on them.
Pumping out the tub was a big “one more thing.” (water birth only)
I didn’t have to deal with this, thank goodness, but my husband reports that it was really kind of inconvenient to be having to help pump out the water birth tub after the birth when he really just wanted to be bonding with Gabriel and me.
The midwives took over a little, but at first he felt like it was his responsibility, including having to go get a longer hose than the one we used to fill it so the bloody water wouldn’t splash all over our house as it emptied out the two-story window.
Foresight would have been better than hindsight on that one since our long hose was all tangled up and became another “one more thing” to do.
What if it’s winter? (water birth only)
Emptying the tub out an open window worked out okay in October when it was cold but not freezing, and my husband could run water through the hose to clean it out the next day, but had it been the middle of winter, both those tasks would have been much more complicated. I wouldn’t have wanted an open window in 15-degree weather with a minutes-old baby in the room!
This may or may not be a consideration at all for you, depending on whether you care about what your family and friends think about you, but we were very private about our decision with everyone – family, friends, readership – mostly because we didn’t want to deal with negative reactions in any way.
Our families ended up being very neutral about it, which was a nice surprise!
The last item on my list is the financial aspect of giving birth.
Whether this is positive or negative for home birth vs. hospital birth depends completely on your insurance structure.
With our HMO through my husband’s work, the pre- and post-natal care was supposed to be covered (both the midwife and I had conversations with the insurance company) but any births outside a hospital are not. However, after a few hours on the phone, I still haven’t seen any payments from insurance. That’s been a pain.
If I was paying out of pocket or using a healthcare sharing plan that covers homebirths (Samaritan Ministries does, for example), then a homebirth would be far less expensive and far less hassle than a hospital birth, and you’d know what you would be expected to pay right up front.
As far as our costs, we have a very, very high deductible and would have ended up paying for the whole thing anyway, so it was a moot point in the end, but a number of phone calls to figure all that out.
A Good Homebirth Laugh
Whether you’ve ever considered a homebirth before or couldn’t dream of it, this clip from Jim Gaffigan, comic father of 5 homebirthed children, will get you belly laughing like no other: 4 Kids.
I hope this comparison has been helpful to you. I’m sure, in my continued postpartum haze, that I forgot a number of pros and cons, so I’d love to hear from you!