“You’re going to do what? A home birth? What, are you crazy??? Oh…my…what…the…are you CRAZY???”
Yeah, I think that was the response when I first told my family I was going to have a home birth. Me, the home birth midwife. Yep, I had to break the news to my parents, too. Of course, I wasn’t a home birth midwife then. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom who had already had 3 hospital births. They thought I’d pretty much lost it. First it was the breastfeeding and the cloth diapers. Then it was becoming a La Leche League Leader. Then it was the babywearing. But this? This??? They just couldn’t wrap their minds around this. How could their college educated daughter, the one who could afford “real” medical care, the one who demanded an epidural for her last baby (yes, that woman)… how could she take such a huge left turn and do something as “backwards” and “reckless” as give birth at home? She’s probably going to eat her placenta, too. (Umm, no, not then, but I would now!)
To be fair, I probably had similar thoughts when I was pregnant with my first baby and knew nothing about midwives and home birth. I had all of the usual misconceptions and stereotypes in my head that most people have. I had no idea that midwives really knew their stuff, and that it was generally the more educated women who made the choice to give birth at home with midwives. If I had known then what I know now, I would have given birth to all of my children at home.
This conversation with friends and family about our choice to give birth at home is a hard one. Sure, we can throw back our shoulders, put our hands on our hips, and defiantly state “If you don’t like it, tough. It’s my baby, my body and my choice.” It’s absolutely fair, truthful, and within your rights to say that. With the exception of a few Internet trolls and others who don’t know how to keep their noses out of your business, most people who feel like it’s their place to state their opinion about your choice are people you probably love. They’re your family and friends, and they’re people you’d like to be able to have in your life long after your baby is born. They’re people you probably want to have at your Thanksgiving table for many years to come. With that in mind, a little more tact and empathy is in order. Even though where and with whom you give birth isn’t anyone’s business but yours, your family’s concern generally comes from a place of love and concern for your safety. Know that their hearts are in the right place, even if their words are not. Here are some ideas that will hopefully help you as you work through the conversation with your family and friends.
- To thine own self be true. Know your reasons for choosing a home birth. People will ask you why, and it’s good to be able to articulate your reasons clearly and confidently. If you can’t communicate your reasons, it will be taken as a sign of uncertainty about your decision, and people who are very strongly opposed to your choice will see that as an opportunity to criticize your plan.
- There’s a lot of birth trauma out there. When you talk about having a home birth, you’re going to hear ALL of the horror stories. “_______ almost died because of ______. Good thing she was in a hospital.” Of course, a lot of those horror stories were caused by interventions that only happen in a hospital, but people don’t understand that. So, what’s a good response? Acknowledge how scary that situation was. It was real and it deserves to be acknowledged. One possible response could be, “Thank goodness she had such a skilled doctor! Doctors are so important for high risk births like that! My midwife is very skilled at low risk birth and has a plan for transfer if my birth becomes high risk like ______’s birth was. Her backup doctor is great, just like Dr. _____.”
- Consider your audience. Understand that people will already feel judged because their choices were different than yours. Don’t add to that. For example, if your sister had all of her babies by scheduled c-section, don’t say something like “babies born by c-section don’t bond with their mothers like babies born vaginally.” Conversation over. Instead, when you know you’re going to have this discussion with someone you think will feel particularly singled out or judged, it might be good to just name the elephant in the room. She might appreciate that. Maybe starting by saying something like, “I’m not sure how to have this conversation with you. I love you and I’m really excited about this and I want to share this with you, but I worry about how this is going to make you feel.”
- People like what they know. Less than 1% of the babies born in this country are born at home. You can’t expect all people to easily embrace something that is so far from the norm. It may be helpful for your family to know that you will be receiving regular prenatal care, including labs and ultrasounds (if that’s your plan), from a licensed health care professional. Let them know your midwife will be monitoring you and your baby during labor, making sure you continue to be low-risk and appropriate for a home birth. Words like prenatal care, labs, ultrasounds, licensed health care professional, low-risk, and monitoring, are all words of comfort for family members to hear.
- If you sense hostility, back off. Hostility will cause people to dig their heels in deeper. No matter what they say, you’re not changing your plans, and no matter what you say, they’re not changing their opinion. Sounds like a no-win situation. Continuing the conversation at this point will not be productive, and will only serve to cause bad feelings on both sides. Show your good judgment by ending the discussion. “It’s clear we both feel very strongly about this. I’m done discussing this with you for now.” And then, do not discuss it any further unless you feel that person is ready to have a calm conversation. If it becomes hostile again, end it. Don’t continue to take the bait.
- Offer information, but don’t push it. It’s not your job to educate the world about home birth. Honestly, nobody cares. If they did, they’d see how great home birth is and more people would be born at home. People are content with the status quo, and nobody likes a zealot. Be ready with answers, talk about how great your midwife is and how much you’re enjoying your visits, maybe mention how great the outcomes are in Europe in the countries where home birth with midwives is common, but then leave it alone unless people ask you for more detail. While you may be totally amazed at how low the c-section rates are with midwives, most people unfortunately care more about what color you’re planning to paint your nursery.
- Some people will never come around, and that’s OK. You may find that some of the people you love will remain completely opposed to your decision. This may bother you a great deal, but there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it except just set it aside. Honestly, the proof is in the pudding. After your home birth, it will be hard to dispute that your choice was a good one for your family.