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Better births at home

I am one of those women, fighting for home birth in Maryland.

This past June, I welcomed a baby boy into my family. My son's birth took place in the comfort of my home with two trained (but not yet licensed) midwives by my side. The birth was beautiful, supported and far safer than the circumstances surrounding my hospital birth, five years prior. I am fighting for home birth and the licensing of Certified Professional Midwives (CPM) in Maryland, a state that is largely under-educated about the reality of birthing at home.

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The home birth community believes in safe birth and in choice, two things that are largely not represented in the hospital environment in our great state. When our area hospitals routinely turn low risk pregnancies into high risk births as a result of too much intervention, there is a problem. When women are being forced and manipulated into doing things they don't want to and suffering birth trauma as a result of their treatment in labor, there is a problem. Invasive hospital birth shouldn't be a woman's only option, especially not during one of the most meaningful times in their lives. Somehow, the fact that birth does not usually need to be manipulated to produce a healthy baby gets lost in this discussion. Yes, there are times when hospitals and intervention are a complete and total necessity, but not at the rates that unnecessary and sometimes forced interventions are being performed without meaningful consent. Our bodies are much more capable than our area hospitals wish us to believe. How can women have faith in a system that doesn't have faith in their body's natural-born ability to give birth?

To say that unnecessary interventions being performed high above the recommended ranges is "safe" is laughable. And perhaps the only people left spouting that this is "safe" are the doctors performing them — doctors who cling to the statistic that "babies are four times more likely to die when born at home than in a hospital." This statistic is so far off-base, it's not even in the right ballpark because it takes into account not just planned home births with good prenatal care and trained midwives, but every single baby born at home. That includes babies born when "oops, I didn't know I was pregnant" happens and babies are born at home by accident (or even in the toilet). The 28 states that license CPMs and embrace home birth have better birth outcomes. They have healthier moms and babies who received evidence-based care, such as delayed cord clamping, and lower rates of interventions that take longer to recover from. They have more women saying they felt satisfied with their care during pregnancy and labor. But still we fear the kind of birth that doesn't take place in a hospital because of what we don't know about it — including how wonderful it can be — and because rarely have we seen it done.

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Mothers and families who fight for home birth are not this sensationalized image of women having babies by a stream in the woods. In fact, many women in this community had a hospital birth before and were so mistreated, devalued or had their bodies manipulated so egregiously that they went on to seek a better option. They didn't just decide to have their baby at home on a whim. They researched the safeness of home birth, met with midwives and planned for months. I know this because these mothers are my peers. I've heard how they struggled with postpartum depression, were forced into an unnecessary operation or into a hospital bed to labor flat on their back — a standard procedure in many hospitals which is known to make labor longer and harder.

Women need options. We cannot simply be passive about what happens to our bodies, especially when those practices are not supported by facts. We need better hospital procedures and care that is based on evidence, not fear. We also need access to licensed CPMs who have relationships with hospitals and don't need to fear being prosecuted in the case of a transfer. Maryland women are entitled to better births, but if we don't allow them to listen to their hearts and their bodies, if we don't give them the freedom of choice, we will never get there.

Sarah Bregel is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. She blogs at TheMediocreMama.com.

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