Accessible options for expecting mothers in Connecticut
“We had all our babies at home…just to make you feel uncomfortable.”
“There was also a midwife there because we believe in witchcraft.”
Comedian Jim Gaffigan jokes about the public’s perception of home birth and the often misguided, passive aggressive responses he and his wife have had to deal with each time they announce they’re having a baby.
They have four kids together, which has equated to four home births.
The satire and humor in Gaffigan’s stand-up charade is that home birth is not as foreign as it has been made out to be, and people’s reactions to the notion of giving birth at home can come across as pretty ridiculous and are often not rooted in facts.
Although it’s difficult to find statistics on the number of home births that occur across the U.S. annually, a 2011 statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists cited studies that estimated the number to be around 25,000.
Sera Giambattista of Connecticut Midwives said she’s seen more and more women choosing to give birth at home but that the statistics as of late may not fairly represent those numbers. “The new birth certification packet actually asks if it was planned to be a home birth, so hopefully we’ll have more accurate statistics [soon],” she said.
Giambattista said women are becoming interested in exploring their options when it comes to birth settings and techniques. “Women are looking for a more relaxed environment, and they’re looking for the opportunity to give birth without medical intervention unless it’s absolutely necessary,” she said.
That’s where midwives come in.
As midwives, Giambattista, her colleague Nancy Farr and student midwife Sarah Oster act as the primary caregivers for women in the midst of their reproductive years. “We’re there to serve the woman both physically and emotionally in order to help her have the best pregnancy and birth and post-partum experience,” she said.
The midwives support expecting others in a multitude of ways, including assisting in creating a birth plan, preparing the mother for nursing and providing emotional support during the birthing process itself. They take a “hands off” approach to it all.
These qualities are what originally attracted Janina Beard to the idea of a home birth accompanied by a midwife. After doing some research and reflecting on the hospital experience she had with her firstborn, Beard opted for an at-home water birth for her second child. She was accompanied by Giambattista, Farr and Oster, as well as by Jennifer Berard, a long-time friend who photographed the birth.
Berard, who doesn’t yet have any children of her own, said she’s “into holistic, sustainable, organic lifestyles” and loves the idea of giving birth at home because “you’re really able to control everything how you want it be and keep the energy in the room that you want for your baby.
“If there are [complications], they’ll bring you to the hospital. And that’s what hospitals are for — emergencies,” Berard said.
Staci Obasi, a mother of two, also explored home birthing options but ended up experiencing increased levels of amniotic fluids with both pregnancies, putting her at a high risk for complications, including cord prolapse, a rare condition that can result in the umbilical cord wrapping around the baby.
“I like the idea of the intimacy of it, [of] being in your own home. It’s special, not routine,” Obasi said.
She also was attracted to the notion that home birth allows for one to create her own birthing experience, as opposed to being guided by hospital protocol.
Despite certain factors of her pregnancies being largely out of her control, Obasi said she tried to keep an open mind and remain positive throughout her hospital experience.
She went to New Britain General Hospital to give birth to her firstborn, where she said she was given medicine to “ripen her cervix.” Pitocin was also administered to induce contractions and begin the labor process.
Soon after, an epidural was administered.
“The room was very relaxed and quiet, and [my nurse] talked me through pushing. Everyone was so calm in the room. It was wonderful,” she said. “I smile, and my heart feels full when I think about it.”
About a year later, labor for her second child was induced at Highland Hospital in Rochester, New York. A similar sequence of events followed, although Obasi said the hospital room was a bit homier in New York, complete with a rocking chair in the corner for mom and baby.
Both of Obasi’s children were born with their umbilical cords wrapped around their necks, but the hospital staff took care of each of them, and today, both are happy, healthy and developing normally.
Beard has had similar, positive outcomes from both her hospital birth and home water birth, but the two experiences stand in stark contrast in her mind. Perhaps the most jarring difference she noticed was the eagerness of hospital staff to administer medicines and other means of medical intervention.
When she arrived at the hospital with her firstborn, Beard was in active labor, and the contractions and baby were coming very quickly. “The first thing they asked me was if I wanted an epidural. And, of course, I said yes…. But it wasn’t really what I wanted,” she said.
“I wanted the pain to go away, but I didn’t want the epidural.”
While an epidural was ultimately not administered, as it was determined Beard was too far along into labor, she still felt unsettled by how quickly and eagerly the intervention was offered.
“It doesn’t necessarily make things better to get an epidural,” she said. “People use interventions, whether they’re medical interventions or holistic interventions, as a way of coping through pain. The hospital and the staff, I think, should have been more mindful of not proposing [the epidural] as option number one.”
In contrast, during Beard’s water labor, her husband Gary, Giambattista, and Berard offered support, both physically and emotionally. Berard recalls pushing on Beard’s back during contractions. Giambattista offered a hot compress on the back of the mom’s neck.
At one point during her labor, Beard was releasing guttural screams and moans and pleading with her midwives for support. Giambattista offered what she could and simply nodded knowingly, in an I-know-it-hurts-and-it’s-supposed-to-but-it’s-going-to-be-worth-it way.
“She was more just there validating my feelings,” Beard said. “And that was so helpful because I had a really good connection with the midwives.”
Beard also remembered Pitocin being inserted into her IV while in the hospital, despite the fact that she had not consented to it. “Now you’re putting me through more pain because you’re making my uterus contract. And the uterus can contract on its own,” she said in reflection.
“I think, definitely, efficiency is one factor,” Beard said in regards to increased levels of intervention among hospital births. “[But] faster doesn’t mean that things are going to be better.”
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health found that 5.2 percent of home births accompanied by midwives resulted in cesarean sections, compared to the U.S. national average of 31 percent for all full-term pregnancies.
And according to an article by Maggie Gordon of the Connecticut Post, “Connecticut is among the states that use the procedure most frequently.” In 2011, in fact, more than one-third of the state’s deliveries were performed via C-section.
To be fair, C-sections are often deemed necessary for older mothers or those experiencing more complicated pregnancies, and no two pregnancies are alike, as illustrated by Obasi’s and Beard’s experiences.
For some, like Beard, a water birth at home is fitting. “I think that I would like to see more people normalize a home birth, instead of treating it as something foreign,” she said.
Others feel more comfortable in a hospital setting. “I am so thankful to have been in a hospital where [my son] got the care he needed directly after birth,” Obasi said.
“When I think of the world ‘hospital,’ the words I associate with it are cold, bright, pain, needles, medicine, artificial. So I think many people expect their birthing experience to follow suit,” she said.
“But I think many underestimate the labor and delivery nurses’ capability to not only take care of our health and wellbeing but also give us a good experience and make us feel calm and comfortable.”
Ultimately, Giambattista said, it’s great to live in a society where women can, at the very least, make these choices for themselves. “Gathering the information and exploring all of the options is very important,” she said. “And once [mom] knows what’s available to her, she will know what is right.
“Choice is a beautiful thing.”
This story was originally published on May 10, 2016.