News / USA

Welcome Home, Baby

After falling out of favor, home births are now on the rise in the United States

Karen Kramer with daughter, Stella Grace, shortly after giving birth at home.
Karen Kramer with daughter, Stella Grace, shortly after giving birth at home.

Multimedia

Audio
Mike Osborne

The use of midwives to help with home childbirths is an ancient and honored tradition in many societies around the world.

But in the United States, midwifery began to fall out of favor in the mid-19th century, as the number of medical doctors and hospitals grew. By 1935, 90 percent of all births in America were taking place in hospitals, attended by doctors. And by the 1950s, most American states had outlawed the practice of midwifery altogether.

Today, though, the laws are changing, and midwives are making a slow but steady comeback.

Doing it her way

In Nashville, Tennessee, Karen Kramer is getting a checkup from her midwife.

She plans to give birth in her own home, a rare choice in the United States. Kramer delivered her first two children in the more typical American way, in a hospital with a doctor attending, but she wasn't completely happy with either experience.

During her last delivery, for example, nurses whisked her newborn away immediately and didn't return with him for three hours.  There were no complications, she says, the nurses were simply busy.

"And the whole time I kept sitting there thinkin' 'I can't believe I just had our second child and I'm not with him, I can't hold him, I can't nurse him, I can't be with him' and that was really hard for me."

Kramer also believes she suffered unnecessary pain because of what she considers to be the hospital's aversion to risk and legal liability. She wanted to get up and walk during labor to relieve the stress in her back, but she says the staff insisted she remain in bed.

Karen Kramer works through labor pains shortly before giving birth at home.
Karen Kramer works through labor pains shortly before giving birth at home.

"When I walk in to give birth to my child this time," she says, "I don't want to be viewed as a liability."

Home births

Midwives have attended all four of Amy Hamiter's births.

She says people are often shocked, sometimes even appalled, when they learn she's given birth at home, without a doctor present.

"People have this notion that we're all alone and that I'm birthing out in the dirt or something," she says. "I don't think that they quite grasp that our midwife knows what she's doing. She's trained."

Midwives have at least three years worth of training, according to Nurse Midwife Mary Anne Richardson. It can take that long to get licensed as a Certified Professional Midwife or CPM, even longer to become a nurse midwife.

"They estimate a minimum of 1,350 clinical hours spent for the CPM to get that certification. So it's not something you can just go out and do, you know, fill out a piece of paper, pay your money and acquire a CPM certification," she says.

Once certified, there's no shortage of work. Midwives attend more than 300,000 births in the U.S each year, in hospitals, clinics and homes. Only one percent of all deliveries take place outside a hospital setting.  On average, in-home births in America are growing by three percent per year.

Increasing popularity

Richardson - who only attends home births - says she's turning some new clients away.

"My heart breaks because people call and I say, 'I'm sorry. We're full for January. I'm sorry we're full for February.' And there aren't enough midwives to handle the calls we're getting."

Midwives have at least three years worth of training, according to Nurse Midwife Mary Anne Richardson.
Midwives have at least three years worth of training, according to Nurse Midwife Mary Anne Richardson.

Dr. Mavis Schorn is trying to change that. She directs the Nurse-Midwife training program at Tennessee's Vanderbilt University.

"Midwifery was almost gone from this country before the 1960s," she says. "So it's really built significantly since then."

Schorn says many Americans still view birth as a thing to be feared, seeing delivery as more of a medical complication than a natural process. She says that's why many mothers-to-be might feel more comfortable with the fetal monitors and other medical resources available in a hospital setting.  

"There's still this thought that more technology is better and that if we hand ourselves over to technology and to the highest possible education that we can find that we're gonna have the best outcome. Well, that's not necessarily the case."

Though some women who have unexpected complications during childbirth do end up going to the hospital, life-threatening emergencies are rare.  In spite of this, it's still illegal for midwives to attend births in 10 of the 50 American states.

Debate continues

Amy Hamiter hopes to be an even bigger part of the home birth revolution.

She's now studying to become a nurse midwife and is something of an evangelist on the subject. She's even placed a video of her most recent delivery on the internet for others to see.

"This is a natural process. This doesn't have to be a big medical event," she stresses. "Of course, there are times when intervention is needed and it does save lives, but in healthy pregnancy and healthy labors, the mom and baby are going to be just fine if they're left alone."

Stella Grace is welcomed to the world shortly after being delivered at home.
Stella Grace is welcomed to the world shortly after being delivered at home.

But the debate goes on. The American College of Obstetricians refers to home births and midwives as "trendy" and "dangerous" and says the rate of fetal death is much greater in a home birth - a statistic disputed by Mavis Schorn. She points to studies which suggest that home births are just as safe as hospital deliveries.  

Health professionals caution that a home birth is best suited to healthy mothers whose pregnancies have been uneventful and where complications are not expected.  

Like with Karen Kramer who, at home with a midwife, delivered her newest child, Stella Grace.

You May Like

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify Power Base

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs