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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Secret Service Head: White House Security Lapse 'Unacceptable'

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after a recent intrusion at the White House: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid