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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs