If there’s one thing that is certain about birth, it’s uncertainty.
Time and time again, I find myself repeating: It wouldn’t be the rite of passage it is without the requirement of courage; without necessitating that we step into the unknown.
Many women I know and speak to have a deep desire for a home birth. They intuit, or they have heard, about how quickly their own natural process can become a medical experience. They know, as I do, that sometimes this happens without their realization. They also know that that very medicalization has actually made it difficult for women to truly choose their place of birth, and have that place of birth also match their desires for the how of their birth and the with whom of their birth.
And so, for reasons political, medical, circumstantial, or personal, a great many women who desire home births will birth in the hospital. And despite the beeping machines, forms to sign, and looming presence of the trappings of medicalized birth, it is possible to create a more home-like setting in your hospital room.
Here are my suggestions:
- Bring as many things from home as you desire. Blankets, pillow cases, a soft lamp, your favourite crystals. It might look like you’re moving in, but you will feel more at home.
- Along that thread, you may choose a few beautiful tapestries or fabrics to cover up the clock and the various and sundry machinery that will inevitably be present in your hospital room.
- Wear your own clothes. The johnny shirt may be comfy, to be sure, but you’ll feel more like yourself and less like a patient if you’re in your own comfies. Choose “easy-access” clothing to avoid shimmying in and out of your attire during the course of your birth – a skirt and a tank top are a great choice.
- Bring music or other soothing sounds to listen to. This is great for your own focus, and to drown out the sounds of whatever else might be going on on the birth unit while you’re there. (except for the beautiful first cries of newborn babies: sometimes hearing those can be pretty motivating during labour!)
- Bring your own exquisitely delicious food. Many women like to make a groaning cake during early labour. Bring that. Bring your favourite crackers or some homemade labourade. Though some hospitals have policies that prevent women from eating and drinking during labour, the fact of the matter is that research shows there is very little chance of this causing any problems, and that our technology around emergent operative birth has changed significantly since the ban on eating and drinking was the norm, making it less of an issue. Eat!
- Dim the lights. Ask for quiet voices. Bring some battery-operated flickering candles. Use aromatherapy.
- Place a sign on your door that says “Home-like Birth in Progress. Please help me to protect this space” and state exactly how those that enter your room can do that for you: perhaps you don’t want them to talk about pain medications unless you bring up the subject; perhaps you want quiet, or no students, or to limit some of the routine procedures like vaginal exams or blood pressure checks unless medically necessary.
- Don’t limit these requests to the sign on your door: make sure they’re in your birth plan, which you will have discussed with your care provider in advance.
- Speaking of birth plans, make sure you write a Birth Principles Statement as well. Birth Principles go much, much deeper than the outcomes-focused intentions of your birth plan, and centre in on your deepest desires and beliefs about your birth, your body, and how you want to feel during labour. Your completed Birth Principles statement will also help you to explore other ways that you can create your preferred birth experience.
- Labour in the tub. Bring those candles and aromatherapy in there with you, and maybe a bath pillow too.
- If you can, get to know your health care providers. Through the ages, women have birthed surrounded by the women of their community. Right now, your support person, doula, nurse, doctor or midwife are your community. How can you establish a connection with them?
- Consider the evidence around refusing medical procedures and practices that are routine but often unnecessary. IVs, vaginal exams, continuous fetal monitoring, anything that confines you to bed, some newborn procedures like erythromycin are some practices that fall into this camp. Do your research and decide for yourself what feels important and necessary, and what doesn’t.
- Surround yourself with the most supportive people in your life. Home births have traditionally been attended by midwives, medicine women, sages and sisters both biological and otherwise. It’s common nowadays for people to want to limit the number of people present to support them, but it might feel good to consider who could be there for you. Your doula, your massage therapist, or your yoga buddy might make excellent companions during labour.
- Have birth photography done. Photographers, by definition, find the beauty in their surroundings. Especially if hospital birth wasn’t your first choice, you may not be able to fully appreciate how special your place of birth is. Your photographer will capture the incredible moments that show you your own strength, no matter where you are called upon to demonstrate it.
- Wait for as long as possible before you show up to the hospital. There is good research to demonstrate that as long as labour is progressing normally, women who stay at home in comfortable and familiar surroundings feel less anxious and are less likely to accept early or unnecessary intervention (because it’s not available!). This can significantly impact birth outcomes. If you’re not sure what “ready to the hospital” looks and feels like, you can rely on your doula, who will be able to help you tell from a plethora of other, non-medical signs when It’s Time.
- Know that, ultimately, everything is your choice. Despite the medical system’s encouragement to the contrary, there are no rules, no “allowed” or “not allowed” in labour. That kind of language, restrictions to your process, and any subsequent fear-mongering, is just not okay. Go into the process knowing your rights and knowing the evidence supporting your decisions, and have someone with you who can help you advocate for yourself when you are deeply in the process of birth.