Monday, December 23, 2013

How to Deal With People Who Don't Want You To Have a Homebirth

I received this email this week from a reader and realized I've never addressed this topic, even though I've dealt with it personally and see students deal with it all the time. 

Hello there. I recently found your blog and have been reading your posts non-stop.  I am 13 weeks pregnant with my first, and my husband and I have decided, after weighing our options, to have a natural home birth. Once we made this decision, all stress and worries I had went out the window.  I feel very peaceful about my decision.  My problem is this: our family.  Not everyone is open to the idea of home birth, mostly because nobody knows anything about it and are "scared about what could happen."  I am already getting tired of having to defend our decision and explain why we chose to do this.  I am wondering if you have and suggestions for dealing with this issue and family?  I have been told I can come across as insensitive, so any advice would be great, so I don't hurt anyone's feelings and just tell them its not of their business!

Few decisions you'll make in life are as personal as where you want to labor and give birth to your baby.  With nearly everyone doing so in the hospital, many people are surprised when someone says they want to have a baby outside of a hospital.  It sounds dangerous and like a very... "hippy" thing to do. The first time I heard of someone having a homebirth (before I realized all my family was born at home!), I couldn't believe it.  I sincerely thought she was crazy.  They were from South Africa though, not America...  I'm embarrassed to admit that those really were my thoughts. Surely Americans don't willingly give birth at home -- without an epidural!

The American perception of birth mostly comes from our media.  Birth happens fast and is often dangerous. Either the mom or the baby (sometimes both) are in imminent danger.  It's a weird phenomenon in American media, but I guess it makes for more emotional and exciting entertainment. Labor comes on suddenly, painfully, and she must get to the hospital immediately.  Once her water breaks, the baby is going to fall out! Approach it from the flip side. People hear of a 30 hour labor, but all they really know about birth is what is mentioned before (sudden, painful, continuous, and dangerous), so if a labor is long, something must be wrong.  And the perception is that it's fast, painful, continuous, and dangerous for the entire 30 hours. People truly don't understand birth -- physically or otherwise.

So when a couple does their research and announces that they would like to give birth out-of-hospital, they are often greeted with shock and grave concern by their family and friends.

Both my parents were born at home, and their parents, and their parents, etc.  Homebirth was not uncommon for either of my parents' families.  My brother, sister, and I were all born at the hospital in traditional American form with lots of interventions and drugs.  David and I had our first two babies at hospitals, but decided at 33 weeks to have our 3rd baby at home.  My best friend had had a homebirth about 8 months earlier and my parents knew I wanted to do the same.  I didn't tell my dad about our decision because I knew he'd think I was irresponsible and stupid for choosing homebirth.  I wanted my mom there to help with the other kids and whatever needed to be done, so I swore her to secrecy.

To be honest, I don't really know what my mom thought of us having a homebirth.  She has never been that vocal about her opinions. She attended both of our homebirths and I wouldn't have had it any other way.  I don't recommend that for all couples though.  I have had lots of couples in class over the years with parents and family that have let their opinions freely flow.  The damage that is sometimes done can be significant. 

Understand that your family and friends love you and their fear comes from a place of love.  They don't understand birth and haven't researched like you have.  Many couples feel that they need to sway their parents or make them understand.  For many people, their beliefs about birth are so ingrained.  

In this woman's case, if you've been told you come across as insensitive, it's probably best to avoid the subject with those that are negative or fearful.  It's sad because you likely want to share your excitement, but they probably feel that you should acknowledge their fear and opinions.  It is their baby too -- or at least that is their perception.  

I know of a couple that was doing online Birth Boot Camp classes and planning a homebirth.  The parents -- specifically the mother -- of the father were not happy at all that the mother-to-be wanted a homebirth.  She felt that since it was her grandchild she had a right to express her opinions.  As you can imagine, it caused some heated discussions between the couple with the dad-to-be caught right smack in the middle.  Fortunately they had some people in their lives that were supportive who were able to give information to the opinionated parents and really help them see that it wasn't their place to decide where this mom should give birth.  (She had a wonderful uneventful homebirth by the way.)

So, while giving information about the safety of out-of-hospital birth might work with some people, it won't with others.  Use your best judgement. Remember, there are different ways to give information, too.  It doesn't have to be a face to face conversation or phone call.  If you find a good article or study, send it to them with a little note about why you like it.  

If it is someone close to you who is critical of your choices, you might consider taking them with you to an appointment.  They probably have ideas about your care provider that are way off base.  Giving them the opportunity to sit face to face with your midwife and ask their questions might give them peace of mind.  They will likely be surprised at the medical training and supplies that your midwife brings to the birth.  

Ultimately, you don't want to have your relationships damaged over your birth.  Know that they love you and want the best for you and your baby.  If emotions run high, don't invite them to the birth and don't tell them when you are in labor.  Don't talk about your upcoming birth. 

One more bit of advice in dealing with those people after you give birth. Brace yourself for the "You are lucky nothing went wrong" comment after you have a perfectly uneventful birth...


Sarah Black said...

Thanks so much for the wonderful advice. The "it's their baby too" part is what my husband and I are currently experiencing. Every relative seems to think their opinions should be weighed before we make a decision. Great advice!!

Paula Yocum said...

I am a Grandmother of two beautiful grandchildren arriving by home birth, from my oldest daughter and in May my other daughter will have her first born as a home birth. Both daughters are trained Doulas and along with that education and the research and participation of their husbands they embraced home birth with a confidence that was unshakeable. I was supportive, but definitely unsure of this new experience. Actually some Grandparents feel purposely removed from the situation. We were fortunate that the girls patiently and repeatedly gave us reassurance and fed us as much knowledge about the process as we could assimilate. As time moved forward they informed and introduced us to their chosen Doulas and Midwives. We were invited to hear the baby's heartbeat. This helped so much.
I still feel that there needs to be developed a resource (reading material, video material, FAQ's or a one time class with a round table of Grandparents to answer questions) to educate Grandparents and other family members about this new 'way of life' and what to expect. Especially for the first experience. I was not present for the births. I was OK with that, but felt I was in neverland and unsure as to when we would be 'invited' to see the family, or how soon, or at all. Many of us are used to being in contact with someone during the active birth or at least in a hospital with medical associates to answer questions. A home birth as I now know it, is more private and those involved are constantly busy and focused and updates will generally occur after the baby has arrived. Help us visualize this private activity and we then know that all is as it should be and we will know our new role in this loving event. The 'wondering' about home birth can be best addressed and promoted with education. Honest sharing will help move everyone into a circle of understanding that will make the home birth a success for all.

Andrea Smith said...

Yep. My family thought I was nuts. I tried to explain to mom that she had been the one to plant the seeds to get me at the place I am now. We initially planned to not have her at the birth because of her strong and my husband's quiet personality, but I explained how I wanted my husband to be my support and we ended up calling her in for reserves and she did great. My MIL absolutely hated what we were doing and would drop veiled comments like "my sister is so worried about your birth." I'm sure she was relieved when our first home birth transferred. Thankfully other than lamenting my daughter's gender (grr!), there were no I Told You Sos. However, when our second home birth was accidentally unassisted, my mother ended up as the first responder and the MIL had some pretty nasty things to say to my poor husband who was still in a state of shock from being the baby catcher. Yeah, I'm still angry at her for that. But everyone, brothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, they all think we are bizarre hippies. But surely they should be used to the idea by now with #3. :) I've had some friends share well meaning or pointed advice, but time is on my side!

Donna Ryan said...

Paula, thank you so much for your response. That is so helpful. The wheels are turning as I think up a new way of presenting this information. :-)

Allison said...

I think my mom may never forgive me for having my last baby at home, seriously! And now we're planning a home birth for baby #5.

I just don't talk much with family about it unless they ask, because I am also told that I can come across as insensitive. It's tricky, but I have to follow my intuition and not care about what others think.