DIY Deliveries: More Women Go It Alone

Would you give birth at home without medical help?

Jan. 7, 2008 — -- More women are opting for do-it-yourself deliveries rather than dealing with the regulations, constrictions and rules they'd face if they gave birth in a hospital.

Home births comprise about 1 percent of all U.S. births, and while no hard data exists to indicate how many of them take place without a midwife or doctor present, experts said the number of unassisted births is rising.

More than 100 discussion groups about the subject have sprung up on Yahoo's Web site.

One Woman's Story

Christina Schafer is one mother who decided she wanted to take a different approach with her fourth child.

She gave birth for the first time at home and didn't even have a nurse present. "Being at home, it's your domain. You're the one in charge, not the doctor," Schafer said.

Giving birth to her son at home allowed Schafer the opportunity to move freely during labor. She monitored the baby's heartbeat herself and when she was ready, she pushed the infant out into a birthing pool, located in her bedroom.

"I'm doing this because I think this is the safest option for him and the safest option for me and I'm not taking it lightly. It's not some kind of hippie decision," she said before her son was born.

Schafer's latest childbearing experience, on Dec. 12, 2007, when she gave birth to a baby boy, differed vastly from her first birth.

During her first pregnancy, Schafer gave birth in a hospital. After 16 hours of labor, she ended up having a Caesarean section.

"I had planned on a natural childbirth, and I got completely the opposite. I just remember lying there in bed, cords coming out of everywhere," she said. "I really felt like I had failed, and I wanted the chance to do it the way I wanted to."

Stringent hospital rules are just one reason more women are opting for unassisted births. Hospitals tend to support epidurals, fetal monitoring, inducements and C-sections, said author Jennifer Block.

"Most hospital maternity wards are really stuck in a 1950s mentality. 'Just lie back, honey. We know what's best for you. You listen to us and you push when we tell you to push, or you have a C-section. And women who are going unassisted are -- they're rebeling against that. They're saying no," said Block, who wrote a book called "Pushed" on the topic.

The type of women seeking unassisted births varies, Block said.

"All sorts of women are choosing to give birth unassisted. I met lawyers, doctors even, professional people who choose home birth," said Block, who wrote a book about unassisted pregnancies.

Delivery Dangers

However, childbirth can also come with complications, and doctors said unassisted childbirths could be dangerous for mother and child.

The baby could be born in a breach position, or with the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. The mother could suffer from significant tearing or from a maternal hemorrhage and bleed to death in as little as five minutes.

"What women need to appreciate is that the few hours of labor are the most dangerous time during the entire lifetime of the soon-to-be-born child," said Dr. Frank Chervenak, Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell. "Because of this, I would argue ... all soon-to-be born children have a right to access immediate Caesarean delivery, and women who are denying this right are irresponsible."

Deciding to deliver at home was not an easy decision for Schafer or her husband, Matt, especially since his mother is a nurse.

"Just from a grandmother's perspective, she's worried about it. I think it's a concern, but they understand why we're doing it," Matt Schafer said. "We thought this was the safest for both her and the baby."

Christina Schafer said a woman should trust herself no matter what birth method she chooses.

"For me, the birth was just a reminder that no matter where you're giving birth -- whether it's at home or in a completely medicalized environment -- it's really the woman who is doing everything," Schafer said. "The woman [is the one who] should be calling the shots."

For more information on unassisted deliveries check out these sites:

Midwives Association of North America

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists