Mothers-to-Be Saying No to Modern Medicine

Despite controversy, a growing number of women choose to give birth at home.

ByABC News
December 9, 2008, 10:49 AM

Dec. 10, 2008— -- Modern medicine means not having to go through childbirth alone. But that's what a small and growing number of women are choosing to do.

Back in the 1800s, giving birth at home, sometimes with the assistance of a midwife, was about the only option. But doing the same today generates both well-wishers and critics.

"The majority of babies throughout history have been born unassisted, and I felt this is what birth is supposed to be," said Laura Shanley, who has had five babies at home that she chronicles in her book,"Unassisted Childbirth."

"When you're told that this is ...[a] dangerous process and everyone around you is alert and expecting the worst, it's really Murphy's Law," she said.

Does Home Birth Make Sense?

The American Medical Association isn't taking any chances. To guard against accidents, and maybe to slow the trickle of rising home births, the AMA issued a resolution in June, saying that "the safest setting for labor and delivery is a hospital."

That's both obvious and sound advice according to Dr. Helain Landy, a professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

"Having a baby in and of itself, can be a very dangerous situation, whether you deliver at home or in the hospital," she said. "But delivering at home, where one does not have all the ancillary support to be able to save the woman or save the baby, in my mind, just doesn't make a lot of sense."

For actress and former talk show host Ricki Lake, having a baby at home made perfect sense. Lake had her first child in a hospital but decided to have her second child at home with the aid of a midwife, filmed for her documentary "The Business of Being Born."

"I'm not anti-hospital, but more can go wrong in a hospital setting. You're on an assembly line, you're given one drug which leads to another drug, which leads to another drug," Lake said.

Although many women look forward to receiving drugs to subdue discomfort during labor, Lake said the pain of childbirth quickly slips from memory.

"It's very typical for any woman who's having a drug-free birth to say, you know, to hit a wall and to ... scream obscenities, but you forget the second you see that baby, you totally forget about the pain," she said.