Less than 1 percent of all American babies are born at home, But that percentage is increasing. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of U-S home births jumped 29 percent between 2004 and 2009. As IPR's Kimberlie Kranich reports, despite the trend, womens home birth options in Illinois remain limited:
When thirty-four year-old Rebecca Butler became pregnant with her third child, she was determined to have the baby at home, in Champaign, with her husband, Tom.
"I couldn't find a midwife. I somehow connected with the home birth group here in Champaign and there were like five of us and one midwife who was working this entire area and she's no longer around here."
Rebecca and Tom's baby girl, Clementine, was born on their living room floor. Tom delivered her successfully. No midwife was present.
"I don't recommend that for everyone. You know, I recommend whatever feels right to people, but an unassisted birth is not for the faint of heart, I don't think."
Abbey Fish, 27, gave birth to two of her three children at home on her and husband Mike's farm in Towanda. Scarlett, their youngest, was born last year.
"The happiest moment of the birth of Scarlett was that I was able to share it with my closest friends and family."
Twenty-nine year old Amy Russell of Bloomington and her husband Ben decided to birth their third child,(pictured) Katie, at home with the assistance of a nurse midwife team.
"And it was just so calm, even in the way I felt internally. I just felt at peace with what we were doing. I wasn't scared. There was no anxiety. We just felt like it was the right thing to do for our family."
All three mothers had some sort of negative experience during their hospital births. So, they learned about home births, found others who had tried it, and then sought out a midwife. At first, Amy's husband Ben was skeptical. He thought it was irresponsible to have a baby at home.
"I think that's a lot of people's knee jerk reaction, but the more I educated myself about it, did research about it, the more I started to see that some of the statistics say that it's safer if have the properly trained medical staff at home."
Fear plays a large role in childbirth in the U-S. Advocates of home birth and hospital birth use different statistics to support their notion of whats safest for mother and child. Midwife-supported home birth advocates often cite a large study published in the British Medical Journal in 2005 that found newborn death rates in home births were comparable to those in hospitals. Hospital-birth advocates often use opinions like the one issued in 2011 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists which states, "The medical evidence shows a two-to-three-fold increase in the risk of newborn death in planned home births compared to planned hospital births." These differing perspectives impact a woman's birthing options. While planned home births in Illinois are lawful, the only people legally allowed to deliver babies are medical doctors and certified nurse midwives.
"Every year we have between 800-to-1,000 women who birth at home in Illinois."
That's Michelle Breen of the Coalition for Illinois Midwifery. She says there are licensed providers in fewer than 10 of Illinois' 102 counties.
"Most of these women are birthing under undesirable circumstances. They're birthing with an unlicensed provider, or they're birthing unassisted without any provider at all, or they actually might be traveling. Sometimes they're traveling while they're in labor to a neighboring state to deliver the baby in a hotel room."
The midwife who delivered baby Scarlett at Abbey and Mike's home in Towanda was breaking the law because Illinois doesn't recognize her credentials. She's what's known as a certified professional midwife, a specially trained practitioner in delivery outside the hospital. Decades-long efforts to legalize C-P-M supervised home births, opposed by the Illinois State Medical Society and other medical organizations, have repeatedly stalled in Springfield. The Illinois Department of Public Health, meanwhile, tells us they have no position on home births. They are, however, concerned about the percentage of Cesarean deliveries at Illinois hospitals, which jumped from less than 20 percent in 1997 to more than 30 percent a decade later. And it's that risk of C-sections and other medical interventions, and a sense of not having control, that lead some women to choose home births with midwife-directed care. Still, doctors at hospitals do one thing particularly well: emergencies. Like when the baby's shoulders are too wide to come out, or the umbilical cord comes out before the baby, or the mother starts to hemorrhage. As long the medical and midwifery model of birthing remain mostly disconnected from each other, women in Illinois will be forced to make choices under less-than-ideal conditions. And given a choice between a hospital or home birth, the families we spoke to said they'd opt for the home birth. Here's Abbey Fish, the mother from Towanda who chose to use a certified professional midwife unlicensed in Illinois.
"From our first experience at the hospital, it was so scary and unpredictable, and we just felt so out of control I feel like we have done so much work just to make our own decisions and they've turned out to be such great experiences and they've changed the way we've parented our children."
Support Your Public Radio Station