Giving birth at home felt like the only option for this couple back in May.
Before the coronavirus hit the US, Jessica Nixon and her husband Clive never considered having a midwife deliver their first child instead of a doctor. “At first we were very sceptical,” Clive said.
They’re part of a growing number of Americans opting for home births.
“Prior to COVID, I would say I was receiving maybe a half a dozen calls a week, depending on the week,” midwife Christa West said. “And when COVID hit, I was receiving that in one day. So it was a huge increase.”
It’s 9 a.m., and Jessica’s contractions have started. Their midwife, Gelena Hinkley, is here, helping them get prepared.
Hinkley and a birth assistant carry oxygen, resuscitation equipment, IV fluids, antibiotics, suture equipment, standard birth supplies, and herbs and homeopathic treatments.
At home, Jessica can also have both her husband and her mum around — something many hospitals are no longer allowing because of the pandemic. “Having her there was a very important thing for me, and I wouldn’t want to deprive her of that experience either,” Jessica said.
The ability to have family present is one reason Hinkley said her birthing centre, Peaceful Pregnancy Pathways, has received triple the inquiries it did at the same time last year. “They have genuine fears of that,” she said.
But there are risks that come with home births. The death rates among babies born at home is twice the rate of those in hospitals. Between 23% and 37% of women attempting a home birth for the first time end up transferring to a hospital, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the time during a normal pregnancy and labour, everything goes just fine,” obstetrics and gynecology specialist Nigel Spier said. “But in the instance where things are not going well, or you have an emergency that you have to deal with, time is really of the essence. And you don’t really have a lot of wiggle room there to make quick decisions that need to be made to ensure that the safety and the health and the well-being of the mum and the baby.”
Fifteen hours have passed since Jessica’s contractions first started. Hinkley fills up the birthing pool that should help ease the pain.
“She’s wanting a very natural process, and she wanted that from the beginning,” Hinkley said. “That’s kind of our philosophy as midwives, is really allowing the natural birth process to go and only stepping in when we see that it would help benefit mum or baby.”
“I want people to really understand how safe and normal it is to have a baby when you’re a low-risk woman, and how trained a midwife is,” Hinkley said. “I don’t want it to have such a stigma on home births and only in an emergency. We’re like the last resort — it shouldn’t be that way.”
By hour 30, Jessica’s contractions indicated the baby was about to arrive.
And at hour 36, he finally did.
Baby Grayson is born without any complications.
Hinkley takes his measurements and his weight and makes sure everything is just right. She’ll continue to assess both mum and newborn for several hours after the birth.
“It’s an emotional experience,” Jessica said. “It’s painful. It’s, you know, a lot of a rush of emotions.”
But “nothing hurt” once the baby was born, she said. “All the pain went away immediately. Thirty-six hours of contractions every two to five minutes that lasts about a minute and a half — you know, all that out the window.”
“My takeaway from this experience was that it was it was amazing. And we got this little guy.”
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Yasmina Hatem, Lisa Desai, Taimy Alvarez, Richard Bardsley