TODAY   |  September 10, 2009

The perils of home births

Sept. 11: A growing number of mothers are choosing to give birth with no drugs, no doctor and in the comfort of their own home. NBC’s Peter Alexander looks at the possible complications that could put the mother and baby at risk.

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>>> we're back now at 7:41. and this morning on "today investigates," extreme births . welcoming a baby into the world is one of life's most powerful and personal experiences, and it's inspiring a passionate debate. nbc 's peter alexander is here with details on this. peter, this is a real dramatic and emotional subject.

>> increasingly it's become a hot topic in this country . a growing number of mothers are choosing to give birth with no drugs, no doctor in their home. but is avoiding the clinical nature of a hospital birth worth the risk? when complications arise?

>> we believe that it would be the best for the baby. and it was so short of that.

>> reporter: this is how two expecting parents ' best intentions turned into anyone's greatest fear. katherine and ricardo mckenzie were overjoyed last summer to learn that they were pregnant with their first child .

>> i felt like our family was complete.

>> reporter: the mckenzies, both new york city professionals, wanted their childbirth experience to be special.

>> closure eyes.

>> reporter: they found inspiration in an extremely popular documentary produced by the actress and talk show host ricki lake .

>> women in our society, they don't care about that. they just want the end result of the healthy baby in their arms.

>> reporter: it's called the business of being born, and it challenges how doctors and hospitals approach childbirth, championing natural births with a midwife at home and with as little medical intervention as possible.

>> it looks ideal. and it really put any of the desire to give my child that.

>> reporter: the mckenzies decided to hire one of the country 's most prominent midwives, kara muhan.

>> i'm like the guardian of safety.

>> reporter: she's been a certified nurse midwife for the last 18 years. after a healthy pregnancy, last april katherine 's contractions began.

>> i was very excited. i was going to get to meet her.

>> reporter: their daughter's nursery was already decorated and a name already picked out. noah .

>> i have her outfit ready.

>> reporter: but katherine 's labor in her own living room lasted longer than expected, coached not by doctors but by mohan and her staff.

>> we kept being reassured, is this normal ?

>> they were the experts, they knew, they had seen it 100 times . and i just trusted -- i trusted them that they wouldn't take unnecessary risk.

>> reporter: after four days of labor, baby noah arrived without a heartbeat.

>> when she came out, they put her in my arms. she was limp. and, you know, the midwife immediately took her back and started doing cpr.

>> reporter: they immediately called 911. paramedics rushed noah to the hospital just a block away.

>> i was still hoping that she was going to make it.

>> reporter: but doctors couldn't save noah . she had suffocated after getting tangled in her own umbilical cord . their midwife, kara, declined our request for an interview but released this short statement. there is nothing more tragic than losing a child . the entire staff at caramulhahn midwivry is grieving the loss. it's an increasingly popular trend among educated urban couples. in fact, home births have soared 27% in the last decade.

>> one of the doctors i spoke to said that he thought that home birth had become almost the equivalent of a spa treatment for women , that it was this sort of hedonistic concept of birthing.

>> reporter: all the celebrity babies born at home could fill an entire nursery. demi moore 's three daughters, rumer, scout and tallulah, were all home births . cindy crawford and meryl streep had children at home, too. but the mainstream medical community says the safest setting for labor and delivery is in a hospital or a birthing center within a hospital complex .

>> unfortunately when it comes to a delivery setting, some of the emergencies arise can't be predicted. they happen in low-risk women with no prior medical issues during her pregnancy. and if we can't intervene within minutes, the life of the mother and the life of the baby could be endangered.

>> reporter: the american college of obstetricians and gynecologists says childbirth decisions should not be dictated or influenced by what's fashionable, trendy or the latest cause celeb . but home birth advocates contend using a midwife is actually a healthier, safer option . they allege that hospitals often treat normal births like medical emergencies , out of fear of malpractice lawsuits and wind up performing unnecessary c-sections that have risen more than 50% over the past decade.

>> if you go to the hospital to have a baby, many unnecessary things will be done to you to stimulate your labor, to hurry up the process , and there is a one in three chance that you will end up with a cesarean section .

>> ready to go for a ride?

>> reporter: cynthia winnings and her husband, david dylan , had a great experience with a midwife who safely delivered their first child , buck, ten pounds, right here in their brooklyn apartment in april.

>> it was always the way that i dreamed of it. you know, i was aware, baby was aware, and we were just finally meeting one another for the first time .

>> i was really able to see the simple, like, miraculously amazing aspect of childbirth.

>> reporter: while the cdc says home birth statistics are limited, in 2005 , home births actually resulted in fewer deaths than hospital births . for every 1,000 babies born. but doctors say it's impossible to compare the two because hospitals deal with so many more high-risk cases including twins, diabetic mothers, and breech babies . today, the mckenzies are still mourning the loss of noah , what should have been the most joyous day of their lives now haunts them.

>> i would have 100 c-sections over if i could just have my child in my arms. so a c-section is not the worst thing. losing our noah was definitely the worst thing.

>> the mckenzies say they need more time to heal , matt, but soon they are hoping to once again try and start a family .

>> peter, that's a tragic side of this and a tragic story. what should people ask of a midwife before they employ that person ?

>> it's a good question. it's a conversation that parents right now are having around this country . the medical experts that we spoke with said that expectant parents considering a home birth should ask several questions. specifically, does the midwife have malpractice insurance . another one would be does she have a collaboration agreement with a doctor or hospital that would help them care for the baby and the mother in case there is an emergency of this sort.

>> all right. peter, thanks very much. appreciate it.

>>> still to come, what is in this fall? the hottest trends in food, fashion and technology. we'll get to that.

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