Alanis Morissette: Home birth was 'beyond pain'

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By Linda Carroll

From gender-reveal parties to live tweeting through labor, parenting these days isn’t anything like what your folks did.

But one trend seems to be a throwback to a time when #itsaboy wasn’t part of our vocabulary: giving birth at home.

The trend has become more high profile with the home births of some very well-known women, including singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette.

On Christmas Day 2011, Morissette and her husband Mario Treadway welcomed their son Ever into their home with the help of a midwife and a doula.

“I didn’t really even imagine myself having the birth experience in the hospital,” Morissette told TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager. “My home is like my little sanctuary.”

Placenta prints, live tweeting labor: Pregnancy trends gone too far?

Morissette says she relied on her husband to give her support and guidance throughout the delivery.

“My husband was at my side the whole time, my total hero,” Morissette said. “And the rest was really up to God.”

Throughout her labor, Morissette says she tapped into an inner strength.

“The experience was beyond pain,” she said. “It was a transcendental experience. I just went to this whole other world. I basically had to be the little soldier that I am and really focus on this new beautiful creature coming out of me.”

But she cautions that women need to know what they are getting into beforehand — and that while home birth was the right decision for her and her family, the experience might not be right for everyone.

“I think once people know it’s quite possible to have a really amazing home birth — and in my case I have no regrets and would do it again and in the same breath it wasn’t the easiest experience of my life — I think having it be an option is really exciting,” Morissette said.

It’s an option that more and more moms-to-be are choosing.

While home births still constitute less than 1 percent of total births in the United States, births at home have increased 50 percent since 2004, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But even midwives say it’s not for everyone.

“This option is meant for women who are at low risk,” said Lorri Walker, founder of South Coast Midwifery in Irvine, Calif.

Walker, who has been a midwife for almost 30 years and has “caught” almost 1,900 babies over the years, never ceases to be amazed by the birth process. “Being part of that really intimate moment is . . . it’s really life changing,” she said.

Midwives, who are regulated by the states, receive training in prenatal care, delivery, and postnatal care. Whether they are licensed depends on the state and the type of midwife. 

“We don’t wait for disasters to occur,” Walker said. “If we see that this is no longer a safe, acceptable scenario, then we’re going to leave. We don’t believe in out-of-the-hospital births at all costs. That would be irresponsible.”

But some think that home births are too risky — even for women with uncomplicated medical histories.

“We should try to do the most possible that we can to satisfy the patient’s desire to have a natural environment, not be so interventional, etcetera, ” said Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center. “However, we should try to do it in a setting where, God forbid something goes wrong, the resources are available.”

A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology in June would seem to back up Hoskins. The New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell study concluded that home births, as compared to hospital births, are “strongly associated with worse outcomes.”

The study looked at data from a total of nearly 14 million birth certificates that had been tabulated by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The international team of researchers analyzed births according to four categories of birth setting and birth attendant: hospital birth with a physician, hospital birth with a midwife, free-standing birth center with a midwife, and homebirth with a midwife.

The researchers found that babies born at home were at a much higher risk of a five minute Apgar score of zero, seizures, and serious neurologic dysfunction, compared to those born in the hospital.  

The Apgar test gives a score for heart rate, respiration, muscle tone, response to stimulation, and color in the newborn. Respiration, for example, gets a zero if the baby is not breathing, a one if the baby is crying weakly and breathing irregularly, and a two if the baby is breathing normally and utters a strong cry.

Bad outcomes, like the zero Apgar score, were extremely rare, no matter the setting or the birth attendant. 

Still, the researchers did find a 10-fold difference between the rate in homebirths and the rate in hospital births attended by a doctor.

Hoskins wants to remind parents-to-be that they might not have time to get to the hospital when the unexpected occurs.

“Things can go wrong in minutes,” she said. “Both mother and baby are at risk.”

After investigating all the pros and cons of a home birth, some parents-to-be still opt to deliver their baby at home.

For Sandy and Mark Beyerly, the home birth of their first child, Emma, was such a positive experience, they opted to have their second there, too.

“I wanted a natural birth,” said the Connecticut mom. “I didn’t want any unnecessary medical interventions that you would possibly be exposed to at a hospital.

“I wanted to experience it in a very calm, loving, and respectful way at home. But I was also open to the possibility that if we needed medical intervention we could do that.”

And for the Beyerlys, everything turned out just the way they had hoped when their new son Noah Xavier was welcomed to the world in their own home.

For Mark, having the baby in their home, “makes it a much more special place.”

Statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to TODAY