Birth: How Leaving Home is the First Intervention

Many people want a low-intervention birth for the benefit of the baby and mother. Many people want a low-intervention birth for the benefit of the baby and mother. Though most of us do it, just leaving your home often acts as an intervention in the birth process.

Two of my births were almost completely free of intervention.

My first “intervention-less” birth happened at a birth center that was actually a furnished home my midwife was renting. Afterward I felt almost indignant: Nobody did anything! I could have had that baby by myself in the woods!

I wandered around the master suite of this home, stopping at intervals to kneel and moo away my increasingly uncomfortable contractions. I got louder and louder. They closed the windows. They just looked at me and said I was doing great.

When I pushed my baby out, I felt her slip into the water and my midwife said, “Reach down and pick up your baby.”

Geez!” I thought, “I have to do that, too!?”

It wasn’t long before I realized the gift I had been given. I caught my own baby. I was the first person to touch her. Nobody did anything. I could have had that baby by myself in the woods.

The trust and personal power I garnered from the experience have been with me since, a welcome if not necessary rooting in strength for the journey of motherhood.

The other intervention-less birth I had was an accidental unassisted home birth. When I knew it was for real I hid in my bedroom cave belly dancing to Sufi music between trips to the toilet where I employed horse lips breathing generously.

My body pushed without me doing anything. When he was crowning I had to help push, like one has to sneeze, and he was born into his father’s fumbling arms about one minute after I yelled “Get the shower curtain!”

That birth was fun. I’d do it again every month if it didn’t mean another kid.

I really didn’t want interventions. I wanted my body to just do it and not have problems or choices in labor. I really didn’t want to be poked or prodded or strapped down. And I really didn’t want to have to make a choice in the middle of it all.

Hiring a provider that I trusted implicitly was tantamount to a good birth experience for me. A birth plan really wasn’t necessary because we talked at length, and I knew she would do what I would do or want in the moment. I could just let go.

The home-like atmosphere of both births also contributed to my body’s ability to labor and get a baby out without requiring intervention.

[Also luck, I do want to say that. I got lucky. You can do all the ‘right’ things (whatever that means) and still end up with interventions you hoped to avoid and a miserable experience.]

But it’s not all luck. If you go to a provider with a 70% cesarean rate, it’s not your rotten luck that you ended up with a cesarean. If you go to a hospital without mother-baby friendly rooms and staff, and you feel wildly uncomfortable there, it’s not just that labor is really hard.

Labor is hard. But doing it at home makes it easier.  If you’re not into that, a home-like environment will usually fill the bill.

In the birth community people sometimes say that leaving home is the first intervention.

Your bodymind wants to feel totally safe while you’re in labor. Traffic, car rides, triage, hospitals, questions, stainless steel technology, equipment made for emergencies, and forms to sign all tell your bodymind to pay attention!

People don’t make oxytocin (the hormone that contracts your uterus) when they are scared, threatened, or highly observed. We don’t make it very well when we have to pay attention and our brains are going a mile a minute, either.

To relax and let our bodies birth, we need to feel very comfortable in our space and with the people who are there. This happens best at home. That’s why many providers don’t want you to come in to the hospital or birth center before labor really gets going.

To your bodymind, leaving the comfort and familiarity of home is an intervention.

Our instinctual selves won’t let our bodies do the work of birthing in an environment that our thinking brain tells us is unsafe. If you feel safe, loved, and cared for, your body will work much faster and more efficiently. It will feel less intense.

The ‘problem’ is that so few of us feel comfortable birthing out-of-hospital. So even if you’re laboring nicely at home, eventually your thinking brain is sending “not safe, not safe” messages and it disrupts the instinctual process. You can circumvent some of this by staying home as long as possible to let the oxytocin train get up to speed before leaving the ultimate safe zone.

Knowing your choices, advocating for yourself ahead of time, finding a provider you love, taking a birth class, practicing relaxation, hiring a doula, and learning to love and appreciate your miracle body (and baby!) can all help mitigate some of the fear and distrust that sends the ‘not safe’ signal to your body.

You probably won’t stay home for the whole thing. That’s just fine. It’s a fine intervention.

Interventions can be labor-saving and life-saving.

Mostly, though, you can do it. You don’t need to be saved or fixed or tested or tried. You can do it. Your body knows how to do it. Let it.

You can have this baby alone in the woods. Nobody needs to do anything. Not even you.

3 thoughts on “Birth: How Leaving Home is the First Intervention”

  1. I have said for years that jumping into the car and going to a medical facility is the first intervention.

    I have scolded, laughed at, and chided for saying so, but I am correct. When a mama cat goes into labor, she finds a comfortable, quiet safe place to birth her kittens. All mammals do. It is instinctive. How did we get to this place where we go somewhere loud, bright, hard and busy to birth our children? Our culture is so crappy and backwards.

    Women have not improved in birthing by going to the hospital. Antibiotics and blood transfusions have saved women, not hospitalization. The skyrocketing c/sec rate has caused more problems with the babies born from them and the women subjected to them.

    Thank you for your article. I sincerely appreciate it.

  2. I have always said that women should be able to birth where they are most comfortable, least distracted. For me that was at home with a midwife for my first birth, but out of necessity, hospital for my breech twins. I found the hospital very distracting, because I am a nurse. I understood all of the conversations I overheard. I wanted to observe all of the equipment and readings, and IV rates. I saw many things that should have been done better; and coached my husband in how best to mitigate in postpartum care. However; I mostly just wanted to be left alone. The midwife who acted as doula for me, said it was the least internationalist hospital birth she had seen.

    I am really glad I opted first for a homebirth, because if I had chosen hospital, I would likely have been induced for about 42 weeks and for a very prolonged early labor. If I had not carefully planned my twin birth caregivers, I easily would have been sectioned at 37/38 weeks instead of being allowed to begin labor on my own at 41 weeks, 3 days.

  3. I love your perspective. I live in a very rural area where we also had to factor in an ambulance response that takes 45 minutes, no himebirth midwives within 2 hours, no birth centers, and a long ride to the hospital. When my clients are laboring at home and trying to decide when to go to the hospital we play this game where we say “this probably isn’t REAL labor, I’m just going to go get checked, just in case.” This helps take the edge off of the urgent and scary feelings that can stall labor. I also let them know that transition in a car is NOT fun. Then we discuss when they feel best about going.

    My second and third births were like yours. I totally could have had those babies alone in the woods. They were so easy, and 100% natural. My fourth baby, I just had this gut feeling like something was wrong and she needed to be born. I asked for continuous monitoring. I asked for pitocin after 12 hours with my water broken and no contractions. Thanks to some interventions, she was born quickly and safely, and despite some mysterious anomalies in her heart rate, was happy and screaming with no pain meds. It was a great birth, even though I had all the interventions I fought against in other births, because every one of those interventions was my choice.

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