CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I was born at home, in January 1982, at my parent's house, in Beckley. My parents wanted my siblings to be present for my birth, but at the time, the local hospital would not have allowed them in the delivery room. Family friends, both a doctor and a midwife, were at the house to help my mother labor and help me enter the world. As with most births, everything went smoothly and there were no complications. I was born a healthy 8 pound, 8 ounce baby, and being born at home is a fun fact about myself that I always carry with me.
Much has changed in the medical world since 1982, and many hospitals are more receptive to having family members present during birth. But one major factor led my wife and me to want our child born at home: The rate of Cesarean section in United States hospitals is extraordinarily high, 32.8 percent in 2011. Sadly, according to the West Virginia Healthcare Authority data for 2010, the most recent year available, the C-section rate in West Virginia hospitals is 36 percent. Even more striking, the C-section rate at CAMC's Women and Children's Hospital is 41.9 percent.
The World Health Organization and many studies find that a C-section is necessary in 5 to 10 percent of births. The bottom line is that some pregnancies simply cannot end safely with a vaginal delivery. In those instances, the hospital is obviously the only place for the surgery to take place and for the birth of the baby. These studies and the WHO also find that C-section rates greater than 15 percent cause more harm than good to both baby and mother. Based on this information, my wife and I chose to use a midwifery practice with a C-section rate of approximately 7 percent.
As it turned out, our son Wesley was one of the 7 percent who needed to be born by C-section. I safely drove my laboring wife from our home to the hospital for what we hoped would still be a vaginal delivery, but ultimately ended in surgery. While many of the nurses and doctors were wonderful, the ones that unfortunately stick in my mind the most are those who treated us poorly. That poor treatment and the judgment passed upon us by some of the doctors and nurses led me to write this column.
Stated simply, it is not strange, weird or crazy to give birth at home. Home birth is safe. According to a recent Dutch study, the risk of complications is lower in home births than it is with birth at the hospital. Childbirth is a natural thing that has occurred for many more years than C-sections and hospitals have been around. The female body is designed to give birth without intervention and no intervention is necessary in the vast majority of births. Our choice to attempt a home birth and to subsequently transfer to the hospital in a safe and timely manner should not have been met with derogatory comments. We used the hospital exactly as intended, when it was necessary.
Thanks to medical science advancements, C-sections and other interventions are possible to help ensure the safety of both baby and mother in certain instances. These interventions should not be overused and I strongly encourage CAMC and all West Virginia hospitals to reduce their C-section rates, reduce the number of interventions used, and focus on delivering healthy babies as the female body was designed to do. But most of all, I encourage doctors and nurses to learn about home birth, leave their judgment at the door, and treat all patients with respect and dignity. If CAMC improves over the coming years, my wife and I may choose to have a birth there in the future, but vaginal birth at home after C-section is also safe, more likely to be successful than at the hospital, and becoming more common since many people are treated poorly in the hospital.
Baker is a proud new father, attorney and Charleston resident.