Birth: Discovering Hospital Alternatives

The first time I heard about alternative birthing options to the hospital births I had seen portrayed on TV and in movies for years was in my Women’s Studies class during my sophomore year of college. I read a book about a midwife during the 17th century and learned how different birth used to be, learned what the term “birth plan” meant, but didn’t do much about it because marriage and babies were so far away at that point.

Interestingly the next step in my journey toward learning more about alternative birthing options was reading a fictional novel about a midwife who cuts open a laboring mother with a butcher knife during a home birth gone wrong. (Definitely one of my favorite novels ever, by the way. I highly recommend it.) Interestingly I was able to focus on something other than the gory details of the birth story, and it didn’t make me afraid of exploring birth options outside of a hospital. The storyline introduced me to a new attitude toward giving birth, and I realized that there were women who embraced the birth experience instead of feared it. I read about these fictional midwives who devoted their lives to caring for pregnant and laboring women, sometimes against great opposition from outside forces.

My next step in my alternative birthing discovery quest was learning about birth photography from Kelli Nicole. She has photographed a few births herself, and I found the stories told through the photo slideshows so beautiful that I began searching for more photographers around the US with posts on their blog about births they had photographed.

Think birth photography sounds boring? Then you haven’t seen what Life in Motion Photography can capture, even in the most limiting of hospital circumstances. Check out the second photo down in the birth of audrey. Stunning right?

Out of all the stories, the ones I loved the most were those outside of the hospital. The women were in motion, squatting, kneeling, floating in a birth tub, hanging around the necks of their husbands. They were able to choose if they wanted older siblings to be present, and how involved they wanted them to be in the birth process. The women ate and drank when and what they wanted, used birth pools and birthing balls to explore alternative positions, and brought their babies immediately up to their breast moments after the birth. Their husbands are active participants in the birthing process, often getting in the birth tub women to literally be their rock through an incredibly difficult experience. I wanted the control, I wanted the support, and I wanted my husband. If you’d like to see what I’m talking about  Homeshade Photography has captured several out-of-hospital birth experiences I adore, although she has all right clicks disabled so I can’t link to them directly. They are worth clicking over and scrolling down for though.

(Oh, and if you’re like me and can’t get enough birth photography one other site to check out would be that of Lynsey Stone, she’s out of Dallas and absolutely fantastic as well.)

The last significant step in my introduction to alternative birthing before we started trying to get pregnant (and really went crazy with the birth research) was reading The Red Tent. Random I know, and I’m sure many of you have read this novel without the same effect, but the description of the birthing scenes really got to me. To be in a place surrounded only by people who know and love you in a quiet, controlled, comforting environment throughout my labor was something I wanted for myself.

29 thoughts on “Birth: Discovering Hospital Alternatives

  1. I was really struck by the birth scenes in the Red Tent, too! So fascinating to see the female community support.

    Have you started reading the blog Offbeat Mama? I think you might enjoy it: http://offbeatmama.com/

  2. is there a dar a luz birth network in dallas? if so i would recommend looking into it. you might find a highly recommended midwife or doula.
    i applaud your interest in birthing alternatives. at nearly 29 i’m embarrassed to admit that i didn’t know women could give birth any way other than on their back or via c-section until my massage therapist jo was pregnant last year. i now know better. jo’s home birth truly opened my eyes. it was a beautiful experience and i only saw pictures.
    i wish you, TH and that one all the best.

  3. Jenna – last night on TLC they showed Anna Duggar’s home birth on the show 18 Kids and Counting. I was riveted! Obvy it’s TV so they didn’t get into detail, but it was very moving. Her husband and doula were very supportive, and I thought it was amazing that she shared such a personal experience on TV.

  4. I love your posts! Also, just wondering…???? When are you changing your name to THAT MOM!!!?????

  5. I read The Red Tent in middle school or early high school and loved it. I need to re-read it since my life has changed so much and I like what you took from it!

  6. I’ve read both of these amazing books and I had the exact same experience while reading the Red Tent- all the strong female bonds, the birthing scenes, the ideas of being connected to our female ancestors through each and every birth- ah, it was so beautiful, getting chills just thinking about it!

  7. I’ve read The Midwife (and loved it!) and now I have to put the Red Tent on my reading list!
    Those pictures are amazing! I don’t have many pictures of my son’s birth, but when we have another baby, I definitely want someone there to take pictures.
    And seeing these websites of people who actually do birth photography makes me realize that it’s something I’ve had rolling around in my brain for a while. I’m a amateur photographer that loves birth, especially natural birth, and I would love to be a doula! So maybe I’ll have to be the doula that brings her camera along to births… hmmm… ;)

  8. Can someone tell me what “alternative” means when Jenna is talking about birth?
    Is the hospital considersed “normal” and everything else alternative? You can have a water birth in a hospital. Is that considered alternative? I would love some help understanding what people mean when they say “alternative birthing options”.

    Kelli Nicole Reply:

    The majority of women have babies in hospitals in the United States (I believe 99%) and from what I’ve heard, most of the hospitals that allow women to labor in a tub don’t allow them to give birth in a tub, so while it IS an option at SOME hospitals, it’s definitely not standard. So by alternative I think Jenna mostly means out of hospital, using things such as hypnobabies for pain relief (though i’ve known people who have babies in hospitals that use that technique, but like I said, it’s not standard), and being able to do whatever you want like eat and drink your favorite foods and walk around naked in your own home :).

    Starry-Eyed Barefoot Bride Reply:

    Hypnobabies?? Is that hypnosis during contractions? (hehe – I have this terrible image of my husband being entertained with me under hypnosis and making me cluck like a chicken during contractions. :) )

    Evelyn Reply:

    Haha… well, I believe it’s more like learning to relax yourself/your body on demand.

    Kelli Nicole Reply:

    Lol, yeah, like Evelyn said, I think it’s more of a meditating/relaxing/being in control technique.

  9. I just finished reading Midwives and also really liked it. It got me thinking about home birth as well, which is appealing to me. The only thing is that if I were to do it, I’d want to have a medically trained midwife, not a lay midwife. That’s the only part that I really have any objection to personally.

  10. Jenna, it totally cracks me up that a woman having her midwife cut her open with a kitchen knife intrigued you! =) haha… Oh man.

  11. It’s so funny, I was half-way through this post and I thought “Wow, Jenna has to read ‘The Red Tent,’” and then I scrolled down….. and there it was! Definitely gave me an even greater interest in birthing

  12. So are you planning to have pictures taken during the birth?

    Thank you for the books, I was actually looking for what to read next and it looks like my libarary has them. :)

  13. I already want maternity and newborn photos taken. After looking through the birth photo links that you posted, I want that too. I wish that I had the money for all of that. What a wonderful way to remember the experience.

  14. Great photos; thanks for the links to the slideshows. I am a huge wimp when it comes to pain (I almost cried this weekend trying to take a splinter out of my bare foot) but I’ve become more interested in natural/home births. Thanks for continuing to provide more information on the topic.

    So are you going to tell us whether you have a midwife/doctor lined up yet (re: long post from Monday)? Fill us in, sista!

  15. I was also struck deeply by the birthing scenes in the Red Tent. And also the whole concept of the Red Tent; all of the women secluding themselves away during the new moon while they talk, sing, and celebrate womanhood together. Simply amazing. I can’t wait to hear more of your journey, Jenna!

  16. I deal with dead bodies and all sorts of things I shouldn’t comment about and yet the idea of someone taking a butcher knife to a stomach sent chills up my spine. I can’t even imagine!!!

  17. Congrats on making a decision that you’re comfortable with! I’ve had two friends have home births and they LOVED it!

    The only thing I would recommend (this is the NICU nurse in me–and remember, my jobs is to clean up messes from births–whether they be hospital or home!), is to ask your midwife what her transport criteria is. Is meconium worth transporting over? Will you be tested for Group B strep (please be tested–GBS sepsis in a newborn is awful, and I just saw my first case of it) How much oxygen does she carry with her?

    I’m certainly not trying to be a downer, but I know that being prepared and aware of possible complications can go a long way in preventing complications.

    Congrats again!

  18. I’m really excited for you! I love that more and more women are choosing to give birth in ways that are comfortable, safe, and satisfying for them. I’ve wanted to be a nurse-midwife since I was 16. I’m in my last year as undergrad, and up next, grad school.

    It’s really great that you basically re-learned what birth is and what it can be. Hopefully more and more people have that kind of experience – or never have need of it in the first place.

  19. Congratulations for exploring your options and “owning” your birthing experience. My husband and I are not yet trying for a baby, but I will explore all options. For some women, the hospital is the right place, but not for others. The most important thing is to ask the questions you need to ask to find the right solution. A friend of mine recently delivered in the hospital with the assistance of a doula (birthing coach), which she enjoyed. And I’ve also heard wonderful things about midwives. I am sure you will make your birthing experience a positive one!

  20. It is so great that you’ve made a decision to take control of the birth process! My best friend is a midwife and I’ve had the pleasure of helping her out at two of our friends’ births and it was a transformative experience.

    Have you read Babycatcher by Peggy Vincent? A real-life midwives memoirs. I think you would really love it.

    Good luck with your pregnancy and birth plan. May all go smoothly for you!

  21. I stumbled across this post today, I’ve been following Kate since before her twins. I thought I’d pass it along, both because I think she shares, far more eloquently than I ever could, an interesting perspective, and because I think you’ll enjoy reading what she has to say (not necessarily about birth, but just in general).

    http://www.sweetsalty.com/sweetsalty/2009/10/15/one-day-in-a-life.html

    Anyway, just thought I’d pass it along. I fell in love with her writing but I’ve come to respect her as a woman. I thought that maybe you’d enjoy it too.

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