A doctor’s thoughts on home birth: Cammy Benton, MD, is a C-section mom of three and a beloved family practitioner based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She’s the owner of Benton Integrative Medicine. Until a few days ago she had never witnessed a home birth. Inspired and awed by the experience of watching birth unfold safely and naturally at home, she wrote up these doctor’s thoughts on home birth and has generously agreed to share them with us here.
A Doctor’s Thoughts On Home Birth
By Cammy Benton, MD
I experienced my first home birth last night.
I’m an MD, but I went to be part of the experience of being present as a friend, not a doctor, wanting to watch homebirth midwives in action.
I was so lucky I made it!
Angela, a third time mom, went into labor right after I got back from vacation.
I was on my way to an event when they called, so I arrived in a semi-formal gown and pearls to the home birth.
She delivered beautifully three hours later and I still made it to my event.
She made it all look so easy.
My births were C-sections, and were anything but easy
I had three C sections.
I was told by my mainstream hospital birth team that my first baby was going to be “too big.”
They predicted the baby would weigh at least 10 pounds.
It was the hospital midwife in the obstetrician group who told me at 40 weeks that there was “no way” I could deliver this baby naturally.
They scared me into believing that I could not have a vaginal birth.
Two days later I had a scheduled C-section.
But my daughter wasn’t “too big.”
She wasn’t big at all.
She weighed a healthy 8 pounds 3 ounces: a normal, healthy, perfect weight.
No one apologized.
No one admitted they miscalculated her size.
No one mentioned that the ultrasounds I had, as ultrasounds often are, gave inaccurate sizing, to say nothing of ultrasounds possibly causing harm.
No one suggested that my C-section, like as many as 600,000 others a year, according to my colleague Stuart Fischbein, MD, may very likely have been unnecessary.
I didn’t know then what I know now and I trusted the doctors with my whole heart.
So when I was told the same story with Baby #2 (“too big to deliver vaginally), I believed it. Again.
There wasn’t even a question about having a VBAC (Vaginal Birth after Cesarean) with Baby #3 because, “You can never have a dangerous VBAC after two C-sections.”
Which is what doctors say, even though it isn’t true.
As a doctor, I was afraid of vaginal birth
I was actually celebrating inside because I was still traumatized from the obstetric training we received in residency.
I saw some scary, awful things. Hospital deliveries can and do go bad. The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world and inexcusably high infant mortality rates.
I didn’t realize that this is because of an overly medicalized birth system that caters to profits over people, as well as because of institutionalized racism in the practice of medicine.
I thought it was because birth is dangerous, an emergency, an accident waiting to happen.
I was thankful to never see a mom die during labor, but I saw other things that made me cringe and fear delivery and fear birth.
I saw nurses and doctors yelling at patients, as well as family medicine residents being abused by angry, stressed-out doctors.
Many nurses and doctors were amazing and caring and some weren’t.
But even with the good ones, the delivery practices in the hospital work against birth: Women are told to “lie down” and “stay in bed,” in the hospital instead of being given the space to what their body and the baby want to do, which may include walking, being on all fours, swaying, or, yes, lying in bed.
I saw so many women on their backs in stirrups given episiotomies, which is a surgical cut that does more harm than good.
The doctors and nurses in the hospital brought fear and prejudice into every room, mistakenly believing that the baby would lose all its blood if we didn’t cut the cord fast enough.
Now that one makes me laugh.
I can’t believe we were all taught that!
Just so you know, science supports delayed cord cutting (it’s best to wait until the cord stops pulsating) so the baby can get all their own blood, nutrients, and stem cells from the placenta.
We did collect stem cells from the cord blood back then so we knew it was rich in healing powers!
Yet we stopped the flow as soon as possible because my supervisors, colleagues, and I didn’t seem to know the direction of the blood flow back then: out of the placenta into the baby where it belongs, and I guess we believed the baby would be drained of its own blood if we didn’t cut the cord immediately.
I’m 46 years old and graduated from med school in TK. So many things we did then were not rooted in science, common sense, or best practices.
I was traumatized by this toxicity and fear and I carried that trauma through to my own pregnancy and deliveries.
I wish I knew then what I know now.
To this day, obstetricians, hospital midwives, and labor and delivery nurses (as Dr. Margulis explores in her investigation of how for-profit medicine and corporate greed affect birth practices) continue to get it wrong.
A doctor’s thoughts on home birth: back to Angela’s birth
So last night, since I wasn’t practicing medicine but just being present and holding space, I did what I could do, which was pray.
I prayed for God to wrap his arms of safety around the mom, whom I adore, and the baby who would soon greet the world.
I watched the relaxed nature of the midwives as they supported her.
“Trust your body,” they reminded her gently when a contraction felt like too much.
“Where do you want to be?” they asked her softly when she felt uncomfortable.
“How do you feel?” they said softly, listening to the answer and helping her find a new way to be comfortable by rubbing her shoulders, kissing her forehead, holding her hand.
No cervical checks.
Mom was essentially meditating herself during the contractions.
When it was time, she reached down and delivered her own baby in the water.
She pushed when her body called for it.
I wouldn’t even call it a push.
She just relaxed and let her body expel the baby with some help from her deep core of strength.
It was miraculous.
A doctor’s thoughts on home birth: the midwives were amazing
The midwives brought a measured calm.
They were there when Angela needed them, but stepped back when she needed space.
Homebirth midwives help moms have an experience they could never have in a hospital.
Could harm come to the mom and baby?
Is it safe to have a home birth?
As a doctor, safety is one of my first concerns.
Complicated pregnancies and deliveries should be reserved for the obstetricians.
But statistically it’s safer for a low-risk mom to have an out of hospital birth, especially when homebirth midwives and doctors work as a team instead of as antagonists.
A mom who wants a safe vaginal birth will have a better experience if she is delivered by midwives, either at home, at a freestanding birthing center, or at the hospital with midwives who practice like homebirth midwives not like midwives trained like OBs (birth folks have a term for bullying interventionist midwives: “medwives.”)
In Iceland students training to be medical doctors watch three midwife-attended births before they see an OB deliver a baby.
In America students training to be medical doctors are taught to belittle midwives and fear home birth.
A doctor’s thoughts on home birth: birth as nature intends it
I’m filled with gratitude to have had the opportunity to see birth as nature intends it.
Angela radiated strength in the face of pain.
I watched her deliver her own baby, with her husband and two midwives by her side.
I watched her and her family meet Hazel Faith for the first time, their faces radiant and curious.
When I was pregnant with my daughters, I just didn’t know.
I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t do my own research.
After my daughters were born, all three of them, I was so drugged up on pain relievers that I wasn’t even mentally present.
My hands were tied down and I didn’t get to hold them after they were born.
They were whisked away from me.
I feel like I was robbed of the opportunity to have those special moments with my babies after birth.
It was hours before I got to hold them in my arms.
Being at Angela’s birth was healing for me, helping me let go of my surgical, clinical birthing experiences and my time as a medical resident when we were taught to fear birth.
As I was quietly present for Angela, her birth became my birth, my opportunity to feel that experience, to imagine my own babies coming into the world that gently and holding them that close to me.
Angela’s birth was so powerful and empowering.
Which is the kind of birth every woman deserves.
Want to read more about pregnancy and home birth?
Here are 45 reasons no woman should have a home birth (don’t let the title fool you)
This mom had her baby by herself in the bath tub. On purpose!
In this post 6 moms share their secrets to a positive pregnancy
Here’s why having a C-section IS actually a big deal
And here a doctor weighs in on the vaccine debates