COVID-19 and the rise of home births - opinion

The decision to have a baby in the comfort of one’s own home has risen exponentially since the start of the pandemic.

 SARAH AND the mother pose with the newborn child.  (photo credit: Sarah Seymour)
SARAH AND the mother pose with the newborn child.
(photo credit: Sarah Seymour)

A home birth. Words that engender strong reactions. Many believe it is a reckless birthing choice which puts both mother and baby at increased risk, others, although fewer in number, are strong proponents of it.

All that aside, the decision to have a baby in the comfort of one’s own home has risen exponentially since the start of the pandemic. Often, the driving factor for this unusual choice is simply the desire to avoid giving birth in a hospital.

Of course, the most important factor in any birthing situation is the safety of the mother and her baby. In addition, hospitals must ensure the safety of their staff and other patients, and so stringent measures are implemented for everyone, including birthing mothers. Strict protocols must be followed, many of which are irrelevant and unnecessary in a home-birthing setting. For example, a woman who gives birth in a hospital may only be allowed one person for support with her, forcing her to choose between her partner and her doula (midwife).

Furthermore, upon admittance, all women are tested for COVID-19. Should a test prove positive, that woman might have to face the prospect of giving birth in a room full of health professionals wearing hazmat suits, while she must don a mask throughout the entire process. More distressful, becoming separated from her baby immediately after birth is a possibility in such circumstances.

A HOME BIRTH, on the other hand, provides women with more choices and autonomy.

 Pregnant woman (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE) Pregnant woman (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE)

Not every woman who wishes to give birth at home is entitled to. Certain criteria must be met on the part of the mother, and stringent rules and protocols set by the Ministry of Health must be followed by the midwife, for she oversees the whole procedure and is ultimately responsible for the safety of the mother and baby.

In order to qualify for a home birth, a woman must be low risk. Her age does not matter so much; however, she must be healthy and have had an unremarkable pregnancy. Multiple births, a previous cesarean section, an underlying health problem or living too far away from a hospital are just a few of the factors that may present complications, making a home birth unsafe or not viable.

As well, the mother must agree to have all of the regular checkups and scans that are offered to all women by their kupat cholim and provide this to her private midwife with a comprehensive overview of her condition throughout the pregnancy, enabling the midwife to decide whether a home birth is advisable when the time comes.

Private midwives who offer home birthing services must have all of the necessary paraphernalia, including emergency medical equipment, in case a problem should occur. As well, they are required to attend annual neonatal training courses to ensure that they are able to spot and deal with any problems with the baby, should they arise.

Sarah Seymour is one such private midwife who offers a home birth service to women in the Jerusalem area. Originally from the UK, where she qualified as a midwife, Seymour retrained in Israel and converted her license after making aliyah in 2000.

With over 20 years of experience as a midwife, Seymour formerly worked in hospital delivery wards where she caught over 2,000 babies. In the summer of 2019, she started her own home birth business and since then, has been responsible for helping 75 women to safely deliver their babies at home.

More recently, Seymour set up the Binyamin Natural Birthing Center in her hometown of Kochav Hashachar for all low risk women, wishing to experience a home birth, but who are not able to birth in their own home. It is fully furnished and boasts all the necessary medical equipment, as well as a birthing pool.

Since setting up her own business as a private midwife, Seymour has had some wonderful experiences. She guides and supports women, not just through the birth, but throughout the pregnancy and afterwards too.

Most of her clients engage her services in their fifth month, although some have been known to seek her help and advice from very early on. Monthly meetings are arranged in which test results from the kupat holim are discussed, and the overall health and well-being of mum and baby is assessed. Physical checks, such as the mother’s blood pressure and measuring the baby’s heartbeat with a handheld doppler, are also carried out in order to ensure that the pregnancy is progressing as it should.

If a complication arises at any stage, either during the pregnancy or at the birth itself, Seymour will advise her client accordingly.

ULTIMATELY, IT is Seymour, the midwife, who calls the shots. If for any reason she deems it unsafe to proceed with a home birth, the client must take her advice and transfer to the nearest hospital to have the baby delivered as soon as possible.

The bonds which form between Seymour and her clients are remarkable and unlike nothing she had experienced in all her years working on delivery wards, where she knew very little about the women she supported. In marked contrast, Seymour shares a special bond with all of her clients, some of whom are repeat customers!

Barring any unforeseen emergencies, having your baby at home or in a birth center tends to be quicker and easier, requiring less intervention and aftercare.

Despite all of the above, home births are relatively rare in Israel (only 30 midwives in the entire country provide such a service), as many still consider the practice to be reckless and unsafe. However, this is simply not the case, as evidenced by the findings of a research paper in The Lancet on September 1, 2019, which concluded that the risks are the same for low-risk women, whether they choose to deliver at home or in a hospital.

Ultimately, as Seymour confirmed, the safety of the mother and the baby is paramount for all midwives, regardless of where the birth is taking place.

Although it is a very personal choice, Seymour hopes that more women will consider either a birth center or a home birth when formulating their own birthing plan. Ideally, she would like to expand the Binyamin Natural Birthing Center in order to make it accessible to more women.

Finally, although you may assume that a home birth is a messy business, Seymour assures me this is not the case and should in no way be a deciding factor when considering where to have a baby!

The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Netanya, where she spends most of her time writing and enjoying her new life in Israel.

Sarah Seymour can be contacted at https://www.sarahthemidwife.com/.