From the Cheap Seats to the Choir Loft

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As a certified “birth junkie,” it’s easy to preach to the choir. What can be difficult is getting new members to join. I think a lot of that is due to society’s general lack of knowledge about birth, and the entrenched medical mentality that is so difficult to overcome. Difficult, but not impossible.

I also think it’s partially due to over-zealousness on our part, as birth advocates. How we communicate about home birth is far more important than we think.

There are quite a few acquaintances and friends of mine who have chosen the lesser-worn path of midwifery and home birth care, at least in part, because of my influence.

I have been called a “home birth evangelist” by some. It was meant as a compliment, and I don’t mind the association.

I’ve been asked how I “do” that.

The short answer is: “I don’t really know.”

However, there are some things I know I don’t do.

For one, I don’t walk around with a copy of Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, hitting people over the head with it and screaming that home birth is the only way to birth heaven. Whatever “birth heaven” is.

I don’t wield statistics in favor of home birth like a weapon, with the goal of hacking to pieces any naysayer who would stand in my way.

I don’t preach that home birth is the magical panacea to all birth dilemmas.

Half the time, I don’t even bring it up unless it comes up naturally.

So, how on earth did I “convince” the women I did to choose home birth?

Well, I didn’t.

There is simply no way I can “convince” anyone to do anything. I can barely convince my children to make their beds; I cannot convince anyone that home birth is right for them, no matter how much I want to.

All I try to do is to meet women where they are in the moment.

My method isn’t super-scientific either. I didn’t even know I had a method until I tried to write about it. For better or worse, this is essentially how I operate:

I follow hunches that tell me when women are open to exploring other options they may not have been aware of. I follow hunches that tell me when all they want is someone to listen, and I keep my trap shut.

When the hunch tells me they’re open, I share how home birth might alleviate some of the difficulties they are dealing with in their particular circumstances, and offer to refer them to a midwife if they would like. I do this by asking them questions.

“How do you feel about talking to a home birth midwife about _________?” is the primary question that leads to a great conversation in which I find out more about what she wants in her birth experience, and why. The more questions I ask (especially those open-ended ones), the more I know whether or not sharing the home birth option is the right way to go.

I have learned to try to really hear the heart behind the stories women share with me. And, when I really listen, I often find that choosing a home birth would likely be a great way for these women to meet those needs they have that aren’t getting met in the medical model they’re currently under.

I think it boils down to the simple fact that I have something to offer that I can believe in, and that I am real and honest with women.

I have found that I can open doors for people that they didn’t even know existed. Even if they choose not to step through that particular doorway, they now have the option to do so, and therefore, become more active participants in their care. And a woman who is an active participant in her care is a well-served, happy woman with a beautiful outcome, no matter where she births.

Ultimately, I think my “home birth evangelism” works because women know that my desire isn’t to increase the number of home births — though that would be cool — but that I truly want them to fully understand all their options, and that I believe in them to choose the very best for themselves and their babies, regardless of what their actual decision ends up being.

They know that no matter what, they have a friend and supporter in me, and that is what leads them to take me seriously, and oftentimes, to take the plunge into the birthing pool in their living room.

Of course, once they experience their home birth, they become “evangelists” themselves, singing the merits of this fantastic, realistic, safe option to their friends and families in their own new-found voice of strength!

That, I think, is how we reach the people in the cheap seats, and bring them into the choir loft.

For me, it’s about genuinely caring, learning to listen and gauge a woman’s need, and educating sensitively the women I meet. It’s about balancing between that place where I don’t care how people react to me, and meeting women where they are. What does it look like for you? What can you do, today, as a birth advocate, to soften your message without compromising the facts?

Grace & Peace,