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More pregnant women seeking home births and midwife assistance

Mother Susan Veenhoff sits in bed with her newborn Maarten Rammeloo, who was born at home. The popularity of home birth has increased since Ricki Lake's documentary
Mother Susan Veenhoff sits in bed with her newborn Maarten Rammeloo, who was born at home. The popularity of home birth has increased since Ricki Lake's documentary "The Business of Being Born."

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More pregnant women are frequently encountering the question, "What kind of birth are you going to have?" A popular answer in recent years has been home birth. Reporter Eve Troeh examines the home birth trend, the rising sub-field of midwifery and their effects on traditional birth methods.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of home births rose over 30 percent for white women in the U.S. between 2004 and 2009. Although the figure may sound dramatic, only 1 percent of all births in the U.S. occur outside of hospitals. But the trend is making its way into the mainstream.

Following the success of the film "The Business of Being Born," produced by former talk show host Ricki Lake, more pregnant women are turning to home births as an alternative to the traditional hospital experience. Mom-to-be Lorelei Laird hasn’t seen the documentary, but she’s heard all about it. "It’s famous ... well, among women of childbearing age,” she noted.

Laird knows she wants a hospital birth, but she’s interested in talking to her doctor about alternative methods.

“I've been asking her questions about things that catch my interest, like squatting for labor and delivery.” Laird said. “She knows what she's doing and she knows what’s worked for her, and she’s not deeply in love with varying from those things.”

Organizations like the American Congress of Obstetrician and Gynecologists have reiterated that hospital births are safest. They sharply condemned Lake’s documentary, which criticized the high C-section rate in the U.S. and liberal use of the drug Pitocin. Still, midwife-assisted birth has gained followers.

Laird mentioned that she’s had at least three people, including her mother-in-law, suggest she seek a midwife, or doula, for child birth. Alternative births often take place at centers like the Santa Barbara Birth Center, where doulas aid in the delivery process. Laurel Phillips, who runs the center, said a lot of people mention Ricki Lake when they walk through the door.

“People coming to us saying, you know we never would have considered something like this, but we saw that movie and now we just have to explore our options,” she said.

The center is equipped with two birthing rooms that look similar to a nice hotel room, with large comfy beds, polished wood floors, hand painted tile and large bath tubs. Each room is equipped with medical gear, and the center is only a few blocks from the nearest hospital, in case emergencies arise.

According to Cordelia Hanna-Cheruiyot, a midwife assistant, many women want the best of both worlds: the ecstatic experience promoted by the natural birth world, with the modern medicine and expertise of hospitals. But “the middle ground of trying to do natural birth in a hospital is the hardest of all,” she added.

She said hospitals today are more likely to induce labor or order a C-section. And women often find their aversion to those practices overruled. Still, Cheruiyot said there’s a counter trend. New certifications for hospitals denote them as “baby-friendly” or “mother-baby friendly." Such titles indicate that these hospitals allow longer labor times and do not force C-sections. They’re amenable to things like letting moms hold their babies immediately after birth. To Cheruiyot, this means progress.

“Fifteen years ago, the thought was: We had a live baby, didn’t we? And that’s all that matters, the baby’s alive,” she said.

Correction: The audio for this story mistakenly identifies Hanna-Cheruiyot as a midwife. She is a midwife assistant and birth coach.