Homebirth Safe & Sacred (a book review)

Two years ago, an advanced reader copy of Kim Woodard Osterholzer’s memoir, A Midwife in Amish Country, arrived in the mail for my roommate. I picked it up off the coffee table one night, started reading, and barely put it down until I reached the last page the next day. I was fascinated by Kim’s account of becoming a midwife and the numerous births she has attended throughout the years. I joined the launch team, posted my reviews, and became a fan of Kim and her work. Then a month ago, Kim popped back into the lunch team Facebook group and invited us to help her launch a new little pair of book babies.

Homebirth Safe & Sacred was born to explore “the many misconceptions surrounding the safety…of both American home birth and American hospital birth.” In this small but informative 116-page book and its companion, Homebirth: Commonly Asked Questions, Kim distills the facts and statistics regarding the benefits of home birth interwoven with scenes of one family’s experience with birthing at home.
When I saw Kim’s invitation to join the new launch team, I practically jumped at the opportunity.

For half a second before clicking the Join Group button I thought, “What are you doing? Why would you agree to promote a book on a topic you, a childless woman, has no life experience with?”

“Because it lights a fire in my soul,” I replied to the devil’s advocate in my head as I clicked the button.

Last week when Kim announced the advance reader copies have been mailed and alerted us to watch our mailboxes for the book’s arrival, I commented on her post, confessing my hesitation:

“I read the Q&A this morning and agree that this is a necessary conversation that needs to be addressed by medical professionals and women of childbearing age. As a 35 year old childless woman who has been fascinated by pregnancy, birth, and babies since young childhood and desperately wants a child of her own–but has no prospects of that happening conventionally, my presence on this launch team feels a bit odd. But my dream has long been to have a home birth yes and when I have a child it’s a subject I feel passionately about, yet don’t feel free to share my opinions on because I don’t have personal experience in this arena. I’m weary of feeling like I can’t express my desires and perspectives because I don’t have kids.”

Interest in childbearing and mothering has been part of my DNA since I was very young. I started reading about pregnancy and birth at age eleven, when my mom got pregnant with my first younger brother. At around age 15, with the relatively new introduction of the internet to our household, the popularity of mommy bloggers, and the arrival of my youngest brother, I discovered the literary genre of birth stories and within that group, the even more specific genre of homebirth. All of it fascinated me–pregnancy, birth, doulas, midwives, birth photography, newborns. I was enthralled–and have been ever since. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to have a home waterbirth when I finally got married and pregnant.

But that never happened.

Following the strict tenets of purity culture, I not only stuck to the rules to effectively avoid premarital sex and pregnancy (as was the fear-based aim of purity culture) but also learned to passively wait until my future husband rode up on a white horse (to represent his purity, of course), swept me (in my flowy, white dress to showcase my own purity, of course) off my feet, put a ring on my finger, and offered me the means to achieve this desire of my heart.

That’s how it was supposed to play out, according to everything the church (and the Disney empire) taught me. But it hasn’t.

So here I’ve sat on this huge, secret passion and dream hidden deep in my heart while I’ve watched countless friends and family members have children–married or not. Not talking about it. Pretending it didn’t really matter to me. Feigning ignorance about the topic even when I’ve taken in as much information as I possibly could and have solid views and opinions on the subject.

I’m not suggesting that information and theory is a parallel substitute for firsthand experience, but it’s also not to be discredited. 

In her reply to my comment in the group, Kim confirmed as much: You get to have opinions and you get to share them. Incidentally, some of the finest midwives I know never birthed their own babies.”

For a very long time I’ve suppressed the essence of who I am the me I was created to be in order to fit the expectations of who other people wanted me to be or perceived me to be. Squished my uniqueness down until it would fit in the box built by external influences, effectively locking away the parts of my heart, mind, and soul that make me tick. I learned to keep my thoughts, emotions, and opinions to myself in order to keep peace and avoid conflict.

I avoid conversations about topics in which society would assume I had no credibility. Despite my natural curiosity, voracious reading habits stemming from early childhood, and propensity for extensively researching interesting topics, I have allowed societal boundaries (educational background, marital status, religious affiliations, parental status, etc) to dictate what conversations I could or could not enter–regardless of how much knowledge I possess about a given topic.

No longer am I willing to discredit myself to fit the box in which I wasn’t made to be confined.

I want to listen to the intuitive fire inside me when it leaps enthusiastically, fanning the flame of passionate curiosity, making my heart beat wildly as something comes alive within my soul.

This little book has allowed me to do just that, and I’m not sorry.

4 thoughts on “Homebirth Safe & Sacred (a book review)”

  1. Great review! Super interested in this topic as I’m planning to have my first out of hospital/ home birth this December. I heard one midwife say, “child birth is the last frontier of feminism.” The traditional medical model’s attitude toward and treatment of laboring women in hospitals needs to change. Using fear and manipulation to take away and discredit a woman’s natural power and intuition in birth, plus the sky high rates of unnecessary interventions/Caesarians is an injustice to us all.

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