Home/Birth is a wonderfully intimate term that invites an exploration of the body and the space it inhabits. When I first noticed this book, I was struck by this term, not yet knowing that this book is literally about the physical act of home-birthing. When I began to read the book, I was comforted to find that its content matched the intimacy of its title. From the start, the reader is placed in the midst of a conversation between Arielle Greenberg, Rachel Zucker, and various other voices which are frequently quoted by the two authors. The conversation is very personal, often detailing individual accounts of birth both at home and at the hospital.
The thesis of this book is that women would often be safer, and more comfortable, at home in their own environment. The home is essentially represented as an extension of the body, a space that a woman can rely on during her labor. The hospital, in contrast, is depicted as a sterile, sanitized place where doctors operate according to their own convenience, often at the expense of the woman’s own needs. In keeping with the anti-institutional spirit of the source material, no formal citations are provided. The authors describe the result of this omission as providing for a “more organic, non-linear” fluidity. Surprisingly, the lack of footnotes does not detract from the authenticity of the third-person narratives quoted within the texts. These are often so powerfully rendered, that the reader does not question their truth. However, I do sometimes think that the factual numbers quoted in the text would have benefited from formal citations. Nonetheless, the voices, especially those of the authors, appear so clear and informed that it’s hard for the reader not to just take them on their word.
My main complaint with this text is that, though it was often heartbreaking and beautifully rendered, it did become a bit repetitive as it progressed. The same argument was being posed in nearly every section: that the hospital’s treatment of women is often abusive (forcing them to birth on their back, pumping them with drugs), whereas the home allows women freedom (of birthing position, of having the choice to eat and be free from drugs and other inhibitors). The only flaw in my own criticism is the afterword, where Arielle Greenberg gives a moving account of her stillbirth and her choice to continue to refuse hospitalization and birth the stillborn at her home. This was the most haunting and intimate section, and by far the longest, (mostly) uninterrupted personal narrative of the book. The reader follows Greenberg from the devastation brought by the news of her child’s death within her, through the tender portrait of her maternal bond with the child during her home-birth. It was a great note to end on, as it beautifully displays the rich bond between mother and child that home-birth allows for, even in the face of death.
I think that this is an essential book for anyone considering motherhood. It teaches the reader to trust birth, and even more importantly, to trust the body. It warns against the impulse to seek external aid: “All women need to know how infrequently we actually need interventions, and how interventions can make everything harder and dangerous, instead of easier and safer. There is nothing easy about having Pitocin, or a c-section.” While the authors do constantly remind the reader that there are indeed times when intervention is needed, they insist that more often the woman’s own body knows how to take care of itself. While this is undoubtedly a positive message, I was a bit wary when Greenberg focused upon her decision not to have an abortion: “for one thing, abortion sounded so much like all the hospital interventions we have tried so hard to avoid. And I thought, if I have this baby, I will ultimately never regret it, but if I don’t have it, I may regret it for the rest of my life.”
In a book that is attempting to extend woman’s rights and give them back control over their bodies, this statement did seem to be a rather startlingly conservative argument against abortion. While I understand the sentiments behind the statement, I do think that equating abortion with the often misogynist interventions detailed elsewhere in this book is problematic for women’s rights as a whole. This is a case where I feel the stance against any intervention might extend too far. For the most part, however, I do feel like the book’s overall argument against intervention is a rather progressive, liberating one.
Though distinctly about birth and the female body, the non-interventionist argument is also universally applicable, as it teaches the reader to question institutions and trust intuition instead. It designates the body as the primal site of knowledge and encourages that women, and by extension all people, learn to embrace this knowledge. Reading this book, I felt like I was let in on an intimate conversation and that I was part of these women’s lives. It was easily one of the most affecting books that I have read in years.