HALIMAH CONSIDERS IT to be one of the most memorable experiences of her life, a moment in time that she will never forget. In fact, it seems as if it were only yesterday. And now her daughter is in the toddler years, a constant reminder of the beauty and serenity of that day.
Halimah’s baby was born on that special day, not in the coldness of a hospital, but in the comfort of her very own home. There were no doctors or nurses rushing about, no sterile machines or bare floors, only the sound of the Quran playing and the soft voice of the midwife as she checked the contractions. It was natural and peaceful and lovely. Siblings rushed in shortly after the birth and the look of surprise on their faces was worth a million dollars. This was an occasion that would bond the family together like no other. They shared in the miracle of birth that makes young and old alike marvel at the Wonders of Allah.
More and more women in the West are beginning to realize the treasure that their ancestors enjoyed not so long ago. In previous generations in the West, homebirth was the norm and it still is in many countries of the world. In fact, the majority of women around the world birth their babies in non-hospital settings. And now Western women are taking action because they are beginning to realize what has been stolen from them. Homebirthing is being renewed with the efforts of both parents and professionals, and it is an intriguing phenomenon.
The advent of obstetrics in the early part of the 1900s transformed the birthing process in the West; separating it from the life of the family. By the 1950s, most births in the United States were carried out in hospitals. Cesarean sections, epidurals, pitocin, and heavy doses of pain medication became the norm. Women were led to believe that the only safe place to give birth was in a hospital. The fact of the matter is that hospitals are not necessarily safer, and they add other adverse effects that hinder the natural process of childbirth. Oftentimes, they add more problems than they are able to solve.
The Medical Model vs. the Natural Model
A comparison of the medical model and the natural model should make things clearer. The medical model basically views childbirth as inherently pathological and dangerous and advises that all women go through routine interventions to ensure safe delivery of the baby; the only safe place for this to occur is the hospital. Women who ignore this advice are seen as putting themselves and their babies at serious risk. This has been the dominant model in the society for a number of years.
The natural model suggests the opposite and views childbirth as a normal, instinctive function. Women have been doing it for centuries without the aid of hospitals or medical interventions, so how could it be other than normal. Conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding are all viewed as wonderful natural processes. This model is holistic and pure, placing control into the hands of the one who deserves to have it – the mother. While obstetricians and hospitals play a role in the care of women with serious medical conditions or who develop a problem during pregnancy or labor, the vast majority of women are able to do it on their own… naturally.
Reasons for Choosing a Homebirth
- The birth will be the mother’s own.
More and more women are choosing homebirthing because they want to have control of the experience. In comparison to a hospital birth, birthing at home provides the woman with the freedom to do as she pleases. She can walk, eat, drink, rest without disturbance or restrictions. She alone can decide the sounds, smells, and faces that will surround her when the baby is born. There is more choice in terms of what procedures will occur before and during the birth process.
Studies have shown that women who give birth at home report a greater sense of control and this contributes to an overall satisfaction with the birth experience. The discomfort and fear suffered in a hospital can increase the pain experience, while the relaxation felt in a familiar home environment can lessen maternal stress, improve oxygen flow to the baby, and facilitate labor.
The other advantages for a Muslim woman in this regard are that she will be guaranteed her privacy; there will be no young male residents rushing in at the last minute to deliver her baby or male pediatricians or nurses bursting in her door the following day. It will not be necessary for her to explain her needs for modesty, privacy, or limited medical intervention. She can feel free to listen to the Quran, recite the adhan in the baby’s ear immediately after birth, and breastfeed unreservedly, to the delight of her baby and herself. The birth will be her own, in a completely Islamic environment.
- Unnecessary medical interventions will be avoided.
As already mentioned, a woman who gives birth in a hospital has a greater likelihood of experiencing varied and often unnecessary medical interventions. For example, a staggering 25% of deliveries are completed by cesarean section surgery.
A report by the World Health Organization entitled “Care in normal birth: Report of a technical working group” sums it up best:
Recent decades have seen a rapid expansion in the development and use of a range of practices designed to start, augment, accelerate, regulate or monitor the physiological process of labor, with the aim of improving outcomes for mothers and babies, and sometimes of rationalizing work patterns in institutional birth….The uncritical adoption of a range of unhelpful, untimely, inappropriate and/or unnecessary interventions, all too frequently poorly evaluated, is a risk run by many who try to improve the maternity services.
The report goes on to say,
Women and their babies may be harmed by unnecessary practices.
- Homebirths are as safe as (or safer than) hospital births.
Recent studies have found that there is no improvement in outcome for mother and baby in hospital birth as compared to those that occur at home or in a birthing center with an experienced midwife.
Outcome is actually slightly better in low-risks births done outside of the hospital. Approximately 70 to 90% of pregnancies are low-risk in which the woman is generally in good health and no difficulties are anticipated during the birth. If it becomes necessary to transport a woman to the hospital during a homebirth, statistics indicate that there is just as likely to be a good outcome as if the birth has started out in a hospital setting.
Studies point out, for example, that mother and baby have a reduced chance of getting an infection at home in comparison to a hospital. Hospitals are replete with various forms of germs and infections. A woman is acclimated to the bacteria and germs within her home and is likely to be protected from them due to the development of immunities. Some studies have found fewer deaths, injuries, and infections for homebirths supervised by a trained attendant than for hospital births.
It is interesting to note also that in the European countries with the lowest infant mortality rates, midwives are present at more than 70% of all births; many of these are homebirths.
- Bonding opportunities will be immense and intense.
With a homebirth, a mother will never be separated from her baby. All the care of the newborn, including exam and washing, will be done in the same room. The emotional bonding that occurs in the moments after birth between mother and baby promotes well being, encourages breastfeeding, and speeds recovery of the mother. The baby experiences security, warmth, and attachment. The entire family can join in once the baby is born, which strengthens the bonds of that special social unit. Younger siblings are less likely to be jealous if they feel connected in some way to their new family member. A homebirth becomes one of the most memorable experiences of every individual involved.
Factors That Limit the Homebirth Option
- There is a pre-existing medical condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
- The mother is in poor physical health (i.e., heavy smoker, extremely overweight)
- The mother feels that she may be in need of pain medication during the birthing process.
- The family lives more than 40 minutes from a hospital.
- Insurance will not cover the cost of a homebirth and the family cannot afford the fees on their own. (Although homebirths are less expensive than hospital births, many insurance companies do not cover homebirths).
The Islamic Perspective
Deciding to have a homebirth is a clear sign of a person’s reliance upon Allah. The Muslim woman understands that nothing happens in this world except by the Will of Allah. If Allah has written for her to have complications during labor and delivery or for her to lose her baby, this would happen regardless of the location. And if things were meant to go smoothly, it is guaranteed that they would.
As Muslims we gain the knowledge necessary to make the best decisions; we take the appropriate action; and then we rely upon Allah for the rest. Planning for pregnancy, labor and delivery should be no different. As Muslims we should be closer to the truth in all aspects of life, including the physical and medical, and it is our obligation to share this truth with others.
The truth is that in spite of the benefits that have come from scientific discoveries and medical advancements, medical science has not been able to improve the human body and the way that it was designed to work. Women have been having babies for centuries – without the aid of hospitals or medical interventions – since their bodies are designed to do just that. Allah is the Designer and He is the best of Designers. For the majority of women, home is the most relaxing and serene place for a perfectly natural event; and home offers the best possible beginning for both mother and baby.