Deodonne Bhattarai, Resident Blogger (’12, Northeastern University School of Law)
I, like my three siblings before me, was born at home. My mother tells the story each year on my birthday of her midwife declaring, minutes before my birth, that the loft of our log cabin was too cold to have a baby – this is how I came to be born in front of the wood stove in our kitchen. My mother’s midwife and close friend, Carol Leonard, is the author of many books including Lady’s Hands Lion’s Heart – A Midwife’s Saga. She is a foremother of the modern midwifery movement and from the moment she caught me, Carol has played an important role in my life-even writing one my letters of recommendation for the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners.
In the years since my birth, I have moved from my rural New England community to downtown Washington, DC, and I now find myself navigating the very murky waters of urban midwifery as I chart out my own birth plan. How does one go about planning a home birth while living in a condo surrounded by neighbors? Do you announce it like you might a party, slipping fliers under doors apologizing in advance for the noise that might be emanating from your apartment during a possible two-week window? Is homebirth even allowed or has it been banned by our condo association bylaws along with the hanging of our laundry on our balcony? There are also state regulations that determine the availability of midwives and much like abortion providers, the greater the regulatory burden the harder it is for women to access the services. Delaware’s regulations for example, require non nurse-midwives to have a written collaborative practice agreement with a physician but only one midwife has successfully received a permit to practice in ten years – a hurdle that echoes those faced by abortion providers all over the country.
At a recent panel at the Beyond Roe Conference, speakers reminded us that unlike the majority of our great-grandmothers who gave birth at home, today only 1% of women in the U.S. give birth outside a hospital. Like many, my own experience has informed how I view birth. Two of my three nieces and my nephew were born at home and the idea of a hospital birth is a foreign one to me. Carol set the bar high for what I expect in a midwife. However, what I always viewed as a straight forward decision is now, due to my changed geography, fraught with unexpected complexities.