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Why A Celeb’s Tale of a Breech Homebirth Matters

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Kimberly Van Der Beek, wife of actor James Van Der Beek, recently wrote about her two very different birth stories (the first a vaginal delivery with drugs in a hospital, the second a breech homebirth) on her People.com blog. Reactions have ranged from the congratulatory to the condemning. Regardless of what you think of her choices, I hope that her post and the resulting discussion can help other women to educate themselves about their birthing choices.

For her daughter Olivia’s birth, Van Der Beek gave birth in a hospital with a doctor and doula she trusted (in addition to her uber-handsome husband, of course). She had hoped for a drug-free delivery, but when labor stalled out at 9 cm dilation, she accepted an epidural and later Pitocin, and finally, after 4.5 hours of pushing, Olivia was born vaginally with the help of a vacuum.

For her son Joshua’s birth, Van Der Beek planned to go with the same birthing team at the same hospital—until she discovered her son was breech at 37 weeks. Despite protesting that her mother had given birth to her sister in a breech position, Van Der Beek was told by her OB in no uncertain terms that unless her son changed positions, she would not be allowed to attempt a vaginal delivery. She tried virtually everything from acupuncture and massage to a chiropractor known for his baby-flipping abilities—all to no avail. But despite his lack of success at flipping her baby head-down, her chiropractor helped Van Der Beek immensely by putting her in touch with an OB, Dr. Stuart Fischbein, who has delivered hundreds of breech babies (pretty rare these days, given that breech deliveries aren’t generally taught any longer in medical school) and who now only delivers babies at a birthing center or woman’s home (he’s at odds with many current hospital practices when it comes to women’s birthing rights).

Van Der Beek ultimately decided to change providers and delivered her son safely at home, still in the breech position, with her new OB, husband and doula in attendance, as well as a midwife and midwifery student there to assist. She explicitly states that Dr. Fischbein had gone through a thorough checklist with her to see if she and her son were good candidates for a breech home delivery (she was) and that she made the choice to deliver at home only when the only other option available to her was a C-section at the hospital. This was not a case of a woman choosing to birth at home regardless of the risk. Instead, she made an educated, deliberate, and well thought-out decision with a skilled care provider regarding what she thought was best for her and her baby.

She writes, “I truly believe a woman should be able to plan to birth where and how she is most comfortable. In order to make such a decision, it’s crucial to have options. In a day where the surgical route is readily available, it is equally important that woman [sic] have the option of planning for a natural birth, as well.”

First off, congratulations to Van Der Beek for having the courage to make the right decision for her and her baby. While we all have the right to our own opinions (and please, let’s keep this civil), let's keep in mind that this was one woman's choice for her body and her baby; she is simply telling her story, not telling others that she believes they should make the same choice in the same situation. In turn, I think it’s unduly harsh for a blogger to denounce Van Der Beek’s homebirth as ‘scary’ and not ‘worth the risk’ or for commenters to label her as ‘selfish,’ ‘irresponsible’ and an ‘idiot.’ Simply because others wouldn't make the same decision for themselves does not mean that we need to find fault with the decision or the woman who made it. Yes, women have C-sections far more frequently in this country than they do have breech homebirths (homebirths of any sort account for a mere 1-2% of births in the U.S., I believe), but that doesn’t mean that C-sections are without risk or that they’re the right choice for all moms. I think it’s particularly unfortunate that most women in the U.S. wouldn’t have access to the choice that Van Der Beek made, possibly because they wouldn't be aware of actually having a choice, because of a lack of any care providers in their area with knowledge of breech vaginal deliveries, or because they wouldn’t be able to afford to go outside of their insurance coverage, if they have insurance at all (homebirth is not necessarily easily covered by insurance, even in states where it’s legal—and homebirth isn’t legal in all states!). Instead of denouncing one woman’s birthing choices, we should be condemning the lack of access to information about birthing options and the lack of those options themselves in many places in the U.S.

What do you think of Van Der Beek’s birth story and some of the reactions she’s getting for her (very personal) choices? Leave a comment below!

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