The number of women and their families choosing to use midwife services or a birthing center, instead of checking into a hospital, has increased significantly during the pandemic years.
In 2019, out of a total of 34,258 births in Connecticut, 217 took place at home, according to a National Vital Statistics report issued by the CDC. That proportion of home births had remained unchanged at around 0.6% of all deliveries in the state since at least 2013.
But in 2020, while the overall number of births declined slightly to 33,460, 271 women in Connecticut gave birth at home, or 0.8% of all deliveries, marking a 29% relative increase over the previous year. That increase was mirrored nationally and the latest statistics show home births have reached the highest level since at least 1990.
Reporter Harriet Jones, with the Connecticut Health Investigative team, looked into the trend, interviewing mothers and midwives about their experiences.
“The pandemic definitely solidified that I wanted to do a home birth,” said Cameron English, mother of three children born at a hospital. For her fourth, she chose to give birth at home attended by Caroyn Greenfield, a certified professional midwife. “I didn’t want all the new interventions that come with the pandemic.”
Many women cited hospital restrictions imposed during the height of the pandemic, such as who can attend a live birth and who can visit, as reasons for choosing a home birth rather than a hospital birth.
Although she’d always been interested in giving birth at home, English said it was COVID-19 that sealed the deal for her. The home birth lived up to her expectations. “It was beautiful. I absolutely loved my experience. It was so peaceful before, during and after.”
Early in her practice, started in 2019, Greenfield only had one mother to care for, but in March 2020 everything changed. “My phone started ringing off the hook,” she said. From March 2020 to November of 2021, she attended 36 births in homes across Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Birthing centers saw influx, too. Connecticut Childbirth & Women’s Center in Danbury historically averages around 100 births a year. But in 2021, the facility is on track to deliver 140 babies, making it the busiest year in the center’s history.
The center experienced an influx of mothers looking for an alternative to a hospital birth around March 2020. That’s when hospitals in New York imposed restrictions on visitations and did not allow partners in delivery rooms due to COVID-19. In Connecticut, hospitals initially imposed some restrictions allowing just one support person during a birth.
Recent research has discussed whether the pandemic will lead to a change in maternity care practices and protocols. In an article published in Medical Anthropology, the authors conclude that “COVID-19 is stimulating debates about the efficacy of maternity care, the safety of hospital versus out-of-hospital births, and the lack of integration of midwives in the U.S. healthcare system.”
This is an important discussion to have. Birthing centers, midwives and related home birth services shouldn’t exist on the fringes of maternity care. This care should be supported as a wholly equal option, as long as the choice is medically appropriate for the woman’s situation.
Perhaps this renewed interest in non-hospital births will expand as more women, and their families, relay their positive experiences with home or birthing center deliveries. As more people seek a less institutional approach to this deeply personal event the pressure will be on the healthcare system to make changes.