Homebirth is on the rise in the United States. As you hear about the possibility of laboring in the comfort of your own home, surrounded by loved-ones and far away from the bureaucracy and clinical atmosphere of the hospital, you too may feel the appeal of homebirth. You'll hear that homebirth is "as safe as hospital birth or safer" if your pregnancy is low-risk, you'll hear that the freedom to give birth on your own terms in the position you choose — including in a birthing tub — makes delivery easier, and you'll hear that you'll greatly reduce the odds of being induced, having a c-section, or having an epidural. You'll hear that your birth will be a beautiful, relaxing and empowering experience, and that your midwife will be an expert in "normal birth", unlike OBGYNs.
Homebirth sounds wonderful. No wonder more and more women are choosing to have their babies at home. One mother who decided to have a homebirth was Bambi Chapman. She had already had four children, and decided to do things differently this time. Speaking about the birth of her fifth child, Bambi says: "It was perfect. The labor was fairly short, the baby was healthy, and I was healthy."
"On June 4th 2008, I awoke like any regular day. I was 36 weeks pregnant with my sixth child and looking forward to meeting the little person I had been carrying," Bambi told SteadyHealth. "There wasn’t an ounce of fear within me. I did not anticipate that I would go into labor that day. I still had 25 days till my due date. My oldest child was born at exactly 36 weeks with a nuchal cord, which meant he was born blue and floppy, but with medical help, he did great."
When she went into labor, Bambi spoke with her midwife. "My midwife was completely fine with a slightly early delivery and I trusted her judgment." She went on with her day as usual, even taking her daughter to her ballet practice, and just stopping to take deep breaths during contractions. When she got home, Bambi used both her bathtub and birthing ball to deal with the contractions.
In the middle of the night, she laid in the bathtub and thought "this hurts, I should just go to the hospital". "I knew this meant I was getting closer," Bambi explains. "I was able to check and feel the dilation, which let me know that I was making improvement. Sometime after 3am on the 5th I had woken up my husband because I no longer could labor alone. We called my midwife at 4:10 am to let her know she needed to come."
At 4:40 am, Bambi knew her baby was about to be born — but the midwife wasn't there yet. Her husband panicked and called 911, but their daughter Mary Beth was born just before the paramedics made it to their home. They didn't know much about childbirth either and decided to wait for the midwife when they heard Bambi had planned a homebirth. She finally showed up at 5:45 am.
"She briefly looked us over and advised against transport," Bambi recalls. "As soon as she had the medics on their way, she helped us out of the tub and into my bedroom. I was exhausted having been awake for 26+ hours and laboring for 18 of those. By this time, we had a few concerns about our daughter that she explained and all explanations were completely plausible. We truly had no reason to think she wasn’t healthy."
Bambi trusted her midwife who was, after all, a trained medical professional. When her husband offered to look after all the kids so she could take a nap, Bambi jumped at the chance. Mary Beth had some jaundice and needed sunlight, so dad was going to take all the kids out. From that point on, things took a terrifying turn for the worse. Bambi says:
Midwife 'Bragged About Ways In Which She Didn't Cooperate With Law Enforcement'
"As I saw the ambulance pull up, I ran her to the door and handed her to the medic, Bambi shares. "They had me put on shoes so I could go with her. Although the hospital was 10 minutes away, it seemed to take forever. The details are still fuzzy, but I remember bits and pieces."
Since Mary Beth had been a healthy baby, an investigation was opened after her death. It was at that point that Bambi and her husband discovered that their midwife had given them and the detective different Newborn Exams. When the detective called her out on that, the midwife created yet another Newborn Exam. Bambi shares what happened next: "Word was out within the midwifery community before our daughter was even buried, which led to the midwife waiting on our steps when we got home from the cemetery. She was angry that other midwives were discussing her potential negligence and the legalities that could ensue."
"Four weeks later we received Mary Beth’s death certificate. One of the lines on this form is 'Major Contributing Factor', which said 'Homebirth'. That was not the answer that I was anticipating. I had convinced myself that she had some kind of disease or congenital anomaly."
With that paper in hand, Bambi called the Medical Examiner for answers. It turned out that the midwife completely missed respiratory distress and "had she realized this was the problem, our daughter could have received the medical care she needed and would have survived", Bambi says.
After the midwife found out that they were in possession of the death certificate, Bambi and her husband received what she describes as "multiple manipulative and panicked emails" from her. The midwife did send them their prenatal records, which she had altered:
Think this shocking story ends here? Think again. "We later learned that our daughter was not the first lost baby and has not been the last. The detective found an excerpt from an ebook in which our midwife bragged about the many ways in which she would not cooperate with law enforcement, impede investigations, and had walked away from a manslaughter charge. He labeled my daughter’s death a negligent homicide, but due to politics and legal matters, would not attempt to file charges."
"Within six months of our daughter’s death I had created enemies where friends once stood because I chose to stand up. Some women were angry enough that they took to harassment, stalking, threats, and slander in an attempt to silence me. I’ve been banned from many places because I have dared to speak up. Many have blamed me for her death because I should have been more educated, should have known something was wrong, and should have vetted my midwife better. The thing was that I trusted my midwife, she had glowing recommendations, she gave us all the right answers, and on top of already having had one homebirth with this midwife, I had been an avid homebirth supporter for almost seven years before my daughter’s birth."
'Everything I Knew And Believed Was A Lie'
Unfortunately, Bambi's story follows a familiar pattern, one that shows another — much darker — side to the homebirth community in the US. Women who have lost their babies in tragic, preventable deaths as the direct result of having grossly underskilled homebirth midwives in charge of their prenatal care and at their births no longer find themselves surrounded by the community that previously seemed loving, caring and supportive.
What happened afterwards? "Mentally, I struggled with myself for several years," Bambi says. "I did attempt suicide shortly after her death. I had to get to where I swallowed back the guilt because I couldn’t handle it. It was just too much. As the slander, threats, harassment, and stalking came to a head, it brought back everything that I had dealt with. This time, I made the 'Help me' phone call instead of doing anything. I know women want so badly to squash their vulnerabilities, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of a grieving mother. I didn’t ask for, nor did I want this. I wanted a happy life with my family and that included my little girl. This isn’t something you would wish on your worst enemy."
Bambi decided to share her story with SteadyHealth because she hopes it might help other people avoid a similar tragedy. "My views changed drastically," she says. "I learned that there was a huge difference between midwives, learned about the lack of accountability, and basically learned that everything I knew and believed was a lie. In a way, it's comforting to know there are others that know and understand what this is like. However, it angers me that other parents have to endure what we have. You wouldn't wish this in your worst enemy. Nobody deserves it. Knowing about deaths after my daughter from this midwife, I almost feel partially responsible. I know I didn't make them use her, but they suffered at her hand."
Are you still thinking about having a homebirth? Bambi has a message for you: "At this point, I would tell you to stay away from everything but a CNM/CM. I would ask that you look at the license. Pay attention to stories and see what your midwife feels about them. If your CNM/CM supports dangerous practices like breech, HBAC, or late preterm, run. If she doesn't have actual labs and tests done, run."