The Whiteness of Homebirth

USA Today published an article this week about the 20% rise in homebirths between 2004 and 2008. What struck me most, though, was not the fact that homebirth has been on the rise, but that USA Today focused in so much on the racial disparities amongst women choosing (and in many places having access to) homebirth. I feel like it’s something I am constantly talking about and working towards remedying. It’s a bit surprising and surreal to see this angle of the story picked up by the mainstream press.

Fewer than 1% of U.S. births occur at home. But the proportion is clearly going up, study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. The new figures are for 2004 to 2008. Home births had been declining from 1990 to 2004.

The increase was driven by white women — 1 in 98 had their babies at home in 2008, the most recent year for which the statistics were available.

Only about 1 in 357 black women give birth at home, and just 1 in 500 Hispanic women do.

“I think there’s more of a natural birth subculture going on with white women — an interest in a low-intervention birth in a familiar setting,” said the lead author, Marian MacDorman of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

For all races combined, about 1 in 143 births were at home in 2008, up from 1 in 179 in 2004.

Read the whole article here: Home births up 20%, driven by natural birth subculture – USATODAY.com.

My hope in all of this is that those statistics are changing, that midwives and clients are working together to change the face and make up of people who choose and can access homebirth. I feel really pleased to be working in a practice right now that is incredibly diverse as homebirth midwifery practices go. I’ve been here just over a month and I’ve met clients from nearly every racial background, lesbian clients, clients of many different nationalities and countries of origin. Interracial relationships are commonplace in this practice and our clients are all over the board in terms of class background. This practice has a thriving community in their midst and the midwives work very hard to ensure that this community continues to grow and develop as clients meet each other, network, become friends, and help each other through pregnancy and early motherhood.

Is everything perfect? Certainly not. We have a long way to go in Austin in terms of increasing diversity, especially amongst birth workers. And I definitely know that I am fortunate to be working for one of the most diverse practices in town. But it’s made me start to think long and hard about where I want to practice in the future. It’s helpful that Austin itself is a diverse locale and the sort of place where homebirth is a popular and accepted choice. Working with this practice and here in Austin makes me question on a deep level whether I’m willing to work long-term as a midwife in a less-diverse locale where there is less opportunity to co-create this beautiful, rich and diverse birthing community. Northern New England and central Texas and vastly different places and it shows in the practices I have been involved with. There is a palpable difference from a practitioner standpoint. And while I know that the individual practitioner has a profound effect on how diverse, inclusive, and accessible their practice is, so does the locale.

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One response to “The Whiteness of Homebirth

  1. That’s funny because I was introduced into the home birth movement at age 14 by my Mexican neighbors. When I asked her why she birthed at home she said she liked her cosas (things) and being with her family. She used midwives for her last 7 children after her first pregnancy was at a hospital with an ob. I realize now that the majority of women who home birth are white but growing up I didn’t know any white women who did, only Hispanics.

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