Senate Bill 385 is currently before the Illinois General Assembly. This bill directs the state to create a professional license for midwives to attend homebirths. Our current laws allow a woman to give birth at home, but make it illegal for midwives to attend those births. This essentially takes away a woman’s right to choose where she will birth her baby. Women should not only be allowed to but be supported in working with their bodies during birth. Illinois is one of the few states in our country that has outlawed qualified, licensed midwives who wish to perform this service.

I am familiar with this topic because my wife had a homebirth with our first son, Michael. My wife was quite adamant about having our child at home, and I wanted her have the birth any way she wanted. The medical literature shows that homebirth is a safe alternative for low-risk pregnancies, so my only concern was that I was not to be the one to catch.

My wife knew several midwives in the area who, despite the law, provide homebirths for women. Going to the meetings to prepare for the birth was an interesting experience. They were held in secret with instructions on confidentiality. The meetings seemed to me more like trying to get an underground abortion before Roe than an empowering and legitimate alternative to hospital childbirth.

The midwife made my wife feel comfortable throughout her pregnancy, and unlike the cold, clinical method of treating “patients”, the midwife empathized with my wife and treated her with respect. She worked with us to find the best way to accomplish what my wife wanted to do. We combined the homebirth meetings with classes in the Bradley method of natural childbirth (which I highly recommend even for women who choose a hospital birth). The result was the “wonderful” (my wife’s word) birth of our son that was joyous for both of us.

My wife went into labor around noon on January 7th. Even though she was having contractions she remained remarkably relaxed and followed the signals from her body as to what position she should be in. She labored briefly in a birthing pool, and ate and drank when she felt like it. She was so relaxed that neither the midwife nor I could sometimes tell when she was having contractions as she entered the transitional stage of labor. For someone with a pretty low tolerance for pain, she managed her contractions so well that she didn’t ever really appear to be in pain. She insists now that her relaxation and positions were the two reasons she never felt overwhelmed or in great pain during her labor.

The impact of stress on the body is a well-studied problem. Stress during childbirth is even more troublesome. My wife insists that because she was at home she was truly free to labor the way she was most comfortable and believes if people had been trying to interfere with what she wanted to do (she ended up wanting things very quiet during her labor) that she would not have been able to relax and would have been in much greater pain. Laboring in a hospital, for her, would have been very stressful and made the childbirth experience potentially more prone to complications.

This potential of unforeseen complications happened to my wife. After several hours of pushing, she failed to progress. Her body was fatigued and the midwife suggested she be taken to the hospital. So I drove her to the hospital where she received a C-section, and both mother and baby were fine. My wife says now that when we left for the hospital and she became stressed, she was then in “real pain.” Having a homebirth isn’t a license to be stupid. If problems develop, transporting the mother to a hospital is not a difficult operation.

One of the main objections to childbirth is a question of safety. No one is suggesting that untrained people simply do nothing during labor and blindly hope everything will go fine. Licensed midwives can be well-trained to identify problems early and respond appropriately.

My wife’s birth experience was a joyous and life-changing event. Even though we ended up having to go to the hospital, she is very pleased with laboring at home. In an era when a woman’s autonomy over her own body is considered a foundational right, it is unfathomable that the government deny her this truly empowering childbirth option.

The Illinois General Assembly should pass SB 385 so that women in Illinois can choose to have homebirth as a safe and available option. Homebirth is not for every mother, but for those who want to have one, they should have the right to make that choice.

John Bambenek is the Assistant Politics Editor for BC Magazine and is an academic professional for the University of Illinois. He is a syndicated columnist who blogs at Part-Time Pundit and the executive director of The Tumaini Foundation which helps AIDS orphans and other children in Tanzania to get an education. He is the current owner of BlogSoldiers, a blog-only traffic exchange.

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