Earlier this year, the book Radical Homemaker was published. Dedicated to the idea that the dual-income, city-living, mass-consuming family isn’t the only way - or even the best way - to survive. From the book:
Radical Homemakers uncovers a hidden revolution quietly taking hold across the United States. It is the story of pioneering men and women who are redefining feminism and the good life by adhering to simple principles of ecological sustainability, social justice, community engagement and family well-being. It explores the values, skills, motivations, accomplishments, power, challenges, joy and creative fulfillment of Americans who are endeavoring to change the world by first reclaiming control of home and hearth.
Much like Daniel, who was interviewed in early August about illegalism, anarchy, and midwifery, Shannon Hayes has a not-particularly mainstream view of health care— maternity and otherwise— in the US, and was kind enough to agree to a brief interview about her ideas and experiences related to birth and health care.
In brief, Hayes describes her life as “Bob and I are radical homemakers. That means that we use life skills/domestic skills to provide for our needs, so that we do not require two full-time salaries in order to live. Our intent is to try to live by our values of ecological sustainability, social justice (we try to live a way that does not exploit other people), family and community.”
My questions are in bold and her answers in standard text.
1) I understand that you have had two different birth experiences: one hospital birth and one home birth. Can you give a rundown as to what led to your choices in each birth? How did you feel after the two different experiences?
When I was seven months pregnant with my first child, I had a sudden awakening where I realized that the healthy birth of my child was ultimately up to me, not because I could control my birth, but because I was the one who was choosing my caregivers. Until that point, I was working with my local hospital, which was fine…but in that scenario, I had no idea who was going to be overseeing my care and my baby’s care for our birth. If someone was overseeing the birth who did not share my views, and I was either consciously or tacitly permitting it, then I shared responsibility for the outcome.
Realizing that, I “fired” everyone and conducted a search until I was able to interview seven different people until I found a midwife who I felt I could trust, and determined that the best location for me to birth was home.
In my first birth, I labored for over 30 hours, with the final (pushing) lasting over 6 hours. After five hours, my midwife, who’d been carefully monitoring our safety, told me that it was time to go to the hospital. Saoirse was born in the triage room.
It was a rather dramatic birth, because when the hospital learned that I’d been pushing for so many hours, the OB-GYN on duty automatically lined up the OR for a cesarean. My midwife felt that I was tired and in need of an IV, but that the cesarean would not only be inappropriate, but dangerous, owing to my daughter’s position. The midwife risked having her license revoked by appearing at my bedside and advocating for my rights, refusing to move away from me until the doctor performed an exam. The doctor read her the riot act, threatened to turn her in, and I just kept on pushing. He finally consented to the exam prior to slicing me, discovered Saoirse’s head crowning, and promptly allowed for her natural delivery.
He later came to see me in my room and informed me that, while officially the hospital does not condone home birthing, I was in good care, and would most certainly be capable of having my next child at home (which, at that point, I thought was completely laughable).
When we did feel ready for a second child, there was no question about the care we wanted. We are pleased to point out that, where we live, it is so rural that you can’t get a pizza delivered, but you can get a baby.
Ula was born in our kitchen three and a half years later, with the same midwife attending. Her birth was much less dramatic, and much more restful. In both cases, however, I felt that the most important choice I made was in the selection of my caregiver. I knew that she honored my personal care preferences, and I also knew that when she felt it was time for different interventions, I could completely let go and trust her judgment, focusing on what was happening within me, rather than what was going on around me.
2) Do you have any concerns with the standard treatment of women and babies in the US in particular? What do you think could be done to change that?
Yes, I do have concerns about the woman being viewed as an impediment to the safe entry of her child into the world. I also resent that we treat birth was such fear. The fear, I think, can be a huge complicating factor in a safe delivery.
Thus, I do not feel that all births should be at home or that all births should be in the hospital. The mother must decide where she will feel most comfortable letting go and birthing. After a lot of introspection, I realized that I needed to labor away from all distractions. I didn’t want an audience of supporters. I wanted as few people around me as possible. That is not the case for everyone. However, I think if we were able to release our fears about childbirth, let go of the idea that it is a medical emergency, then mothers would be able to make clearer decisions about what is best for them. I firmly believe home birth should be a right in this country. New York State, where I live, technically allows it, but it is basically impossible for most home birth midwives to practice legally. I had a CNM attending my birth who started out being a legal home birth midwife, and then, overnight, her practice made her a felon. As she pointed out, that is kind of bummer for her career path.
I suppose you’ve also discussed on your website the varying costs of different birthing options, but I’ll bring it up anyway. If, nationally, we are truly interested in cutting medical costs, then allowing home birthing is an important step to take. Without complications, each of my births cost me $1800, including prenatal care, which I was able to pay out-of-pocket. As soon as the hospital is involved, the costs spike.
3) (submitted by a reader) I completely agree with some of the participants take on health care.
I don’t want to have my money supporting Washington lobbyist doing the opposite of what I want. Of insurance companies that deny the things were paying for. Paying top dollar for health care that is substandard and without alternative medicine options. And I hate that I’m not scared to do anything. Our family’s take home pay is the EXACT amount we need for our food and bills without a savings. I would love to have the extra $500 that is deducted from my husbands pay check for our health insurance. The reality is I am terrified of not having some safety net incase one of my kids get sick or breaks a bone. Or worse yet needs surgery. What other options are there out there?
When I got pregnant, Bob and I were not able to afford health insurance. (Well, we had it when I got pregnant, and then they raised the rates overnight so high that we could no longer afford it.) I was still in the conventional mindset that babies were born in the hospital at that point, so I actually called around to different hospitals in the area and priced out prenatal care and delivery, much like a person might do if they were buying a car. It was ridiculous. Finally, I called Planned Parenthood and explained my predicament, wondering if there was some way I could just show up there when the time came. They pointed me to the Prenatal Care Assistance Program in NYS, and there are many different versions of it around the country. While the paperwork/approval process was a nightmare, the program was phenomenal. They did not cover home births, but because I had them as a back-up in case I needed hospital care or lab tests, I was able to pay for the actual care I wanted out-of-pocket. I will be forever grateful for that. That whole experience helped me get acquainted with Planned Parenthood for a lot of our other more conventional health care needs, which has been truly helpful. We also currently have state-funded insurance for our kids as a result of going through this process.
It is scary to live without medical insurance. But in my opinion, it is scarier to live a life of quiet desparation just to have a little card in one’s wallet. I do not always want to live without coverage, but for the time being, this is the choice we have made, for the reasons you have already outlined. We’ll see what happens in 2014!
Also, I should note that Bob and I procure most of our current health care needs through caregivers who are not involved with the conventional model. We use massage therapists, energetic healers, chiropractors, etc. We pay cash, full price when we can, or whatever we can afford when we can’t…or we trade homemade canned stew and honey or whatever else we have of value in exchange for services. These practitioners are all over the country, and their services are a deeply valuable part of community life. No amount of care we have ever received has ever cost as much as a monthly insurance premium. …And we never have to be “pre-approved” or get a referral for any of the care services we seek!
In May we covered health insurance and birth, including linking to an estimation of the various costs of birth. Has health insurance - or the lack thereof - played a role in your prenatal or labor care decisions? Do you use “alternative care providers” like Hayes and her family, or only more mainstream providers? How do you think that health care reform and maternity care reform (such as the licensure of midwives) affect your future decisions, of those of people close to you?
Photo Credit: RadicalHomemakers.com
Buy this book on Amazon: Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture