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Interview with Shannon Hayes, Radical Homemaker

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by ANaturalAdvocate   

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


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Reader Comments (5)

The point about health insurance is very timely to me. I'm 33 weeks pregnant; three and a half weeks ago, my husband lost his job, and along with it, our gold-plated extra-fabulous best-in-the-country pays-for-everything-no-complaints health insurance. (Seriously, our plan was so good that when I presented our card to care providers, they would always sigh with appreciation and say "I love this coverage, they pay for everything and never argue.") We had our choice between shopping around for private-pay insurance, or paying for the COBRA until after delivery, regardless of whether my husband was working by then or not. The COBRA payment is over $1700 a month, much, much more than our mortgage, and basically exactly equal to the unemployment benefit. Gulp.

We elected to pay for the COBRA. We're planning an out-of-hospital birth with a midwife, which not all private-pay insurance covers but which ours does, to 100% with no copay. And while this pregnancy has been textbook and there are no signs of any complications, you really can never say never; the last thing I want is to switch to "bargain" insurance just in time to be on the hook for 40% of a surgical delivery and a NICU stay.

Thank God, my husband started a new job today. It doesn't come with health insurance yet, but that's OK, because we've made the decision to pay for COBRA at least through November. If, after that, we have to move to a high-deductible or catastrophic care plan, well, that is what it is. But man, I weep for the loss of that health care.

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn T.

I weep for humanity when I read about the hoops Americans have to jump through just to get access to health care, let alone affordable and/or decent coverage. It makes me so angrysad! I wish I could export the NHS to y'all.

September 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFertileFem

Yes, insurance did play a part in my choosing to have a hospital birth, although I now regret that decision. My birth was so uncomplicated and fast that having her at home would have been super easy. it would still have cost me more, but not THAT much more. I didn't research my insurance coverage very well, and after my 2400$ LDR room (I was in for 1 hour, I might add!) and 871$ recovery room and my 1000$ deductible I still was charged almost 2000$ for myself and my daughter's 36 hour stay in the hospital. (which I hated, and from what I hear, it was actually a pretty good hospital).

Never again!

I might add that my insurance doesn't cover a home birth, even though the local group is 3000$ total. More than some midwives, but a LOT cheaper than a hospital stay. I am currently trying to get the insurance company to cover a home birth for the next child, but even if they don't I will still choose a home birth. It's crazy what insurance will pay for and what it won't pay for!

September 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

My husband recently started a new job with a start-up company that will pay for his insurance premiums, but not mine or our son's. So we're now paying about $900/mo for that coverage... along with the $4,000 fees for prenatal care and birth for the home birth we are still set on having, which insurance won't pay for. It kinda hurts, but I am very, very grateful that we are able to afford to a) be covered if needed, and b) also still plan for the birth I want.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

We are currently trying to conceive so I've been looking into my options. I don't have health insurance through my work, so we rely on my husband's coverage. I find my choices very limited because of our health insurance. He had the option of PPO (which would've covered the two local and legal homebirth midwives I know of in our area - only CNMs are legal here) or HMO. We could only afford the HMO coverage, and now, since he's on leave for a few months we have to pay even more (about $800/month) for our continued coverage with COBRA.

When we first got on the HMO plan, I found a nearby family practice doctor who came highly recommended and liked him. I got a referral from him for an ob/gyn. Il liked her as a gynecologist, but when I had my first pre-natal visit (that pregnancy ended w/a miscarriage) I was skeptical about whether I wanted to continue with her group and the hospital they work at. Since then, I found a great group of nurse-midwives at another nearby hospital who are very supportive of natural childbirth. I changed to them, but in order to do that, I also had to change my regular doctor, even though I don't want to, since the midwives are in a different group than my doctor.

We've decided that going without insurance is not an option for us. I haven't even bothered looking into private insurance options, since with my past experience, it seems that you pay more for less coverage than in a group plan, not to mention that you have to pay additional fees every month for maternity coverage and if you conceive less than a year after starting to pay those fees, your pregnancy is not covered anyway.

If we really wanted to, we could (just barely!) probably pay for a homebirth out of pocket (around $3000-3500 I think). For me, I just feel like it's not worth all the hoops I would have to jump through to have a homebirth. Additionally, I actually felt more comfortable with the hospital based CNM I met at an interview than the homebirth midwife I met. However, if I didn't have access to a hospital with midwives I felt comfortable with and a low rate of c-sections and interventions, I probably would feel like it was worth all the effort and expense to pursue a homebirth.

September 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteph
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