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by Wendy Wisner

Giving Birth at Home

BFF moms take up a cause

In Home/Birth: A Poemic (1913 Press, $11), Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker offer a candid, thought-provoking discussion of women giving birth at home. The book is innovative in form: a conversation between the two authors in which they discuss their own birthing experiences, interwoven with homebirth safety statistics, the history of the medicalization of birth, and the ways that traumatic childbirth experiences can have enduring effects on womens’ psyches. This is Greenberg and Zucker’s third collaboration (they have edited two poetry anthologies), but their first time co-authoring a book. They are poets at heart, and the book has passion, righteous anger and self-discovery. They are birth activists, feminists, mothers, and Jewish best friends, talking about a subject they are drawn to personally, intellectually, and spiritually.

I had a wonderful and empowering homebirth of my own with my son, and I’ve been struck by the fact that there are so few books about homebirth specifically. This one stands out because it comes from mothers themselves. Zucker had her first two children in hospitals. When Greenberg, her best friend, decided on a homebirth for her own first child, she invited Zucker to be present. Humbled and intrigued, Zucker enrolled in a doula (labor assistant) training program to learn the benefits of homebirth. Her eyes were opened–she not only decided to have her third baby at home, but she and Greenberg together became birth activists.

Many women choose homebirth because they want to avoid what they feel are the unnecessary medical interventions that can happen in hospitals. (While it is true that some births do require hospitalization, the majority do not, they say.) They want to give birth in a private, calming milieu. They want to have a say in what’s happening to them. Greenberg and Zucker put it best: “A woman’s confidence and ability to give birth and to care for her baby are enhanced or diminished by every person who gives her care, and by the environments in which she gives birth.” The authors view homebirth as a feminist issue. They note that many women live in fear of childbirth, of what can go wrong, not trusting that their bodies know how to birth babies, and having no support systems who trust this either: “There’s a conspiracy to keep women from knowing what their bodies can do. From seeing their power.”

Greenberg and Zucker share not only their births, but also pregnancy losses, which are the most intense and intimate parts of this moving and unusual book. The authors’ discussions of miscarriage and stillbirth point to the fragility of life, the intensity of motherhood, and the longing to embrace all aspects of the life cycle without fear. 

Wendy Wisner is a poet, breastfeeding counselor, and mother. She is the author of a book of poems, Epicenter, and a chapbook, Another Place of Rocking.