GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- There's a new trend among expectant mothers: delivering their babies at home.
It's become so popular that a new birthing house just opened in the last few months.
Shannon Pawson is an independent Certified Professional Midwife who's been practicing for nine years. Identifying risks and screening moms is one of the first things she does before taking on an expectant mom.
"You have to be normal (and) healthy in order to have a birth at home. We can't do things that need more monitoring or medication than we can offer. We pre-screen all of our moms. We do health histories and we request health records from their providers so we try to do a risk assessment for every mom."
More women are choosing home birth over a traditional hospital birth. National statistics show home births are at their highest rate in nearly 40 years. Michigan is also seeing that trend and the county with the biggest increase is right here in West Michigan. Kent County's number of home births has gone up 116% in the last eight years.
"I think that every midwife in the state has seen an increase," says Pawson. "Moms who want a home delivery are motivated by the same thing. Just having the freedom to be able to make choices on how their birth goes, I think it is important to a lot of the moms that we work with."
Anne Soddy had two of her children in a hospital and two at home. She chose home birth because she didn't like the controlled hospital environment. "The little things, like 'you need to sit in this chair,' 'you need to sit in this bed,' and at home you can do whatever you feel the most comfortable with."
Anne's youngest son and daughter were born at home with Pawson as her midwife. "I loved being able to push whenever I wanted, be in what ever position I wanted be in."
Anne also enjoyed the intimacy of a home birth. "It's just not the stress of everything going on in the hospital. You have your baby and you get into your own bed."
But is it safe? A CDC report on home births has some surprising statistics.
It found only six percent of babies were pre-term compared to 12% of hospital births. And only four percent of babies were born with low birth weight compared to eight percent for hospital births.
"The knowledge base that we have is based on what we can do for people at home and when to recognize somebody needs more help than we can offer and how to safely get them to a hospital," says Pawson.
And that's the downside to a home birth.
A published, but not widely accepted, study found 20 out of 10,000 babies born at home died within the first month compared to only nine out of 10,000 babies born in a hospital.
"If there's any increased risk of the loss of the life of a baby, I'm just not sure that it's OK," says Dr. Robyn Hubbard an OB/GYN with Grand Rapids Women's Health. She says she is also seeing an increased interest in home births and that concerns her.
"If there was something that were to happen that may affect the mother's or the baby's well-being, we are able to do an intervention in the hospital that can help...and for that reason I think it scares me in a home birth where you don't have that readiness to a hospital. In obstetrics, minutes count for babies and I think that it might be too late to wait for an ambulance and seek medical care when something starts to go wrong."
However Dr. Hubbard does agree physicians should re-examine just how controlled and clinical hospital births have become. "I think that we could do a better job of listening to patients and I try to do that with my patients. Now they are coming with birth plans that say, 'I want this and this and this'. And I say, 'that sounds great to me' and 'this is the scenario where I might recommend something else'."
Still the choice of where to deliver their baby comes down to the mom, one that Soddy is happy she could make. "If you are healthy and there wasn't any indication that anything is wrong, it's just a natural experience."
There is no certification for midwives in Michigan, so if you are choosing a home birth, make sure you ask what kind of training they have.
Spectrum Health does offer the option for a nurse midwife, but you will still be delivering your baby in the hospital. Home births are not covered by any of the major insurance companies in West Michigan.
Shanon Pawson says her Professional Certified Midwife services for a home birth cost about $3,000.