We were joking around and telling stories about work, laughing. We were still in the early stages of the birth process and S. was having contractions at about 15-minute intervals. When they started coming more frequently, S., aged 38, hunched down on all fours and started going through her breathing exercises. Evangelia Christakou, the midwife, gave her directions.
S. is married to N., and this was the second time that she was giving birth at home. This pregnancy, like her first, went very well and she and her husband saw no reason for her to have the baby delivered at a maternity clinic. I understood why, at least at the early stages of the process: She was in the comfort of her own home, listening to music of her own choice, surrounded by a few select friends and family members and, of course, with the full support of the midwives of Evtokia, an Athens-based association that promotes natural childbirth, who have seen her through all the stages of her pregnancy, providing support and advice.
“Home birthing is not for everyone,” said Christakou, a member of the national Midwives’ Association and vice president of Evtokia. “We carefully select the cases that are eligible and even though some people come to us with solely this option in mind, we monitor them on a weekly basis and make our recommendation depending on how the pregnancy is progressing. We will only proceed if everything is going well.”
Other than experiencing a smooth pregnancy, the candidates must also live near a maternity clinic and have an obstetrician on standby for the birth.
Even though the number of home births in Greece is just 100 a year on average, the trend is rising. Evtokia handles an average of 60 home births a year of the approximately 200 women that come to the association to explore the option.
The experts say that more and more women want to avoid the hassle of hospitals and the unnecessary procedures and medicines that many pregnant women are subjected to, as well as the overall humiliation that they feel by being treated as a medical case rather than as a person experiencing a natural process. After all, even at a clinic, it is the midwife who calls the shots.
Christakou assures that giving birth at home is perfectly legal and a certified midwife can issue a record of the birth and sign the papers for mothers to receive their pregnancy benefits.
She adds that even though the cost of giving birth at home is significantly lower that what it is at a hospital or clinic, the women who choose this path rarely do so for financial reasons.
“The financial aspect is part of the equation, but it is not a strong enough argument to convince a woman to give birth at home,” the midwife explained. “If a woman is frightened about going through the process at home, the lower cost is not enough to make her change her mind. Every woman must be allowed to give birth where she feels most comfortable and safest.”
As I spoke to the midwife, the contractions started speeding up and S. retired to the master bedroom, where she had made all the necessary preparations.
“We are entering the active part of the birthing processing, where every woman, like all mammals, feels compelled to seek seclusion, to focus on the process and to allow her primal instinct to take over,” said Christakou before joining S. in the bedroom.
It was not long – in fact a lot sooner than we expected – before we heard the wailing cry of a newborn baby. It was a beautiful little girl and back in the living room we were all jubilant.
“The most important thing is for women to have the choice,” said S. after recovering from the birth of her second child. “In other countries, women have the choice of giving birth at a clinic with their regular ob/gyn, at a birthing center or at home with a midwife. It’s about time that the same was the case in Greece and that people realized that the maternity clinic and the epidural are not the only way to go.”
There are signs that suggest Greek women are increasingly beginning to embrace a more natural approach to the birthing process, with more and more eschewing the once-popular practice of delivering by Cesarean section, which was in many cases pushed by doctors eager to stick to a schedule or picked by women who were afraid of the impact of natural childbirth on their bodies. Maternity clinics are also giving mothers more time with their newborn babies in the ward and are being encouraged to breast-feed.
Of course, this liberalization of giving birth has not come without resistance. Just last year, for example, the regional authority of Central Macedonia passed a circular deeming the placenta “dangerous and infectious” medical waste that can be disposed of only by a special service. Following that decision, the placenta from home births needs to be placed in a special container and removed by a medical waste disposal company.