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Inside Appalachia Wins National Award for Homebirth and Midwifery Episode: Listen

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Kara Lofton/ West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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Cassandra Harvey holds her daughter at her Morgantown home.

It used to be that women typically gave birth in home-like environments. Today most women head to the hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that across the U.S., one in every three mothers has a cesarean delivery.  

Recently, Inside Appalachia won first place in Public Radio News Directors Inc.’s (PRNDI), Long Documentary category for an episode titled “Hippies, Home Birth and the History of Birthing Babies in Appalachia.”

The judges commented: “Well-handled intimacy, deep history and context, the story takes you there.”

We produced the show because we know that the rural nature of these mountains can create some interesting birthing situations. Birthing units are closing across Appalachia because they’re too expensive to keep open. So perhaps now, more than ever, a show about the process and challenges of giving birth at home will help inform women about their choices. At least, that’s our hope.

More and more women seem to want to reclaim this ancient rite of passage as their own by having their babies at home. A recent study in Oregon found that home births are riskier than having a baby at a hospital. The study was published The New England Journal of Medicine

In this week’s show, we’ll hear from a midwife who started delivering babies in the early 1970's. We find out what it’s like to deliver a baby at home. And we speak with one doctor about why she opposes home birth. We also visit a famous hippie commune in Appalachia that's said to be the birthplace of modern midwifery.

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Credit Kara Lofton/ WVPB
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A midwife in Ohio helps Hanna with her delivery while the father holds Hanna

Home birth rates are particularly low in Appalachia. West Virginia has one of the lowest numbers of home birth rates in the country. Nationwide about 1 percent of births happen at home, according to the CDC.

But a growing number of women are turning away from hospital births, citing reasons like the desire to “control their birth experience,” avoid a cesarean, and find a provider who respects their wishes. Over the past four months, health reporter Kara Lofton visited some of the families choosing home birth in this region and talked to the midwives who serve them in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. In this detailed report she looks at both the controversy around home births and why some women are choosing this option despite legal obstacles.

Inside Appalachia is produced by Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. This episode was edited by Suzanne Higgins and Glynis Board. We’d love to hear from you. Send us tweet @InAppalachia.

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Jessica can be heard on Inside Appalachia and West Virginia Morning the station’s daily radio news program. You can reach her at jlilly@wvpublic.org
Roxy Todd is a reporter and producer for Inside Appalachia and has been a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2014. She’s won several awards, including a regional AP Award for best feature radio story, and also two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.