If you’re walking down the street and hear a woman screaming from an apartment above, think before you call 911 — you may be interrupting a home birth.
I became alarmed one afternoon when I heard Emma Jane Coombs, a first-floor neighbor in our Park Slope apartment building, moaning in agony from behind her door.
I texted to ask if she was OK. Two hours later, her husband, Rob Moss, texted: “No problem. Emma had a home birth, and baby and mom are doing good.”
For expectant moms who prefer home births over hospital births, giving birth in the comfort of their own apartments is increasingly common. In New York State, home births rose by 58 percent from 2007 to 2017 according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New York City, the most popular alternative to home births — midwife-staffed birthing centers — are few and far between; last year’s closure of Mount Sinai Birthing Center means that only two such places remain in NYC, and they’re both in Brooklyn.
So women are turning to midwives. And in New York City, where people live in crowded apartment buildings with thin walls, the birthing plan comes with an added complication: neighbors. And the etiquette is unclear: Do parents-to-be warn neighbors, so they aren’t worried?
“It would be concerning if you’re getting your chickpea salad, and you hear someone screaming bloody murder,” says Flatbush-based doula Shani Bellegarde.
Since the last thing a woman having a home birth wants is to be interrupted by paramedics, neighbors should be warned in advance. Be straight, Bellegarde says: “If you hear any noises or screaming, that’s me giving birth.”
‘It would be concerning if you’re getting your chickpea salad, and you hear someone screaming bloody murder.’
Coombs’ neighbor Michael Berick was in on the plans for the apartment birth, and he happened to be in the hallway at the crucial moment.
“It wasn’t extremely loud, but loud enough,” says Berick. “I heard a handful of screams, followed by some baby cries.”
Of course, some couples having a baby might hesitate to tell their building mates, lest they be judged or reminded of the potential risks of home birth.
“Some friends and work colleagues thought it was dangerous,” says Coombs, 45. “Getting strange reactions makes you less inclined to broadcast it.”
But Sara Nolan, 39, a midwife and doula who lives in a Prospect-Lefferts Gardens 60-unit building, is glad she gave her neighbors a heads-up before her planned home birth 11 months ago — especially because she and her next-door neighbor went into labor on the same day.
Nolan’s water broke while her neighbors were at the hospital. When the husband returned that night after the birth of his own kid, she says, Nolan was deep in the throes of it, “screaming her brains” out.
Fortunately, the new dad — who surely was hoping for his last good night’s sleep for a while — had a sense of humor about it, Nolan says.
“We laughed it off and just had beers.”
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