Late last year, 28-year-old Jenna was approaching the due date of her second child. Her plan was to have a midwife-assisted home birth, but because she lives out in the Texas countryside, her midwife insisted she give birth closer to a hospital just in case anything went wrong. “We looked up what options we had and saw some ladies recommend renting an Airbnb,” she tells me.
And so, Jenna and her husband booked an Airbnb within a few blocks of the hospital in town. “It was a nice lofted apartment with a big bathtub and bedroom,” she tells me. “Everyone online said to find somewhere we would be comfortable.”
Due to the pandemic, the number of people opting to have their babies at home over the hospital has skyrocketed. According to the CDC, the percentage of home births in the U.S. reached 1.26 percent in 2020 — a 22 percent increase from 2019, as many expecting parents were concerned about contracting COVID in a hospital setting or wanted to avoid hospital visitation restrictions. And despite most hospitals becoming less burdened by COVID in recent months, experts see no signs of the rate of home births slowing down. As for the role of Airbnbs, some opt for them because they want more space than they would have giving birth in their own home, while others, like Jenna, seek easier access to a hospital or emergency care.
To be sure, Airbnb stipulates in its Terms of Service that guests “are responsible for informing the Host of any medical or physical conditions, or other circumstances that may impact your ability to participate, attend or use the Host Service.” Airbnb has yet to respond to my request for comment as to whether intending to give birth falls under such circumstances. But Airbnb hosts often take to the company’s communal forum to vent about home-birthing guests and to seek advice from fellow hosts.
“On [the guests’] arrival we were completely overwhelmed by the fact that the lady was 38 weeks pregnant and had chosen our property with the idea of being closer to the maternity hospital,” writes Nicole, an Airbnb host in Ireland. “Not only are we not particularly close to the hospital, we are in no way prepared for any medical emergencies on that level, nor trained to aid in a potential homebirth!”
While there’s a rich history of home births happening at hotels, Airbnb hosts are reasonably wary of the insurance liabilities and biohazardous conditions that could follow a home birth taking place in their rental. “Hotels don’t ask the purpose of one’s stay [because they are] corporate-owned chains (usually), backed by huge amounts of insurance. Private homes are not,” responds another host on the Airbnb host forum. “I believe every host has the right to know why someone is staying in their home AS WELL AS a right to know when the planned purpose will involve special equipment or multiple guests being brought in, or will involve a procedure that is normally reserved for hospitals.”
Like Nicole’s guests in Ireland, Jenna neglected to inform her host that she was planning to give birth in the unit. “I didn’t think there would be any damage to the property, and if there was, I’d pay for it,” she says. “Plus, my midwife had liability insurance, so that wasn’t going to be an issue.”
About two weeks into her stay, Jenna’s water finally broke. “My midwife had set up a birth pool in the living room, but I was most comfortable on the pull-out couch in the basement where it was cool,” she says. “That’s where my contractions really started to get intense.” After some convincing, Jenna’s midwife and husband helped her into the pool, and within an hour, her daughter was born. “Once she decided it was go time, she was ready to come out,” Jenna says. “My midwife laid her on my chest, and it was all so magical.”
Jenna was able to give birth to her daughter without issue and enjoyed a few extra days in the comfort of her Airbnb without needing to visit the hospital nearby. Statistically speaking, however, home births are more dangerous than those that take place in a hospital setting. Per research published in 2020, “nearly 14 newborns per 10,000 live births died following planned home births,” a number that’s “more than four times the rate for babies born in hospitals.” What’s more, the study found, “nearly half of women who have planned home births end up having to transfer to a hospital.”
And while Jenna, her husband and her midwife checked out of the Airbnb a few days later without issue, not every Airbnb home birth goes as smoothly. AJ, an Airbnb host who rents out the other half of his duplex in Canada, says he first learned his guests had delivered a baby in his home when paramedics knocked at his door. “I was caught off guard and didn’t know what was going on until my guests came down and let the paramedics know that everything was fine but that the baby wasn’t latching,” he tells me.
Though AJ was happy that the baby and mother were healthy, he was angry when he learned that this wasn’t a surprise birth — his guests had planned for the delivery to take place in his home when they booked it — but they didn’t tell him ahead of time, and he was left to clean up the mess. “The paramedics took them to the hospital anyway, and when I went upstairs, I found a pile of bloody towels in the bathtub, and sheets strewn all over the bathroom floor,” he says. “It was traumatic, honestly. Never in a million years did I think this would happen to me in my home. Luckily, everything went well, but I stopped renting my house out for a long time after that.”
As for Jenna, her perfect guest rating on Airbnb remains intact, and her hosts were none the wiser. “I just checked, and I don’t have any negative reviews or private feedback, so I’m thinking she left me a 5-star review,” she says. “For the few weeks we were there, we were perfect guests; we cleaned up and left the place spotless, so you would have never guessed I was on all fours in a tub giving birth to a child.”
With that, Jenna tells me she’s not going to shy away from recommending others to rent an Airbnb for their delivery. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this because I live so far from a hospital, [so] any mommas out there who want to have a home birth should definitely look into renting a furnished home near the hospital if they can afford it,” she says.
However, aided by hindsight and from reading others’ experiences, Jenna says she does think people should inform Airbnb hosts before giving birth in their homes. “At the very least,” she concludes, “it’ll help avoid any unnecessary drama.”