Meet the Home Birth Whisperer

Elsa Hosk was used to being photographed. The statuesque Swedish model had appeared in eight annual Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, and she’d been a muse for a Rodeo Drive’s worth of luxury fashion brands. On Instagram, she had routinely posted behind-the-scenes snapshots, playful selfies, and scenic vacation dispatches wearing lingerie for her 8 million followers. But late one morning in February 2021, the camera captured Hosk like she’d never been captured before, in the most vulnerable of scenarios: giving birth to her first child, in her own home in Los Angeles. Her nine-pound daughter, Tuulikki, was in a complex position, with her hand and her arm raised above her head and extending into the birth canal. It was a situation that could have sounded alarm bells in the hospital, and might have elicited some form of surgical intervention, like a Cesarean section or an episiotomy. But at home with her doula and midwife, Hosk worked through it with massage and pushing. There were no makeup artists, no posing, no optimization of angles—just raw human exertion. For once, Hosk wasn’t even aware of the camera. “You’re like an animal. It’s brutal,” she tells me. “I was so inside the birth that I didn’t notice her photographing me. You’re just in a different dimension.”

The camerawoman to whom Hosk is referring is Carson Meyer, a highly sought-after doula in Los Angeles, who also happens to moonlight as a photographer when she attends births. At just 28, Meyer has become a visible advocate for natural births, and is so beloved among a certain Hollywood contingent that models and actresses like Hosk, Mandy Moore, and Gigi Hadid have entrusted her to help shepherd them through the grueling and seemingly mystical experience. Meyer works with many women who imagine hospital birth as an impersonal medical ordeal, and want an experience that they think they will have more control over. Doulas are considered non-medical support and can be certified after just three to five days of training (though certification is not required), but they can be an important ally for clients. Meyer, for her part, counsels pregnant women on prenatal and postpartum nutrition; educates them on the various stages of pregnancy and labor; and prepares them for the sometimes-destabilizing three months postpartum. She also helps connect them to her many contacts in midwifery and obstetrics. And she does so while framing the birth experience not as a hellish vortex, but as a transformative undertaking. When she attends births—whether at home or in the hospital—she serves as a kind of maternal support blanket and air traffic controller.

People tend to light up when her name is mentioned. “She’s such an old soul, and so empowering as a person,” Hosk says. The birth photography is just a bonus. Spending time with Meyer, it’s easy to understand why she’s earned the trust of so many A-list clients. I first meet her early one evening in April at a farm-to-table restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina, where she moved recently with her boyfriend, the musician Johnathan Rice. In a flowy, boho-chic dress with a chunky cardigan draped over her elbows, she radiates calm, intimacy, and a gentle confidence that makes you feel as if nothing could ever go wrong in her presence. She’s 10 weeks pregnant with her first child, but you get the sense she’s always glowing like this, no matter what state she’s in. She neither sensationalizes nor sugarcoats anything related to childbirth. “I try to help women really understand what the process is,” she tells me. “I think we’re raised to think that [birth] is a broken thing that you need to be saved from. But the more you know about how the process unfolds, the more trust there can be in the process.”

I could have a hundred kids, but no two births are ever alike. It doesn’t matter how many times I give birth; it will never be yours.”

Because she began working as a doula at age 22 with no children of her own, Meyer has had to grapple with her own lack of personal experience in the birthing department. At first, she was insecure about it. “What am I doing here?” she remembers thinking. But then she began to realize that her childlessness could prove useful. She likes to tell her clients, “I could have a hundred kids, but no two births are ever alike. It doesn’t matter how many times I give birth; it will never be yours.” Even after she gives birth herself and joins the ranks of her birthing clients (she plans on having a home birth and will use a doula), she’ll reiterate the same sentiment: “I’m not going to project my experience onto you,” she says.

For Hosk, the experience was serendipitous. She got pregnant in the middle of 2020. Lockdown had allowed her to connect more intensely with her body during pregnancy, and she didn’t love the hurried nature of hospital appointments. She and her boyfriend watched The Business of Being Born, a hugely influential 2008 documentary about the history of birthing practices in America, and began to discuss the possibility of a home birth. She was seven months pregnant when they made the decision to give birth at home and to hire a doula.


One day while browsing through clothes in a store, they started talking about how to proceed. “The guy who worked at the store was like, ‘I know a doula!’ Her name is Carson,” Hosk remembers. “We called her, and found out that we had a lot of friends in common. I instantly felt comfortable with her, so we just hired her on the spot.” Hosk’s pregnancy was classified as low-risk, but the birth itself was “psychedelically intense”—she went through two and a half days of contractions, and it took two hours of pushing just to get the nine-pound infant’s head out. But Hosk still says she’ll never consider anything but a home birth in the future. “I felt so lucky that I got to have this other experience, and to think of my birth as this beautiful thing that made me stronger instead of taking my power away from me,” she says.

Prior to 2020, just a fraction of the pregnant women Meyer worked with were comfortable with the home birth route, instead preferring to have her beside them in the security of a hospital. In March of that year, though, attitudes changed rapidly. Pandemic shutdowns took effect, and suddenly pregnant women’s birthing plans were upended. “Overnight it was like, ‘Oh, your doula can’t be there. And oh, your partner can’t be there, either,’” Meyer recalls. “So now you’re going in completely solo.” Now the fear usually surrounding the home birth—fear of the unknown—had transferred to the hospital setting, where the threat of severe illness from a novel virus lurked. “It was a huge shift in the direction of home birth,” Meyer says. “If you ask a midwife, they had to shut off their phones because they were getting calls all day long: ‘I want a home birth!’” The demand had shifted so much that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released an official statement in April of 2020 gently nudging women away from home births, citing a more than twofold increased risk of perinatal death. “Data has long demonstrated that hospitals and accredited birth centers are the safest places to give birth,” the statement read.

During this period, the number of births Meyer attended on a monthly basis rose from three to seven. By the end of 2021, anecdotal accounts from individual midwives and doulas became hard data: A CDC report showed that home births in the United States had increased 22 percent from 2019 to 2020, the highest level since 1990. Of course, America’s new home birth rate of 1.26 percent was nothing compared to that of countries like the Netherlands, where about a fifth of all births take place in the home. And plenty of women, Meyer says, explored the option of home birth during the pandemic before ultimately deciding to stick with the hospital. But still, 45,464 women that year decided to do what, to many, is unthinkable: fill up a pool of water on their living room floor and bring life into the world in the same space where they eat and sleep.

carson meyer

Meyer counsels pregnant women on prenatal and postpartum nutrition, educates them on the various stages of pregnancy and labor, and prepares them for the sometimes-destabilizing three months postpartum.


Among those clients was Hadid. The supermodel revealed her pregnancy in spring 2020, and gave birth to daughter Khai that fall at her family’s farm in rural Pennsylvania. Hadid had initially planned to deliver at a hospital in New York, but when COVID protocols threatened to alter her birthing plans, she started to consider other options. She’d hired Meyer, who attended her high school, as her doula. “What I really wanted from my experience was to feel like, ‘Okay, this is a natural thing that women are meant to do,’” she told Vogue. Meyer attended the birth over Zoom, and Hadid’s then partner, the pop star Zayn Malik, even “caught” the baby, generating a tidal wave of headlines about every minute detail. (“Gigi Hadid’s Doula Zoomed In for Her Birth,” read one.) Hadid, with her 75 million-odd Instagram followers, had given home birth its biggest platform ever.

Meyer first became interested in birth work when, as a young actress and student at NYU, she watched The Business of Being Born, the same documentary that inspired Hosk’s home birth. Together, the filmmakers—former talk show host Ricki Lake and director Abby Epstein—take viewers through their own childbirth journeys. The documentary narrates the history of hospital births and obstetrics, portraying medicalized deliveries as quasi-tragedies that rob women of the most self-affirming experience of their lives. The film also reframes highly common interventions like epidurals, Pitocin inductions, and Cesarean sections as choices that may have been made to suit obstetricians rather than birthing women. The film is a one-sided love letter to home birth that goes beyond simply arguing in its favor or making claims as to its relative safety—it even implies that women who receive Cesarean sections may have difficulty in adequately bonding with their children immediately after birth.

With these sorts of ideas dangled in front of viewers, it’s no wonder that the film became such a highly impactful form of birthing messaging. Still, despite the film’s pro-home-birth bent, there’s a twist at the end that offers the film an undercurrent of objectivity, and thereby commonsense credibility in the eyes of viewers who might have been otherwise dissuaded by its dogma: At the end, Epstein’s home birth plans are thwarted when she learns her baby is in a breech position. She undergoes an emergency C-section in a hospital, and later, she’s shown nursing and bonding with her son. “Maybe that’s the way he needed to come,” she says.

“I saw The Business of Being Born and I was hysterical,” Meyer tells me. “So taken aback. Fifty percent of me was sobbing to learn about the health care system and how we had been failing women and made birth into this illness, when it’s really such a sacred rite of passage. The other half of me was sobbing in absolute amazement.” She explained that she had “never seen a video of a birth that wasn’t a Hollywood depiction,” referencing the scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life where dozens of masked hospital workers swarm around a birthing mother with absurd medical machines.

carson meyer

A client of Meyer’s named Rosie, giving birth to her daughter in Los Angeles in 2020.

Carson Meyer

Meyer, in fact, comes from the world that helped create the popular images that inform the way we think about birth. A Malibu native, she was raised in the heart of Hollywood culture: Her father is Los Angeles power broker Ron Meyer, who co-founded Creative Artists Agency and presided over Universal Studios for two decades. Her mother, Kelly Chapman Meyer, is an environmentalist and health advocate who helped instill a crunchy streak in Meyer from an early age, teaching her about clean beauty at age 10. Meyer went to Malibu High School, the institution that counts women like Kaia Gerber and both Hadid and her sister Bella among its graduates.

After graduating from NYU, Meyer found herself back in L.A. taking acting gigs. She also founded a clean beauty company, C & The Moon, which saw its sales jump after January Jones (a friend of hers) posted about her body scrub. Meyer was at a birthday party in Los Angeles when she spotted a woman who she assumed was an actress or model, but was in fact a midwife. Sensing her enthusiasm, the woman encouraged Meyer to enroll in doula training. Soon Meyer completed a three-day course, received her certification, and started attending births. Her first client was a neighbor she met one day while sharing an elevator. Meyer was also mentored by Lori Bregman, one of Los Angeles’s most prominent doulas and maternal wellness experts, whose client list includes Heidi Klum and Anne Hathaway.

The Business of Being Born, which is nearing its 15th anniversary, was a pivotal narrative of the dynamics between celebrity, Hollywood imagery, and birth. At the time, Ricki Lake was somewhat of an anomaly among her peers in her decision to give birth at home. “I’m so not the type,” Lake tells me. “I remember hearing that Demi Moore had had a home birth, but it wasn’t on my radar.” The documentary provides a snapshot of cultural perceptions of birth in the early 2000s. This was the era of “too posh to push,” the expression used by British tabloids to describe celebrities and super-ambitious career women who opted to schedule C-sections rather than deal with the hassle of a surprise labor. “These women had that view of birth that was like, ‘We gotta get it over with so we can get back on the runway,’” Meyer says.

carson meyer

At just 28, Carson Meyer has become a visible advocate for natural births.


But Hollywood attitudes about birth have swung in the opposite direction in the years since. In 2009, Kourtney Kardashian was filmed giving birth to her son, Mason, during which celebrity obstetrician Paul Crane, MD, instructed her to “pull” and Kourtney reached down and literally pulled her newborn out of her body. That scene was perceived as yet another envelope pushed onscreen by the Kardashians, but it may have also helped spark a newfound curiosity about home birth among the reality-television-watching masses. “I hear it all the time: ‘Am I going to catch my baby like Kourtney Kardashian did?’” Meyer says. “I think that was one of [few] times that kind of birth was really shown.”

Now pregnancy and birth seem to be a major part of many celebrity women’s brands, and home birth—once considered an outlandish ordeal chosen by hippies—has been reframed as an aspirational rite of passage. If birth was once an experience so sacred or traumatic as to be kept private, it is now a portal to empowerment and public self-inquiry, and sharing birth stories on social media has become one way for celebrity women to connect to their audiences and to cultivate authenticity. The subtext of some of these birth stories is that natural or home birth is another way of proving your mettle—of applying a kind of empowerment-driven ambition to every arena of life. It’s a form of achievement that dovetails neatly with the wellness-as-lifestyle era in which well-to-do women are swapping out antidepressants for psychedelics or experimenting with at-home coffee enemas. Home birth, in this view, is one more step toward being a holistically self-actualized modern woman.

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The paradox of home birth, and its popularity among a certain subset of the Hollywood elite, is that it is often shown as an alternative to the medical establishment—and yet the home-birthing world can only thrive with the support of a hospital. Home births are typically chosen by self-selected pools of low-risk women, but up to 27 percent of those giving birth for the first time still end up transferring to a hospital mid-birth nonetheless. The actress and director Lake Bell had two home births, the second of which resulted in her newborn being rushed to the hospital and held in the NICU for 11 days after going without oxygen for over four minutes. “I was insistent to have a home birth. I’ve dealt with that since,” she said on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast.

Once you start noticing them, the celebrity home birth stories are everywhere. There’s Ashley Graham, who delivered her first son at home in early 2020, and even chose a home birth for her twin boys this past January—a grueling experience that included full-blown hemorrhaging. Hilary Duff birthed two of her three children at home and later posted a set of epic, candid photos of herself mid-labor, grimacing in agony. And Catherine, Princess of Wales, has lit up the British tabloids over the years with news that she was interested in birthing at home. Even those who give birth in a hospital often bring their followers along for the ride: The high-concept pregnancy photo shoot (or even short film, in the case of Emily Ratajkowski) is now part of the celebrity-content industrial complex.

carson meyer

Meyer rubs a client named Danielle’s back during her labor in L.A. in 2018; she had a boy.


All this sharing has opened up space on social media for less-perfect birth stories, too. Mandy Moore, another one of Meyer’s clients who was sold on the idea of a home birth after watching The Business of Being Born, hatched grand plans for a home birth that included her husband serenading her with his guitar, but complications prompted her to switch to a hospital birth, leaving her with a complex tangle of emotions. “Just caring about what other people that were planning to do home births and feeling this weird twinge of jealousy,” she said on the Informed Pregnancy podcast. “I know that sounds ridiculous…but I’m also kind of sad that I don’t get to have that experience that I was hoping for.”

There are, of course, a couple of obvious reasons why home birth has an outsize presence among famous women. “You run in the same circles,” Hosk explains. “It’s sad, because it’s a little bit of a privilege thing—sometimes it costs out of pocket, and there’s a little bit more work involved. If it’s not so popular in the circles you hang around, how are you going to know? How are you going to understand how it works?” For celebrities, home birth is also, crucially, a private birth, free from prying eyes and sneaky iPhone cameras. (No need to clear out a whole maternity floor, as Beyoncé was rumored to have done for the birth of her daughter, Blue Ivy.) By the same token, it’s easy to understand why someone like Meyer, who grew up among the glitterati, would be appealing to a famous mom-to-be: She is so unfazed by their celebrity that she can treat them like normal women. “Her other clients didn’t cross my mind at all. She never mentions them,” Hosk says.

Before she gave birth to her daughter, Hosk had a habit of rolling her eyes every time she came across a birth story online. “Ugh, not another pregnancy story! Everyone always makes it seem so dramatic,” she says. Then she gave birth herself. “Giving birth to a human is an insane thing. It made me realize how important it is to share it,” she admits, almost sounding a bit sheepish. Within a week, she had posted an epic play-by-play of her home birth to her Instagram Stories. “I’m beyond exhausted and my body goes into complete shutdown and sleep in between the waves,” she wrote in one slide. “Birthing is really confronting yourself, your fears and doubts, and coming through the other side.” The one thing she still has not been able to fully confront, though, are those photos that Meyer took. “I think it’s something that I’m going to have when I’m older, and able to look at it, because it’s so fresh now,” she tells me, laughing. “It’s not beautiful.”

This article appears in the November 2022 issue of ELLE.


Headshot of Carrie Battan

Carrie Battan is a staff writer at the New Yorker, and has contributed to GQ, Elle, Bloomberg, and others. She lives in New York.

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