From The Times
April 21, 2009
Home births: here's three we made earlier
A former Blue Peter presenter on why, when it comes to childbirth, there's no place like home
I'm frustrated by the clichés surrounding childbirth. If I read another article such as Melanie Reid's in this newspaper last week - in which she said that women who choose home births are spoilt and complacent - or have to listen to another couple state that their baby would have died if they hadn't been born in hospital, I shall eat the next plancenta I find in the freezer.
Grotesque though this may sound, occasionally I have come across them there - where else can they go when you have your babies at home? You can't leave them for the dustman along with the empty champagne bottles।
I have a distinct inner feminine nature। Certainly my male outer shell was almost invisible when I partnered my wife in our children's home births। There were no sandals worn, as Reid suggested, nor any sign of squeamishness। My wife chose to have her babies with a midwife, who was with her throughout the entire journey - from when those first few cells were dividing to the time the baby had gained a few pounds to compulsory breastfeeding। She also chose to not to go into hospital, a place dominated by inner and outer males whose protocols dictate the procedure in the business of birth. All birthing animals like to be born - and die, incidentally - in familiar, dark and gentle places.
I might have been more in line with my species by saying: “If the doctors say you have got to have a C-section because the baby is breech then they must be right because they're doctors। This is the 21st century; they can take away the pain so you don't have to suffer। What counts is the baby's life and yours। There's no need to act like a spoilt, complacent woman।”
Of course it's not compulsory for men to be there at the sharp end, cutting the cord, breathing with your partner when she panics, but it's better than hanging around in the corridor wondering what is going on।
The excitement of being at home for me meant that I had no choice but to be in the thick of it। The sheer joy of looking at your child's features and recognising your own in them, to be allowed to hold your seconds-old newborn and place her on your partner's chest. For your tears of ecstasy to drip on to your first son (after three daughters) as you repeat, mantra-like: “It's a boy, it's a boy, it's a boy.” I even commented on the minor repairs of a small tear on the perineum - none of these intimacies could happen unless you are in your own space.
My mother, who was also present at one of our children's births, had a profound experience। She, like me, could remember nothing of our difficult forceps delivery; her fear of birth was expunged. The trail of little feet, who always time their entrance after the event, somehow sleeping through the raised night-time noise levels, pile in to prod, kiss and fondle their new sibling. It's a party atmosphere and everyone is invited.
It doesn't happen like that in the wing of your average hospital। My wife's future, and consequently mine, was born by the nature of our children's arrival: two breech and two cephalic (with head down, the most usual birthing position). The experience precipitated the choice of a new career for her as an independent midwife. Our first-born, Lucy, was a rare thing, spending her first year of life as a Blue Peter baby. She set the tone and I can remember arguing that if they didn't put breastfeeding on children's TV I was leaving the show. I also entertained viewers with incompetent male demonstrations of bathing, weaning and nappy changing.
The pragmatic truth about the hospital birthing industry is that we don't quite trust it to provide a proper and responsible service। It is not its fault that midwives and doctors work in dysfunctional institutions that sometimes make mistakes and misjudgments that affect us. It is not intentional. We try to choose the best hospital as we try to choose the right school, but sometimes it doesn't work out. The problem with hospitals is that they like routine and babies don't always fit into their schedule. Just check the Caesarean rate on a Friday. On the other hand what a fantastic facility to have available when there is a real problem such as pre-eclampsia or placenta praevia, and they are there to intervene and save a life. The problem is that they want to intervene in normal birth too - with epidurals, inductions, the effect of opiate drugs and inappropriate communication that can lead to poor outcomes.
Reid claims that homebirth is a minority sport. Not true. Where homebirth is available with one-to-one care the statistics shoot up. In Torbay, in Devon, it's 11 per cent. A National Childbirth Trust survey says that 25 per cent of women would consider it, if it were more available.
The real issue is not whether you have your baby at home or in a hospital, it is how you have your baby। It is “continuity of care” that is the key - a trained midwife who is with a woman from start to finish and a little beyond. It is a holistic approach because how you think and feel about it affects your confidence to give birth and function as a future parent. If you can achieve that in hospital then fine; if not, you should be able to consider alternatives.
This is where men can make a difference. You may think your role is insignificant and all you are doing is protecting your partner and unborn child by making sure they get the right treatment. Well, treatment is usually for illness and for most normal births it is not required. What is required from men is that they trust their partner's instincts and understand emotionally what is occurring. The first call is still your GP: if you don't like what you hear get a second opinion. Take responsibility and stop colluding with other males with the mindset of taking control.
I think I was brave to side with my wife's instincts when she became “high risk” because the baby was breech। “You don't want a dead baby” was the advice I got from everyone. I knew that what I said to my wife would have a huge impact on what we did. I know most males would not take that route, fearing that the blame of giving the wrong signals would fall on them if it all went wrong. But that's what responsibility is: making choices with your heart and mind and living with the consequences.
As you get older, increasingly, your heart rules your head. When I think back to the moment my grown children entered the world just feet from where I'm sitting yet more tears drip into my keyboard. I think about how those first few moments together has affected everything that has happened since.
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