Home Birth: Every Mother's Right, Or More Dangerous Than Hospital Births?

19/03/2011 23:53 | Updated 22 May 2015

Home births, homebirth, Last week, the Royal College of Midwives claimed that some doctors were instigating a 'calculated backlash' against home births by suggesting to mums-to-be they were more dangerous than hospital births.

This is obviously nothing new, but it's fantastic that midwives are at last standing up to doctors and consultants by highlighting it.

Eight years ago I visited my GP to have my pregnancy confirmed. I should point out I had a fantastic relationship with my doctor – he was never patronising, or dismissive, and was always very thorough and interested whenever I'd had reason to visit him before. But somehow, I knew he would not be particularly supportive if I mooted the idea of a home birth.

Birthing at home was something I'd decided on before I was even pregnant. It seemed the most natural thing to do. I was not ill, I was having a baby. But more than that, the two hospitals I would have the 'choice' of delivering my baby in were both terrible, their maternity services having awful reputations locally. There was no way I was prepared to have my baby at either of them, so, at just seven weeks along, I firmly told my doctor that I would be looking to have my baby at home.

His expression spoke volumes - he was obviously thinking, 'Ah yes, another 'I know best' middle class mum. Just wait until the contractions kick in – she'll be screaming for an ambulance and an epidural!'

He came out with all the usual lines the medical profession throw at first time mums who request a home birth: untried pelvis, small stature, first pregnancy...

I told him it was my body, my choice, and that I would be making my midwife aware of my decision at my subsequent appointments. And I never discussed it with him again.

My first midwife appointment ran along similar lines. She parroted the risks, told me 'many' women asked for a home birth but then found they 'could not cope' and asked to be transferred. It was all rather negative.

She also told me that the main decider on whether or not I delivered at home would be 'whether we have the staff available'.

This infuriated me. I had already spoken off the record to a midwife from the unit. She was very pro home birth and had told me 'our staffing levels aren't really your problem – stick to your guns.'

Before I left that first appointment, I took the midwife's marker pen and wrote 'home birth' across the front of my notes folder. I think she knew from that moment onwards I was serious.

The thing was, I didn't want to have to do that. I didn't want to have to get stroppy, or pen stuff across my notes. I just wanted my choice respected.

Chatting to members of an online support group at the time, I was warned that GPs and midwives may go along with the home birth idea until about 36 weeks, when they start mentioning possible risks, and staffing levels again, almost bullying a mum when she is at her most vulnerable.

I faced this at 37 and a half weeks when 'traces' of protein were found in my urine. A consultant told me he was 'booking me in for induction the following Tuesday'. I told him not to and refused to hand over my notes for the appointment to be made. He could not tell me what risk the 'trace' of protein actually posed (no suggestion of pre-eclampsia or anything sinister was ever put to me). I firmly believe scare-mongering tactics were being used because I was booked for a home delivery.

Mum of two Carrie experienced a similar chain of events when she was pregnant with her first daughter. She had made her wishes for a home birth known from the start of her pregnancy, and no objections were raised until she was four weeks away from her due date:

'No one said anything negative until I was 36 weeks pregnant, even though they knew I had a low platelet count, then, out of the blue at one of my appointments the consultant suddenly said it was 'likely' I would 'bleed to death' if I had a home birth! I was in pieces. It was my first pregnancy and his comments absolutely terrified me.'

Carrie bowed under pressure, and when her labour started, she went to her local hospital.

'At the hospital they did not seem at all interested in my platelet count and just sent me home saying my labour wasn't established. I went home, and then, by the time I went back to the hospital a few hours later, I delivered my daughter within five minutes. Again no-one seemed interested in my platelet count, and for all the attention I had, I could have had a home birth.'

Carrie was so upset by her experience she was even more determined to stick to her guns with her second pregnancy.

'There was no way they were going to put me off when I was pregnant with my second daughter. Luckily, I had a supportive midwife who was really pro home births. However, it was again a consultant who tried to put me off. He insisted I go to the hospital every two weeks to have a blood test to keep an eye on my platelets. I delivered my second daughter in a few hours at home, and it was all perfect. My first birth experience so upset me – the comment about bleeding to death. I was so angry afterwards that I really did consider putting in an official complaint against the consultant. He had terrified me so much.'

My son was born safely at home in six and a half hours at 39 weeks. I had two wonderful midwives and a student present. It was the student's first experience of a home birth and she cried. The two other midwives told me they loved attending home deliveries: 'It's just a pity we don't get to do more.'

What do you think?

Did you have to fight for a home birth?

Or do you think that GPs SHOULD try to put people off birthing at home?

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