We Chose Alternative Birth Partners – And Here's Why It Worked

Many women have their co-parent with them while they give birth. Here, four women tell us why they chose someone different.
Malte Mueller via Getty Images

Who would you want with you while giving birth? For many women, the answer is likely to be their partner – the person they’re intending to co-parent with.

For others, though, they may want someone completely different in the delivery room, giving them practical and emotional support while they’re in labour. Their mum, sister, a trusted friend, or even a paid professional, such as a doula.

Midwife Emma-Jane Berridge believes we should be talking more about our options when it comes to birth partners. There’s an implicit expectation it should be the father or co-parent, she says, when often they’re not the right person.

“I encourage women to think about whether their partner is the best person to be their birth partner,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I think we’ve gone a bit too far in the opposite direction compared to the past.”

So, what other options do women have? Four mums who had different birth partners with them at one of the most important moments in their lives explain who they had – and why they chose them.

‘My waters broke and I messaged my best friend to tell her to come – and bring snacks’

Oonagh Barrington, 34, has a two-year-old son.

Oonagh, 34, and her son Oscar, 2
Oonagh Barrington
Oonagh, 34, and her son Oscar, 2

“Charleigh is my pal from uni, we lived together. She’s wise and sensible, but also very funny. She had a baby seven years ago, who was three or four weeks early.

“The week prior to my son, Oscar, being born, we went for lunch and I jokingly said that as my husband, Dave, would be on a stag do at the weekend and my Mum would be on a cruise, I’d probably give birth. I was only 31 weeks. She looked at me seriously over the table in Pizza Express and said, “mate, seriously, if that happens, call me.” I think I replied, “Yeah, yeah, sure!”

“Friday night rolled around and I was getting ready to go to the cinema when my waters broke. I thought I’d wet myself, but it wouldn’t stop. I started hyperventilating and called the hospital. They said it would be fine, but to come in anyway – and by the time I got there, my waters were still coming. I text Charleigh, who was at home watching TV. I told her what had happened, and asked her to come (and bring snacks!). She replied, ‘On my way. Getting snacks. Love you.’

“When she arrived, I was on my own in a room in shock. She very subtly and quietly started timing my contractions, while talking to me calmly. She then left the room, ran down the corridor, found a nurse and told them it was happening.

“Charleigh stayed with me for a full 12 hours, making me laugh by putting an empty vomit bowl on her head, helping me breathe and holding my hand – even though I nearly broke her fingers. She was my own PA, too, calling Dave, my parents, and updating everyone.

“When Oscar got stuck at the final hour, I nearly gave up as I was so tired of pushing for four hours. She said, “Right, enough of this!” and went down ‘the head end’. She squatted down, screamed, “Go!” and I pushed him out. She’s amazing.”

‘I used doulas for all four of my births’

Alli Sturgess, 39, has four children aged 11, eight, seven and two.

Alli Sturgess
Alli Sturgess
Alli Sturgess

“In Orthodox Judaism, once a woman starts bleeding from the uterus, we stop touching our romantic partners – and this applies during childbirth, too. I was very interested in massage and being supported in that way so, for me, a doula felt like a good option. I gave birth to my first child in Israel and went on ‘word of mouth’ recommendation – we paid a lot of money but she’d unfortunately lost her mother two weeks beforehand and couldn’t do much for me on the day itself.

“My second doula was in Birmingham. I didn’t want to go into hospital on my own, I wanted to have someone with me who understood about birthing, so I used the Doula UK website. I interviewed lots of different doulas and found one I connected with: an ex-police woman who’d wanted a career change. She was very strong, which was great because I was using a birthing ball and she was catching me while I was leaning back and forth.

“The doula I used with my third baby, Jane, was the best of all – I was so fond of her. She was very calm and relaxed, and used massage oils in the build-up to birth. I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but I had epidurals with my first two and zero pain relief with my third.

“I found my last doula once we’d moved to London. She was recommended to me by a friend and was great in the lead up to the birth, particularly in terms of giving me exercises to help with pubic pain, and trying to get the baby in the right position. She was really supportive, but didn’t actually make it to the birth on time because I gave birth too quickly – as soon as I arrived at hospital!”

‘My sister was the most supportive, calm and patient birth partner’

Emily Johnson, 45, has a four-year-old son.

Emily Johnson and her son, five
Emily Johnson
Emily Johnson and her son, five

“I was a single mum from the start because my son’s father wasn’t around. My younger sister, Katy, was with me while I gave birth – and she ended up being there through my emergency C-section. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“Initially, I chose my mum to be my birthing partner, but she lived abroad, and two weeks before my induction my grandmother broke her hip, so my mum had to stay in Spain.

“My sister immediately offered to be with me during the birth, although the thought was fairly daunting. She was the most supportive, calm and patient person, even when things went wrong and I was rushed to theatre without warning. She was allowed to join me in theatre after I’d had my anaesthetics and spinal injections. And she was on the phone to our mum, panicking, while I was rushed down as things happened so quickly – but with me, she showed no stress or panic.

“Katy was the first to hold my son, born healthy at 7lb 2oz. He’s now a very happy, handsome, healthy almost five-year-old. They have such a close bond. I’m forever thankful she was with me.”

‘My mum had been through it – I knew she’d be able to guide me’

Dionne Morrison, 24, has a three-month-old son.

Dionne Morrison and her son
Dionne Morrison
Dionne Morrison and her son

“I had my partner and my mum with me at the birth of my son. The reason I wanted my mum there too, was because I knew she’d been through it – and I felt like she’d be able to guide me. I also knew it would be a special experience for her to see her grandchild being born. She loved that we included her in this – she knew it was going to be a moment she’d never forget.

“Towards the end of my labour, my sister ended up coming in, too – she held the gas and air canister for me. I’m not going to lie, towards the end it became quite chaotic having my partner, mum and sister in the room with me as the baby wasn’t coming out, and everyone had different ideas of what we could try!

“After 36 hours of labour, I ended up in theatre. It was a failed forceps, ventouse (suction cup) and an episiotomy that got him out. It was only my partner in theatre with me at that time, but my mum was in the room next door waiting for me to come out.

“Despite being terrified, it was an experience we all got to share together and we can still look back and talk about it now. We’ve always been close and it was calming for me to have them, as both have kids, so they could share with me the different ways they managed to cope with birth. My mum still reminds me of bits of my labour that I forgot due to the pain relief I was on!”