ritain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recently issued new childbirth guidelines. Women with uncomplicated pregnancies — “uncomplicated” is the key word — will now be advised to give birth at home or at midwife-led units. The report has been greeted with a predictable wave of criticism suggesting the government just trying to save money. It has also produced near-neurotic resistance to the idea of giving birth without doctor assistance.
Hysterics aside, a lot of good literature suggests home childbirth is generally safer than a hospital stay (the report cited only a small difference in complications between hospital and home births). Unfortunately, home birth as imagined by middle class women conjures up a room with a birthing pool surrounded by scented candles.
It happens this is a subject very close to my heart. I’m a veteran:
• I’ve given birth at home, at the time a one-bedroom, one bathroom flat;
• At my mother in law’s, where I had to sit down and give myself a stern lecture about getting on with it, because otherwise my daughter would simply get bigger. She was born the following morning;
• In the hospital, both in England and in Italy;
• On my own, as my husband went in search of the ambulance (by far the calmest experience).
At a time of year when many celebrate the humblest of births, I’m here to champion the idea of home births (the report guidelines continue insisting on midwives, mind you).
Giving birth is an odd subject. Prenatal classes tend to dwell on what can go wrong, putting far too much emphasis on the negative. Media and pop culture portrayals of childbirth focus on screaming women pushing for hours while stuck in some kind of personal hell. In truth, it’s the most incredible of experiences, one that women generally don’t talk about because there is no one common experience — it’s different for everyone.
Many women are terrified to be overly positive about what their experience lest they “betray” those who might face more troublesome circumstances. But above all else childbirth demands honesty.
For me, giving birth is among the most extraordinarily natural things the human body can do. Relaxing is absolutely essential. The first time hurts so much you can’t believe the body was ever designed to cope with so much intensity. But it can and you do, and when you hold your baby in your arms the adrenalin rush is enough to get you through the first tricky month. The first gives you a pretty good idea of what’s what.
After my first child at home — a wonderful experience for my husband and I — my second was a breach. I went to the hospital and left demoralized. There were 10 people in the delivery room, all staring at a monitor. No one spoke to me. Though it was February, someone had left a birthing room window open; I was freezing. The medical team, primed for an emergency caesarean, was visibly disappointed when I got fed up with whole thing and just pushed my boy out. He was fine, but the staff insisted there must be something wrong. Tests were run. They seemed disappointed again when they had to give him a clean bill of health.
Tired of the stress, I discharged myself and went home. At least there, someone made me a cup of tea. My son is now a strapping, healthy 14-year-old.
I’ve never believed that how you’re born determines how you turn out. Jesus seems to have managed quite well. And while the act of childbirth seems overwhelmingly important at the time, you soon come to understand that it’s just the beginning of a journey for you and your child. It’s an incredible experience that’s also very mundane. The cliché is a million years old, but it’s true: babies are born everyday.
So if you’re pregnant and reading this, relax: a baby brings its own love. Focus on the positive.