In the pre-dawn darkness of Valentine’s Day last year, I birthed my precious son into the warm water of a birthing pool.
My arms and heart embraced him. In my euphoria, I uttered words of love and welcome. Hello beautiful. Welcome home.
Arlo James was born peacefully in our bedroom, in the loving presence of a midwife, a doula, my husband and our 8 year old daughter. This was my third homebirth.
There is a misconception that women who birth at home care more about the ‘experience’ of birth than the wellbeing of their babies.
Mia Freedman coined the term Birthzilla to refer to a woman who ‘appears more interested in having a birth experience than a baby’.
Some professionals are uncomfortable with the notion of pregnant women having bodily autonomy. In the article ‘No mother or unborn child deserves the risk of a homebirth’, obstetrician Lachlan de Crespigny and ethicist Julian Savulescu, lament the fact that ‘the foetus has few legal rights’.
They object to a system where women have autonomy over their pregnant bodies:
‘respect for the autonomy of the mother includes the right to risk the death of a baby during birth as well as her own death. In law, women have the right to take such risks’.
They argue that health professionals should ‘try to persuade women to deliver in hospital if this is a safer option’.
A recent Cochrane review suggests that there is ‘no strong evidence’ that planned hospital birth is preferable to ‘planned home birth for ‘low risk’ pregnancies.
‘…planned hospital birth is not any safer than planned home birth assisted by an experienced midwife with collaborative medical back up, but may lead to more interventions and more complications’.
In a recent article about midwife-led birthing centres, Professor Michael Permezel, President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, comments that ‘…most women want to do everything possible for their baby and prefer hospital births’.
It is true that most women birth in hospital. In 2009, the year that I home birthed Arlo’s older brother, 294,540 women gave birth in Australia. Of these, 285,460 women gave birth in hospitals, 6,396 women gave birth in birth centres and 863 had planned homebirths.
Permezel’s statement implies that ‘some’ women, namely those that don’t birth in a hospital setting, fail to ‘do everything possible for their baby’.
What does that really mean? Is he suggesting that women who choose hospital births care more about their babies’ wellbeing than do home-birthing mothers?
I believe the implication is clear: Women that choose hospital birth are regarded by the profession as caring, sensible mothers who put the well-being of their unborn children at the forefront. Compliant women.
Home birthing women, on the other hand, have the audacity to assert their bodily autonomy, risking their own lives and that of their babies’. Reckless women.
Fortunately, not all obstetricians are as narrow minded. For each of my homebirths I entered into an agreement with a local, private obstetrician who is supportive of home birth. In the (unlikely) event that I required transfer to hospital, he would have been contacted to assist me. Obviously, his obstetric services were not required.
In Australia, homebirth with a registered midwife is legal and safe. Some States provide tax-payer funded home birth programmes. A pilot home birth programme commenced in my local area health service in April 2012.
I chose homebirth with an independent midwife because I believed it was the best option for my unborn child – and our family. The health and safety of my child was intrinsically linked to my wellbeing while he was in-utero. My desire to avoid unnecessary medical interventions and drugs was motivated by a desire to safeguard his wellbeing. It is ludicrous to suggest that we have competing interests.
I regard highly the continuity of care that an independent midwife provides.
We valued our midwife’s skills, expertise and professionalism. I trusted her, and felt comfortable discussing all aspects of my pregnancy with her. All pre-natal appointments were conducted in my home in a relaxed and informal manner. My other children were often present. Being given the opportunity to listen to his unborn sibling’s heartbeat was a highlight of the appointments for my toddler.
After Arlo’s birth, our midwife provided 6 weeks of post-natal care. The quality of pre- and post-natal care was exceptional.
I relish the privacy, comfort and tranquility of birthing in my own home.
Vitally, my midwife was not required to attend to other labouring women. She was wholly present as I laboured and birthed. Consequently, I felt supported and nurtured.
I respect a woman’s right to choose where she births her baby.
Home-birthing women do not deserve to be demonised, labelled as ‘selfish’, or accused of risking their babies’ lives for an ‘experience’. Furthermore, women have a right to bodily autonomy, whether pregnant or not.
About Alison Waters
Alison Waters is a freelance writer who holds Bachelor degrees in Social Work and Arts (Welfare Studies).
She has worked in the area of family violence, and enjoys writing about vegan parenting and animal rights.
Alison is the mother of four healthy vegan children. You can read Alison’s regular work on veganism at Made of Stars.