Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

This is the birth of a child, not the removal of some splinter

Safety net: Giving birth in a hospital guarantees that if something goes wrong, expert help is at hand
Safety net: Giving birth in a hospital guarantees that if something goes wrong, expert help is at hand

Weasel words from the Royal College of Midwives, frankly. Giving birth at home "may be safer than hospital"; women "usually have" better birth experience than in hospitals.

May? Usually? Can we all just remember what is being discussed here? The birth of a child. Not the removal of a splinter.

And yet the government's health advisory body, Nice, is suggesting that, for those who have already had one child, or whose pregnancy has been straightforward, it is better to forget about hospital and instead, give birth in a midwifery-led unit (MLU), or to go for it on the living-room carpet.

Doing it thus, suggests Nice, will mean less medical intervention (well, yes, obviously) and just as good an outcome for the baby. Everyone is happy. There are no stitches and the overall cost to the health service is a lot, lot lower.

Could this pronouncement be possibly related to the fact that we are experiencing the highest birth rate for 40 years? I think it might be.

The Royal College of Midwives and the parenting charity, NCT, have, to my mind, been irresponsible in welcoming Nice's findings.

Get those pesky (often male) doctors out of the way. Giving birth is a natural event. They give birth in the fields in some countries, for goodness sake.

Anyone who wants to be in stirrups, in a hospital, has been over-medicalised, over-pampered and is probably not a feminist to boot. This is the proper way to do it. It's a policy which will encourage thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of women to give birth at home.

Except. We are talking about bringing a live human being safely into the world. Is there any moment in a parent's life more fraught with anxiety and the possibility of life-changing tragedy?

I have four children. Each one was born safely in hospital. Did I ever consider, for a moment, that I might give birth on the sofa at home?

Well, actually, yes. When pregnant with my third, I felt a vague (and wholly untypical) desire to be at one with the sisterhood. Maybe I hadn't had enough folic acid that day.

So I murmured to my GP that staying chez moi and crossing my fingers was perhaps a groovy idea. "Are you crazy?" she said to me. "What if something goes wrong? What if you can't get to hospital in time? You'd never forgive yourself." This, of course, is precisely the point. We all know someone who never stops banging on about how wonderful it was to give birth at home; how little Jonny played the recorder throughout, how mum brought up hot pasta just afterwards and, hey, how even the family dog poked his nose in the door just as we got to the second stage, what larks.

You don't often hear about it when the ambulance had to be called, how an emergency bed had to be found halfway across town, how a special care baby unit had to be found at a different location, how everything very nearly went so horribly wrong. Or did go wrong.

Perhaps some people find it disagreeable to be in labour surrounded by bleeping machines. Or doctors. Well, you shy types, now you don't have to.

I gave birth to my youngest child in a birthing room supplied with a bed and a midwife. That was it. This is just the sort of 'alongside unit', approved of by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which are now becoming more familiar in hospitals.

Once Lucien had turned up, the midwife brought in a plate of biscuits. It was very low-key and very nice. Except, if something had gone awry, I knew, and so did she, that there was a phalanx of world experts, operating theatres and bleeping machines one floor up. These are not normal domestic accessories, at least not when I last looked.

Labour is quite painful. Episiotemies are not my favourite beauty treatment. But, laydeez, this time it's not all about you, or your 'experience', it's really not.

It's also about a person who has zero choice about where they are going to embark on one of the most perilous journeys of their life.

It seems utterly bonkers to me not to make that as safe as you possibly can.

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