Friday, 1 May 2009

Home births and a woman's right to choose

I had a really interesting debate at lunch today with a friend (male) about a woman’s right to choose to have a home birth. As he was (once) a medical student, his view was that choosing to have your baby at home was a drain on hospital resources as you are taking a midwife away from a hospital where she can attend to a number of pregnant women at once.

In 2006 only around 2.7% of births in England and Wales took place at home; it’s not a huge number at all. In April the BBC reported on a study that found that “for low-risk women, giving birth at home is as safe as doing so in hospital with a midwife.” Even in those home births that then required transferring to hospital the risk to the baby was no greater than that of those who started off giving birth at home.

Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said, "to begin providing more home births there has to be a seismic shift in the way maternity services are organised. The NHS is simply not set up to meet the potential demand for home births, because we are still in a culture where the vast majority of births are in hospital."

This seems to correlate with what my friend was saying regarding the use of resources, however, does the lack of midwives mean that women should be forced to come into hospital against their will? Should there not be instead more effort put into recruiting more nurses into midwifery or providing better services? In this country there aren't enough organs for transplant available to those that need them - should we then say that no-one is entitled to organ transplant or instead look at ways to increase the number of people that sign up to the organ donation register?

In the Metro today I read a article where an incredibly on the ball husband had assisted his wife in giving birth at home after he was told there were no midwifes available to come out to them. Instead of panicking or rushing her off to hospital he simply Googled ‘labour’ and watched some YouTube videos that showed him what to do.

I have no children so I can’t fully comment on ‘giving birth’ however, I do know from the unpleasant experiences of my sister-in-law and sister, that giving birth in hospital is not always ideal either. In the case of my sister, her husband was sent home for the night leaving her to suffer in great discomfort through the night alone as she had been induced. Both myself and my mum were really upset to hear how distressed she sounded in the morning. Not one for making a fuss (as us British tend to be) she just put up with the discomfort but clearly would have been happier if she had her husband with her.

I’m not a sandal-wearing hippy advocate of breast-feeding, cotton nappies and home births, however I do feel that women and their partners should be given choices when it comes to pregnancy and birth. This goes for being able to follow a ‘birth plan’ in hospital or choosing a home birth. I don’t condone mothers who choose not to follow medical advice out of their own stubbornness either – if there is a medical need for certain procedures, or for example advice that a water birth is no longer possible because of a tricky labour then fine, listen to the doctors. However, I do believe the choice to start the birth in the way you wish is very important.

I can’t imagine how nervous I would be in the months running up to giving birth. Knowing I had to have a tooth removed I was horribly worried in the week running up to it – having nearly 9 months to get nervous is another matter! Personal control over situations is a big issue in making people feel more comfortable and I think that if medical professionals can give women (and their partners) the feeling of control on such a life changing occasion, then all the better.

Gratuitous image of my nephew Henry...