I just read your report on home birth statistics and wanted to share my comments and experiences (confidentially!).
My opinion is that there is a great lack of information and support for women considering this option. A simple leaflet made widely available could outline the main points of what to expect during a home birth, what items you might need to buy or prepare, when you would need to contact the midwives, the evidence on safety and how a transfer to hospital would work, if there are any local support groups, etc. I think that having some basic information early in the pregnancy could help turn a vague idea of a home birth into a realistic, practical option, and give mothers more confidence to raise the idea with their doctor or midwife.
I had my first child in an obstretic unit in a London hospital and found it a stressful experience as the busy midwives kept coming and going and no one worked out that my baby was in a posterior position until the constant pain made me ask for an epidural. I had wanted minimal pain relief in the hospital’s birth centre but on arrival at the hospital was told I shouldn’t go there, with no choice offered or explanation why.
With my second pregnancy, I went on a hypnobirthing course run by Katharine Graves in London where an independent midwife also attended and answered the parents’ many questions. I had anticipated another hospital birth but the midwife on the course was able to explain the details of a home birth, how to go about insisting on one from your NHS practice, and how to assert your right if they withdrew the option in the final weeks (a common practice, as noted in your report). (She also showed me exercises to help move my baby, again in a posterior position.) I decided this was the birth location I wanted, spoke to my midwife, and was surprised to receive her full support and enthusiasm. I was also lucky enough to be told by the independent midwife about a small supportive group run by a local mother in her home – the Oxford Home Birth Group. It was great to hear other people’s experiences and feel well prepared for a new, different birth experience. In the event it was a straightforward, relaxed, very positive birth; my baby turned and I only needed gas and air. Being at home with my family and receiving the full attention of the midwives made a great difference. We didn’t have the upheaval of changing location, facing dozens of different staff, and worrying about getting food out-of-hours. It felt like a natural event instead of a medical emergency, and I wish others could have this option, too.
The obvious place to publicise home birthing would be the doctors’ surgery, as it’s the mother’s first and regular port of call, but of course the NHS don’t want to promote it, and the Bounty packs and leaflets they hand out talk only of hospital births. It would be great if the NCT’s campaign could make more people aware of what’s involved, how safe it is, what rights parents have concerning home birth and where they can find support.
Jenny McIntyre (mother of two)