The real miracle of pregnancy isn’t childbirth
Nothing on this earth would entice me to have a baby at home.
Call me old fashioned, but I’m all for the protective womb of expert physicians and latest technology in a crisp white hospital environment. The risks are simply too great; the act of childbirth too unpredictable; the potential loss too devastating to contemplate.
And tragically, in South Australia we’re hearing all too much about risk becoming reality.
Following recent revelations in The Advertiser, Health Minister John Hill this week asked the independent health commissioner to investigate two incidents involving birthing advocate Lisa Barrett.
That takes the number of home birthing incidents involving Ms Barrett to five. They date back to 2007 and involve twin births in both SA and WA.
Voicing his extreme concerns about women relying on unqualified homebirth assistants, Mr Hill told State Parliament that Ms Barrett had surrendered her registration as a midwife in January but had remained practising as an unregistered ‘doula’.
Now, this is a very delicate issue. We’re not talking in hypotheticals here – we’re talking about very real, very recent events.
As every mum knows, there is nothing more crushing than the judgements of others. Mother guilt is a constant companion at the best of times – let alone when others feel compelled to volunteer their own views on everything from controlled crying, feeding solids and returning to work.
I can’t imagine the emotional strain of losing a child – the internal and external judgement that must come to bear – in these circumstances. As I said, it’s just too devastating to contemplate.
These homebirth incidents, though, raise some serious questions.
Why aren’t unregistered practitioners outlawed, for a start?
What other services could hospitals offer to ensure women in favour of non-intervention are not left feeling alienated to the point of relying on unqualified assistants?
And with the greatest of sympathy, why are multiple-birth mums disregarding clear official advice and opting for home births? (I had a caesarean section after 14 hours of labour because my second twin’s heartbeat began to deteriorate, so I know from experience that things can quickly go wrong.)
I’m not saying homebirthing per se should be banned – and it’s important to keep the issue in perspective.
Latest statistics show that in 2009 there were 19,901 births reported in SA. Only 125 of these (or 0.6 per cent) were planned home births. A further 35 home births were planned but transferred to hospital before birth, suggesting a strong degree of caution among prospective parents and their practitioners.
The rates of mortality among home births are no higher than hospital births, either, although that’s skewed somewhat by the fact that most planned home births involve ‘low risk’ pregnancies.
Mel, a nurse from the Adelaide Hills, says her home birth was “the most challenging, amazing, fulfilling experience” of her life.
She was cared for by two midwives, including well-known SA practitioner Wendy Thornton, and gave birth in a birthing pool in the presence of her husband, parents and first daughter Lily.
Mel - who is keen to stress that she’s not an advocate of home birth at any cost - is certain that her “beautiful” birthing experience had an impact on the kind of chilled out baby that Eliza turned out to be.
She’s also certain that if she’d been in hospital, the total exhaustion and pain she experienced at one stage of the birth would have resulted in intervention that “ultimately deprived me of the birth experience I wanted”.
“I feel that women sometimes miss out on the superhero feeling you have after fighting through all the pain to give birth naturally and without intervention,” she says.
As a mum who wanted to give birth naturally and ultimately needed a caesarean, I can understand that.
But I think women willing to risk a homebirth with an unqualified practitioner need to remember, too, that the real miracle is the baby.
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