I’ve just finished watching the channel 5 programme about unassisted childbirth and I feel many mixed emotions. As a woman I feel rather jealous of the three women shown freebirthing in the programme, especially the first one who really did appear to experience a non-traumatic, pain-free, dream of a birth, as a midwife I fnd that rather worrying. I mean, if I was swept up by the images and beauty of the concept why shouldn’t a significant number of women, who are in a position to have a go at birthing by themselves, decide that they would like to experience an unassisted birth? Would that be a problem? Not to me, no, but it may cause them an assortment of problems, some life-threatening. I am absolutely delighted that a went well for the three women, and babies, in the progamme but that is troublesome. Although the doctors warned about a couple of complications that could occur, this will just be perceived as the medical establishment ‘shroud waving’ and there are very real and dangerous problems which may occur during childbirth.
Why are more women considering this ‘lone’ birthing as an option? There will be a few who will enter into it due to a personal belief, or as an extension of a life-style but I believe that the majority will choose free-birthing as a result of a previous birthing experience. Perhaps they believe that the attendants were not sympathetic to their needs, or their choices were dismissed or ignored, whatever it is, the maternity services, midwives, doctors have failed them. I do place some, well quite a lot, of the blame here on promises, and hence expectations, engendered by government and built-up by the media. Women and their families are told that they have choice but this is never qualified by the reality of shortage of staff, resources and amenities. Some elements of the media and pressure and user groups paint a negative picture of attended childbirth, I would include channel 5 in this group. There are many images of midwife-attended, home, birth-unit or hospital maternity care they could have used which could have shown a woman in a non-medicalised environment. Instead the images shown were of a woman semi-recumbant, on a hospital bed, with a doctor busy setting-up an intravenous infusion, complete with an electronic pump, hardly the most tempting alternative to the impression of a pleasurable birthing experience for the three women depicted in the programme.
I would urge anyone contemplating unassisted childbirth to do more than read-up about it and watch DVDs. Please, contact your local maternity unit then, if you are still unhappy with the options or choice offered, contact your local NMC supervising authority as they are there for women who are seeking help or support concerning the provision of their midwifery care.
Women and babies can, and do, die during attended childbirth in hospital and at home but, “while many factors contribute to maternal death, one of the most effective means of preventing maternal health is to improve health systems and primary health care to ensure availability of skilled attendance at all levels and access to 24-hour emergency obstetric care” and, “Because complications of childbirth too frequently cause neonatal death, skilled assistance is recommended for all deliveries along with access to the appropriate level of neonatal care when needed.”