One of the women featured in the channel 5 documentary about unassisted birth, Clio, is discussing her choice in The Mail’s “Freebirthing: Is it madness or the ideal way to give birth?”, the article has so far elicited 60 comments, the majority of which are against the idea of a woman giving birth without trained support. Obviously, as a midwife I am going to counsel against an unassisted birth, I would also advise against an unsupported pregnancy, meaning no antenatal care. I know, and have seen too much to take the attitude that Sue (one of the commentators) does ‘ If you listen to your body and you are healthy there should be no reason why you can’t have an unassisted birth, We need to go back to the old days, pregnancy and birth are not illnesses.’ She is right, pregnancy and birth are not illnesses’, but that does not exclude circumstances which are capable of changing an everyday ‘natural’ event into a life threatening emergency. I remember that fact EVERY time I am called to a homebirth and EVERY time I conduct a routine antenatal examination. Sue wants us to go back to the old days. What ‘old days’ would those be? The days when women died from eclampsia; haemorrhage; puerperal fever, ruptured uterus when babies died or were damaged by obstructed labour, cord prolapse, undiagnosed twins, locked twins?
So, I’ve let my feelings known, now I’m going to present an example of unassisted childbirth that happened recently. The woman is at term, uncomplicated second pregnancy, apart from her requiring much debriefing about her last labour and birth and a meeting with the anaesthetist to attempt to discover why her last epidural hadn’t worked and an assurance that she would be offered an epidural as soon as she goes into hospital this time. On the day of the birth she as a ‘show’ in the morning and is experiencing slight lower, back pain. Early afternoon saw her having painful tightenings, she sent her husband off to buy a few groceries, he was gone half an hour. He returned to find her on all-fours, telling him that the baby was coming. He insisted they get into the car to go to the hospital, she describes being on the pavement, on her hands and knees, unable to move. He somehow got her into the car, and off they went on a 10 mile drive. A mile from the hospital, stopped at traffic lights in the town centre, she told him the baby was coming, her waters broke and baby’s head started to come. He pulled over, leapt out of the car, asked a group of teenagers to call an ambulance, pulled off his wife’s trousers and baby was born into her underwear. After a struggle with baby and it’s cord, which was tangled in her undies, he gave the baby to his wife. She describes how terrified she was, as initially the baby was ‘floppy’ and didn’t cry, but then she hugged it hard and he cried. They cancelled the ambulance and drove the mile to the maternity unit where Mum had a couple of stitches to a small tear, cord blood was taken, as she was rhesus negative, and they then got back into the car and drove home. When I saw them the next day they were both ‘on a high’. Basically they, especially her, view the experience as being, eventually, better than the birth of their first baby but terrifying at the time. I asked if they would deliberately have an unassisted birth. NO! Would they have a midwife attended homebirth? Not too sure as those seconds, where they thought that the baby was not breathing, made them realise how unpredictable events could be.
Not freebirthing, in fact very much the opposite as Mylene Klass is someone who had private antenatal and birth care. Now though she is outraged at the lack of care she received after the birth of her baby . I have a few thoughts about this, many contradictory. My overall thoughts are that I can’t defend the lack of care she received from the NHS but…..why did she choose to rely on the NHS for her postnatal care having gone privately during her pregnancy and birth? Was it because her private hospital does not provide a domiciliary service, however much you pay and she would have had to go to a clinic for her and baby to be seen?