I recently reconnected with one of the doulas that was present at my home birth via Instagram, and it was like a walk down the memory lane of my home birth. A huge smile spread across my face as I read her comment, and I remembered how resolute, how firm I was in my decision to have my son at home. So much so that when my decision was put to challenge whilst I was in labour it did not take much for me to stand behind it and demand that it be respected and honoured.
I would like to share with you my positive home birth story in the hopes that it is helpful to you. Reading a lot of these stories when I was pregnant helped embolden my belief in my body's ability to birth my child, despite what the highly medicalised maternity healthcare models of most developed worlds would have us believe.
Before I can do that, allow me to set the scene: I had walked into a maternity appointment for a routine check-up, and whilst trying to discuss my birth plan, I was dismissed very quickly by a midwife who told me that "no one plans these things". Be that as it may, she didn't wait for a moment to listen to my fears, my opinions about medical procedures or indeed my consent about what may or may not be done to me as a labouring mother who may be too incapacitated to voice her consent or withhold it during birth. She did not care one bit what I thought or wanted. Her behaviour was tantamount to treating me like I was an idiotic child who didn't know her own mind, had no semblance of intelligence to comprehend medical issues, and certainly couldn't be trusted to make decisions for herself.
At the time, black mothers were 5 times more likely to die during birth at the hands of the NHS due to systemic racism - that number has since come down to 3.7 times. She instantly unwittingly became the face of that racism and the danger to mine and my unborn child's life. I did not trust the NHS to see me and my unborn child safely over the sacred passage of birth to the world beyond that.
So I decided to birth my child at home, away from their over-eager meddling hands, their baby heart rate monitors, their vaginal examinations, their inductions, and their forceps . If they could not get to me, I was safe. My baby was safe. Such were my perceived options - safe at home, or at risk of death due to a system inherently biased and dismissive of me because of the colour of my skin.
Please understand I am not advocating for unsafe birthing practices. I am well-aware that the option for a home birth may not be open to everyone, and that hospital births are often times the best choices all things balanced. I am also aware that expectant mothers of other races face the same dismissive behaviour as demonstrated by the midwife in question.
Yet I am also aware that my decision was needlessly challenged by people who knew nothing about my pregnancy, my health status or indeed the "risk rating" of said pregnancy. I was told that I was being irresponsible, risking the life of my unborn child, and was being naïve for wanting to birth my child at home. What about in case of emergency, they cried? What about in case of emergency indeed?!
I dare you to ask your maternity care providers that question, and very quickly you will learn about what constitutes an "emergency", the nature and speed of interventions you are likely to get and how that differs whether you are giving birth in the labour ward or at home. How quickly will they get you to an operating theatre for a c-section if you need it? Unless this is a crash c-section, it is very likely the birthing mother in hospital will wait just as long as the expectant mother commuting into hospital for that so-called "emergency". So I'll ask again, what about in case of emergency?! I lived a mere 8 minutes from the hospital!
And when my son was born healthy, inquisitive and thriving, I was told about "how lucky I was", that "it could have gone so wrong!". How lucky.
There is space for all of us; don't let them convince us that we need to fight each other on this score.
You must understand that the outrage towards my birth plan, and my eventual positive birth experience, was not directed so much at my decisions themselves, but at the fact that I was audacious enough to dream them. It was that audaciousness that was an affront to them. An affront to their personal experiences, their medical training, their expectations, and their world views. My decisions insulted them. Without meaning them to be, they were seen as invalidating to their own prior decisions and experiences. How dare I!
Birthing my son was an extraordinary experience. Having had nil expectations as a first time mother of what birth meant, I was left to experience every minute with a mixture of incredulous awe, surprise and often times sheer panic. As each phase of labour came and went I found myself thankful of one thing - I was glad to be doing this incredibly hard work in my home, safe and surrounded by doulas I implicitly trusted to advocate for me and honour my birthing decisions.
In the end, the homebirth midwives that came out from the hospital to care for me that night were delightful creatures, and I am thankful to them as well.
I will share my home birth experience with you in the next instalment, but in the meantime let me leave you with this: All birth experiences are valid. I am sharing my positive experience in the hopes that it is reassuring to one mama-to-be out there who is desperately searching for some reassurance just like I was when I was pregnant. I hold space for the ones that did not go to plan, the ones that were traumatic, the hospital births, the medicated birth and the c-section births (both by choice and as a response to medical needs). There is space for all of us; don't let them convince us that we need to fight each other on this score.
Let's comment with compassion and mutual respect in the comments below and share our thoughts and experiences on maternity care. What worked for you? How would you have liked things to be different?
As always, with all my love
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