Homebirths in Ireland are rare. For most people it seems to be accepted that giving birth is a medical concern, best occurring in a hospital with machines, drugs and a football-team-worth of people to gaze at the machines, administer the drugs and coach you through the excruciating experience that is bringing life into the world.
Except, here’s the thing. It’s doesn’t have to be an excruciating experience. In fact, if managed well, and if we are lucky, it can be the most life-affirming, empowering experience there is, whether it takes place at home or in hospital.
Some of us will need the machines and the drugs and a room full of people in hospital uniforms. But many of us won’t; in fact what many labouring women need is an atmosphere as cosy and nurturing as the one that led to the baby getting in there in the first place. Truth. Oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’ is triggered during sex and is the same hormone that stimulates contractions during labour. You want to make sure your the conditions are right for optimal oxytocin production? Low lighting, a calm environment, feeling safe and cocooned and loved up… Sounds more like your bedroom than the delivery room right?
In certain countries, homebirth is practically mainstream. In the Netherlands, 16.3% of all births are homebirths while in England and Wales, 2.3% of women gave birth at home in 2015. In Ireland, just 0.2% of births happen at home. Why such a difference?
In Ireland, you won’t even be presented with home birth as an option, unless you seek it out. In fact, women who broach the subject with their GP or hospital consultant often find themselves being cautioned, discouraged or outright reprimanded for enquiring as to the possibility.
It’s not surprising then that the reaction of the extended family can also be lukewarm when you announce your plans to birth at home. A number of myths persist in relation to homebirth and range from worry about the inconvenience of it (“but who’s going to clean up”) to genuine concern for your safety and that of baby’s. Below is just a handful of myths and questions that came up for me when I decided to go down the homebirth route.
- Yes, it’s safe. In fact, a study of births in England in 2011 found that for women having a second or subsequent baby, a planned home birth was as safe as a planned hospital birth for baby and offered health and other benefits for the mother. For women having their first baby, there was, however, a small increased risk for baby. It’s important to note that these statistics are for women who are low risk – that is they are healthy, with a straightforward pregnancy and no previous obstetric complications.
- Yes, you can have a homebirth with your first baby. Yes, despite what your GP tells you (” I thought the homebirth midwives weren’t keen on taking first-time mums”) or the woman behind the counter in the health food shop (” You can’t have a home birth with your first though ” …um.. I just told you that’s what’s happening… “No I know you can’t” uhh okay then). But you also need to be aware that first-time mums end up transferring to hospital during labour much more frequently that second-time mums, mostly because of the prolonged length of time in labour (usually first-time labours are longer).
- You can use a birthing pool but homebirth does not automatically mean a waterbirth. As in if that’s not your thing, you don’t need to go down that road. It helps A LOT with the pain relief though, assuming you can get the pool filled in time And even if it is your thing, for various reasons the midwives may not want you to give birth in the pool and frankly, there’s no messing with what the midwives say. They are your ultimate support, your ally, in this most amazing of experiences. Also, (in case you were wondering… I swear I wasn’t kept up late at night wondering about this), there is no record of a birthing pool ever crashing through the floor of the upstairs bedroom, or the apartment upstairs.
- Won’t the neighbours hear me (and how will I ever look them in the eye again?) Maybe this one depends on the thickness of the walls, but I laboured with my first baby for over 24 hours in our 3rd floor apartment and nobody would have been any the wiser if it hadn’t been for the notes my husband left under the neighbours’ doors (something along the lines of.. “We’re having a homebirth.. please don’t freak out and call the police if you hear any strange noises”). On baby number two, I laboured in the bedroom beside where my two-year-old was glued to cartoons. He was none the wiser until hid Daddy guided him into our bedroom to meet his little brother. “Ok got it…baby is here.. . can I watch Winnie the pooh again now?”
- But the mess, what about the mess? This was one that preoccupied me more than the worrying about the neighbours and the noise. But within a couple of hours of my second baby being born, our little apartment was pretty much tidier than it would be for months afterward. You also get to stay in bed for a few days anyway, leaving plenty of time for your partner to get that birthing pool tidied away. Turns out childbirth is not quite as messy as you think, the midwives are absolute pros at the tidy up, and incontinence pads are your best friend ( I said it’ll be tidy, but it’s not glamourous..)