This post was previously published on January 28th. I’m reposting it with the addition of a poll. If you are a mother, please take the short poll at the end of the page. Thank you.
A couple of days ago, I read a sad article written by a mother whose homebirth hadn’t gone the way she’d hoped it would. She’d prepared wonderfully for the experience, was informed, positive, and had even hired a photographer to take photos of the birth. She dreamed of the images she’d have of the event, the ones we often see from homebirths – peaceful scenes with the mother labouring in the birth pool, the loving husband supporting her, and then the elated mother, proudly holding her baby to her chest after the birth.
Unfortunately, this mother’s labour was long and difficult, she was in agony and asked to be taken to the hospital, but her support people told her she could do it. They encouraged her, ignoring her request.
Her dream birth didn’t eventuate.
In the photograph taken after the baby was born, she looks exhausted.
Her baby appears lifeless.
The midwives worked on the baby until it was rushed to hospital.
Later, the same day, I read a blog written by another mother about her hospital birth: The Day the Earth Stood Still. This baby also required special care after the event. The writer simply states the facts of what she was aware of during her birth, but it was easy to imagine how traumatic the experience must have been for her.
All the careful preparations and plans these mothers made didn’t result in the births they’d hoped for. Their experiences were troubled, and there was concern about the wellbeing of their babies.
In western society, where we have control over so many facets of our life, there is a raging argument about which is the safest place to give birth — home, birth centre, or hospital — but as these two stories show, neither home or hospital can guarantee a good outcome, and I know birth centres can’t either.
As I wasn’t present at either of the abovementioned births, it’s impossible for me to accurately assess what went wrong, but as a midwife, it was difficult to restrain from questioning some of the decisions made by the professionals in both births.
Did the homebirth midwife realise that labour was not progressing normally? If she did, I’d assume she did a vaginal examination to investigate why it was stalling, and perhaps it was difficult to assess the baby’s position. I can’t know her thoughts, but the one point that screamed out to me in this article, was that the mother pleaded to be taken to hospital. Why did they ignore her?
In the hospital birth, I suspect the baby became distressed during the labour, which made me wonder if the panic that set in during the pushing stage was because the medical staff hadn’t responded appropriately to the earlier concerns. Or was it because the doctor was inexperienced with forceps and vacuum extractions?
Or did it became complicated despite the best possible care and without any reasonable explanation, because birth, like everything else in life, holds no guarantees. It is risky, but compared to many of the risks we take on a daily basis, it’s relatively safe.
Often, both mother and baby do well.
Sometimes, mothers suffer, emotionally, physically, and/or mentally from the experience. Sometimes the baby’s suffer. Sometimes, both.
Babies are born every minute of every day, and yet, it’s always a special event, one that will be marked with celebrations every year for the child, and one the mother will remember for the rest of her life, so it’s understandable that those involved are devastated when their birth goes wrong in any way.
When the child suffers, it breaks our hearts.
But if the mothers are emotionally wounded because they feel they’ve failed at something they should have been able to do, or if they’re left with physical injuries, or post traumatic stress syndrome, western society tends to belittle this, with the familiar chant, ‘at least you have a healthy baby, that’s all that matters.’
It’s not all that matters.
My goal as a midwife was always to give the mother the best birth we could achieve together, taking into consideration the safety and wellbeing of everyone concerned. I believe the only thing we can truly control during a birth is the way we treat those involved — mothers, fathers, and babies.
Birth is more than a physical procedure, it’s also a spiritual event, and for the parents it’s loaded with dreams, fears, and anticipation.
The best obstetricians and midwives can’t make every birth perfect, but maybe all health professionals could make the difficult labours a little less traumatic by respecting the mother and the process.
Perhaps we should be seeking ways to improve the birth experience of mothers and babies wherever they choose to have their baby, rather than arguing over which place is safest.
I’ve attended births in homes, birth centres, and hospitals, but even though the most memorable ones took place in homes, I still strongly believe that the safest place for an informed mother to give birth is in the place she feels is best for her.
And then she needs to be cared for by professionals who respect her choices and abilities.
Did you feel respected when you gave birth to your baby or babies?
Please take my simple poll to let me know.