I am a big fan of the Why It Matters series of detailed and concise guides to pregnancy, birth, and early parenting subjects, so I was quite excited to get my hands on the latest volume: Why Home Birth Matters, by Natalie Meddings.
I have given birth in hospital once and at home twice, and many of my friends and family have also given birth at home. Having been exposed first hand to a range of experiences, I was very interested to see what Natalie had chosen to include in her book. Birth is such an emotive subject, and home birth arguments often become polarised between those who only see the risks and those who refuse to see the risks. What I found was a delightful and realistic guide to home birth. As well as going through the practicalities and advantages of birthing at home (mostly focused on the set up in the UK), Natalie discusses why a home birth might not be appropriate for all mothers and babies, and why a home birth might become a hospital birth. Discussing how these transfers are not usually the life-and-death emergencies man suppose them to be gives a clearer idea of how home birth works: we are so lucky in this country to have access to very highly skilled midwives, who are able to observe that things may not be following the best course early on, long before an emergency occurs, and preventing it. Natalie reminds us that midwives have the same monitoring and resuscitation equipment at a home birth that they have in hospital. By going through the physiological processes of birth, Natalie highlights how "terrifying television portrayals...have about as much to do with real birth as porn does with real sex." I love this! But because most of us are only exposed to those media portrayals, many mothers may find that they are immediately criticised for considering a home birth. This book arms expectant parents with the facts that they will need to address any concerns from people they care about (top tip: if you don't care about a person, don't be bothered by their opinion on your birth. It's presumptuous of them to offer one). Natalie also shows beautifully how the processes of birth are supported in the home environment in a way they cannot be in a hospital, and how birthing at home stacks the odds of an intervention-free birth in the birthing parent's favour.
Bob and I on the sofa, seconds after his birth
There is only one thing in this book which caused me to hesitate. Natalie describes labour beautifully, abandoning the language of "stages" in favour of describing the process as a series of rooms the birthing person passes through. She describes the build up to labour as a time when you can still return to normal and speak between contractions, and labour as the time when you enter yourself and can no longer do this. This was not my experience, so I asked around, and found that it was not the case for many of my friends either. In fact, we hear time and time again of mothers being disbelieved when they tell their carers that they are in labour and close to birth, because they can still converse. I think this is something that i highly subjective, and should be applied with extreme caution.
Sausages and Bob coming down in the morning to find Baby 3 had arrived while they slept
I think this book will be very helpful for expectant parents considering their place of birth to make informed decisions, and to withstand pressure from others to capitulate and go to a hospital, where as Natalie points out, their chances of a physiologically normal birth are greatly reduced. Home birth is not the best option for every family, but it is a safe and enjoyable experience for many, and I hope this book will help them to see that!
Hospital was the best place to birth my premature baby
If you would like to learn more on this subject, I highly recommend Tell Me A Good Birth Story, your local Positive Birth Movement group, and Becky Reed's account of her work with the Albany group, Birth in Focus.