Standing alone among all the ignorant dross being spouted in our national press about caesareans and home birth lately was Lucy Cavendish’s smashing, well-informed, knowledgeable and humane article in the Independent. And a mum called Louise has sent me her lovely birth story to cheer me up.
What makes Lucy’s article stand out from the rest? Well, firstly, she has had a home birth. Secondly she has had a hospital birth so she is better placed than most to compare the two. Thirdly she has looked at the research carefully instead of reading the scare headlines about home birth being “risky”. And fourthly she keeps an open mind and does not seek to IMPOSE her way of birthing on others.
I feel most disappointed with The Times over this. My old employer has gone completely over to the dark side on birth, with cheap scare headlines and shrill, ranting comment pieces. 14 years ago they published my account of Agatha’s birth – a happy home birth story. It seems to have disappeared in the mists of time, like so many digital articles do.
I also feel disappointed by the way supposedly intelligent women journalists have handled the issue of birth. As soon as childbirth appears in the news, these ladies seem to lose all common sense and revert to Glenda Slagg mode in seconds. From Lucy Mangan describing the NCT as a “lie factory” without anything to back up this outrageous claim to my dear friend the otherwise adorable and always brave Cristina Odone blogging about how much “better” a Caesarean is in the Telegraph. Even the Guardian joined the chorus. Yes! The Guardian! With a particularly ill-judged and half-baked article by Barbara Ellen. The first rule of writing about childbirth for women writers? “However I had MY baby was the ONLY CORRECT way of having a baby and ALL WOMEN SHOULD BE FORCED TO DO IT MY WAY! END OF!”
The Birthplace Study does not say that home birth is unsafe. It says quite the opposite. The headline which should have been used ought, surely, to have been the one which flew in the face of public assumptions – the proof that having a baby at home minimises complications and is as safe as hospital for most births. The study in fact says this:
Giving birth is generally very safe
For ‘low risk’ women the incidence of adverse perinatal outcomes (intrapartum stillbirth, early neonatal death, neonatal encephalopathy, meconium aspiration syndrome, and specified birth
related injuries including brachial plexus injury) was low (4.3 events per 1000 births).
Midwifery units appear to be safe for the baby and offer benefits for the mother
For planned births in freestanding midwifery units and alongside midwifery there were no significant differences in adverse perinatal outcomes compared with planned birth in an obstetric unit.
Women who planned birth in a midwifery unit (AMU or FMU) had significantly fewer interventions,
including substantially fewer intrapartum caesarean sections, and more ‘normal births’ than women
who planned birth in an obstetric unit.
For women having a second or subsequent baby, home births and midwifery unit births appear to be safe
For multiparous women, there were no significant differences in adverse perinatal outcomes
between planned home births or midwifery unit births and planned births in obstetric units.
For multiparous women, birth in a non‐obstetric unit setting significantly and substantially reduced
the odds of having an intrapartum caesarean section, instrumental delivery or episiotomy.
For women having a first baby, a planned home birth increases the risk for the baby
For nulliparous women, there were 9.3 adverse perinatal outcome events per 1000 planned home
births compared with 5.3 per 1000 births for births planned in obstetric units, and this finding was
For women having a first baby, there is a fairly high probability of transferring to an obstetric unit during
labour or immediately after the birth
For nulliparous women , the peri‐partum transfer rate was 45% for planned home births, 36% for
planned FMU births and 40% for planned AMU births
For women having a second or subsequent baby, the transfer rate is around 10%
For women having a second or subsequent baby, the proportion of women transferred to an
obstetric unit during labour or immediately after the birth was 12% for planned home births, 9% for
planned FMU births and 13% for planned AMU births.
So how “home births are risky” can be extracted from this is anyone’s guess. The question about childbirth which the highly paid women journalists should be asking this autumn is:
“If birth is so safe at home and in a MLU, then why are so many women still too scared to do it? Who is scaring them? Who is making them so frightened that they believe they are physically incapable of birthing their own children?”
Then perhaps a quick glance in the mirror would give them a hint of the right answer….