Do we need spectators during the agony of childbirth?
- Credit: PA
Giving birth is fast becoming a spectator sport. As a baby's head crowns, it's not unusual for a throng of the labouring woman's family and supporters to outnumber the midwives and medical staff in the delivery room.
Her partner might be rubbing her back, her mother mopping her brow with her sister and her best friend at the business end making encouraging noises.
Poor midwives. They have to add crowd control to their list of delivery skills, nimbly negotiating bodies, and other voices shouting instructions, around the bed or birthing pool to do what they have to do for a safe delivery.
Each to their own, I suppose, but I can't imagine much worse than gatecrashers at one of life's most intimate moments. Though even queens, centuries ago, had to endure the indignity of giving birth in front of an audience, with their coterie and almost the entire court in attendance.
Today, what was not so long ago a solitary experience for women, when even husbands and partners were kept away from the action, is growing into a new team game. Some families turn birth into a party, the more the merrier. Party poppers for the last push, bubbly to wet the baby's head on the spot. It's the perfect stage for exhibitionists.
Give it a few years and birthing could be an Olympic category, with grandstand seats. Entrepreneurs could make a few bob each birth by selling tickets.
This week Jamie Oliver, always one to stir it up and add controversy to the mix, and his wife, Jools, took the delivery room audience one step further this week during the birth of their fifth child.
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Their two eldest daughters 14-year-old Poppy Honey and 12-year-old Daisy Boo watched their mother push their baby brother into the world and cut the cord. Oliver didn't say if the girls had asked to be at the birth or it was something that he and his wife had suggested.
However it happened, I don't understand why any woman would want their children to witness the agony, and often distress, of labour, which is – are you listening men? – the most painful and exhausting experience imaginable, as well as the most unpredictable.
Birth is not child friendly. It's messy, stressful and can go wrong. However much we like to believe we can plan, take control of our bodies and make it all happen how we'd like, we can't. That's nature's job and nature can be cruel.
Women often change character when labour takes hold, sometimes scarily so.
Giving birth takes focus, concentration and headspace as well as the obvious physical exertion. Other people just get in the way. A mother would be worrying more about how her other children were feeling than getting on with the job.
But, like the Oliver children, more parents want their older offspring to be part of the event, midwives say.
I can sort of see that, if you get it right and it could help the family to bond and prevent older children becoming jealous of the new baby. Just about.
But, more realistically, it could be traumatic and life-changing, in all the wrong ways. How many women have the serene and unassisted perfect home birth?
A baby in distress, the delivery room becoming an emergency situation and the children's mother being sped to the operating theatre would leave a lasting impression on a child, for all the wrong reasons.
Of course, the trend started in the US where parenting blogs and YouTube videos tell how to make it a joyous family occasion.
I just feel for the midwives competing with the unqualified advice, dodging the size 12s of dad and granddad and answering the questions of 12-year-old girls.
Personally, I prepare the exclusion zone approach, with a door firmly closed allowed to do my own thing behind a closed door, stoic, with no fuss or intrusion. Best all round.