We should not be made to feel guilty about hospital births

Giving birth is not straightforward - it can be traumatic and problematic.

Giving birth is not straightforward - it can be traumatic and problematic. - Credit: PA

In an ideal world, pregnant women would pop out their babies with the minimum of fuss and mess. A few hours of 'throwing away the pain' through controlled breathing, a quick squat with a few determined gargantuan pushes and out would spring baby. Just like that. Perfect. Hey presto.

In our perfect world, our babies would be born in the comfort of our bedrooms, resting on Cath Kidston bed linen in the antique iron bedstead with a midwife standing by encouraging our empowerment to do our birthing our way with no fear of anything ever going wrong.

Now wouldn't that be lovely?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence seems to want us to live in this cloud cuckoo land, a la-la world where hospital care is unnecessary, save for more complicated cases, because little old childbirth thing is perfectly natural and should be straightforward. Emphasis on the 'should be.'

It is now urging women to opt for home births or midwifery-led units because it is better for them and their babies, they say.


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Now it might seem cynical to link any suggestion that women should stay away from hospitals to the fact that we have the highest birthrate now for 40 years and that, as delivery units groan with labouring mothers, women on the verge of giving birth are turned away from full units to travel miles to find a hospital bed to deliver, it's all about saving money than in the interests of baby and mum safety. But you see how I'm thinking.

What's cheaper than providing more maternity beds? Keeping women at home by extolling how lovely and rose-tinted home births are. Today just 2pc of the 800,000 births a year in the UK take place at home. There's a reason for that – things go wrong and women are scared.

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One in four hospital births ends in a caesarean-section delivery and a further one in eight involves the use of either forceps or ventouse suction cups.

Nice, the government's health advisory body – welcomed by the National College of Midwives and the National Childbirth Trust – said that, for women whose pregnancy had been straightforward and who have already had one child, should forget about hospital and think of spreading a plastic sheet on the living room floor.

What they are doing, by making hospital look like the last resort, is making women feel guilty about wanting anything other than a home birth by normalising home birth as the right way. This is so dangerous and could lead to trauma, distress and worse, loss of life. The thing about childbirth is that it is so unpredictable. Ask any midwife. No birth is the same.

This week's recommendations are all about saving money rather than saving lives.

We have a duty to ensure our babies come into the world as safely as possible with their needs uppermost. They they don't give a jot whether the mother is following her 'plan', looking for an 'experience' or submitting to medical intervention.

'Empowering' women – and making them feel guilty not to or a failure to opt for hospital – is a retrograde step, foolhardy and a move that will be regretted.

• BOTH MY PREGNANCIES ENDED UP IN THE OPERATING THEATRE

A perfectly straightforward healthy problem-free pregnancy can lead to a problem-laden, Emergency Ward 10 birth situation. I know. I've had two.

My pregnancies couldn't have been more straightforward. In the last weeks of both, I was up ladders decorating rooms, tearing around feeling great.

On paper, my births should have been textbook-simple. In reality, they could be case studies for what can go wrong. Both ended up in the operating theatre.

Had I, filled with the well-meaning propaganda from the National Childbirth Trust, pushed for my instinct of a home birth, it would have been terrifying or worse.

Filled with ideas of having the power to will the perfect birth – thank you National Childbirth trust, again – I rocked up at the old Norfolk and Norwich maternity unit with a plastic bucket and a birth plan. To spare the queasy, the bucket was advised to open the birth canal. The midwives must have had a right laugh at the idealistic thirtysomething first-time mother who thought she could control nature with a bucket from Homebase.

Fourteen hours later, the useless bucket hurled in the corner, someone finally noticed something was amiss. My 8lb 4oz boy was trying to emerge into the world sideways – deep transverse arrest. So into the operating theatre I was rushed for an emergency C-section and a huge sense of failure.

With my second textbook pregnancy, I stupidly insisted on a natural birth because I'd felt I'd failed the first time. It was achieved with such trauma I was whisked off to the operating theatre for three hours to be put back together. A home birth? Not on your nelly. Some women are just not designed to give birth naturally and easily – but, usually, that fact only emerges well into labour.

Doctors saved my baby and my life and were there the second time to save me.

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