[The following is an edited version. This post was taken down for a few days out of respect for a family whose baby was stillborn.]
A major article 'Home deliveries' appeared in the Sunday Age yesterday.
The article focuses on the issue of 'free birth', and one proponent in particular. Comments by representatives of the College of Midwives, Homebirth Australia, a public hospital maternity service, a homebirth mother-lawyer, and an independent midwife are sandwiched between the sensationalist story about and comments by a woman who prefers to be an "autonomous care provider".
There are many points in this article that would be worth discussing further. The fear that home births are being pushed underground has been explored by midwife academic Jenny Cameron. The victims of restrictive government policies that force women into the care of unregulated and sometimes unscrupulous operators are women and their families. Midwives offer excellent primary maternity services in communities, working with women in complex ways to promote physiologically normal births, with the wellbeing of mother and baby being central to all professional guidance and advice.
The woman is reported to believe "that nothing bad happened quickly in labour and that there would be time to get to hospital if things went wrong." A person who believes that is simply uninformed.
The issue of birthing alone, by choice, is one that questions the very foundations of midwifery. What has brought women to the place where they believe it's best to DIY? Is this the ultimate adrenaline rush; the ultimate search for meaning?
I have been told that there are variations of the 'solo' birthing phenomenon. Often the woman's partner is present, having been instructed ahead of time as to what is expected. There may also be an unregistered birth attendant. That person may have been present for a number of births, and there may be an expectation that she would act to help if there was a need.
Someone suggested that the partner could do a first aid course in resuscitation of a baby. Resuscitation is only ever needed if a baby is unable to breathe unassisted, and this is a true emergency.
Most people would not like their tooth filled by someone who had gone along to an evening class to learn about dentistry. How much more important is the newborn child, than a tooth needing to be drilled and filled?
In many parts of Australia the only way to access midwifery services for homebirth is privately. The obvious pun on 'free' birthing is that you don't pay a midwife's fee - which may be from around $2000 for one midwife to around $5000 for two, who provide a package of professional services through the pregnancy, birth, and postnatal period. In fact, 'free' births may not be free. Lay birth attendants may charge around $1000 for a prenatal chat and the labour.
We do not know how many planned unattended home births there are. Of the planned homebirths, some are born before the midwife arrives. In my practice alone, I might see one or two a year. There are many more unplanned 'out of hospital' births - the babies that come quickly, before the mother has got to the hospital: in the bathroom at home; in the car; on the freeway ....
Some authorities claim that most planned unattended births are that way because the woman has no access to a midwife who is able to attend birth in the home. I don't think anyone really knows, but that has not been the case in the planned 'free' births I have heard about lately.
Midwife means 'with woman'. Since women began having babies, other women have been 'with' them, and out of this phenomenon the professional midwife has evolved. Something has gone very wrong when a woman believes she is better without any skilled professional attendant. I grieve for that woman. A true midwife will be with woman, while at the same time supporting her desire to be free. It is expressed beautifully in the ancient statement attributed to Tao Te Ching, about 2000 years ago,
You are a midwife.
You are assisting at someone else's birth.
Do good without show or fuss.
Facilitate what is happening
rather than what you think ought to be happening.
If you must, take the lead.
Lead so that the mother is helped, yet still free and in charge.
When the babe is born the mother will rightly say
"We did it ourselves".