Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

To home or to hospital?

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A huge response to the last Keeping Mum blog on home births speaks volumes to how many passionate home-birthers there are out there in cyber space.

And quite a few strident anti-home birthers as well, of course!

In one of the responses, a poster asked why I would write such a blog.

"What is your point?" the comment read, as though perhaps I should have concluded from my findings one way or the other that home births are good or bad.

For what it's worth, I'd like to share my thoughts on this highly contentious subject.

First and foremost, I would never attempt a home birth myself. I am simply too scared of something going wrong to even contemplate it. I have obstetricians and the most modern medical science to thank for a son that's even alive, let alone healthy, and I don't have a natural aversion to hospitals that many other women seem to. Perhaps marrying into a family of medical specialists has also influenced me.

However, I can certainly understand why a woman would feel that she would like to give birth at home.

I've known a couple of very intelligent and otherwise sane women who have opted for home births and who seem to have come away with a lot of satisfaction from the experience.

One woman could perhaps be described as a modern-day "hippie", but the other spent years obtaining IVF treatment for her precious daughter and decided she'd had enough medical intervention in the process already.

Not only this, but perhaps more commonly, I've known quite a few women who recount tales of dissatisfaction with their hospital births, a sense of disappointment that they ended up getting more "help" than they originally thought they would require, and I am one of those too.

Here is what happened: I envisaged a pain relief-free birth for my second child, my daughter.

My obstetrician - who had seen me through an extremely difficult and traumatic first pregnancy - was my natural choice for the second baby. But my request to have a pain relief-free birth didn't seem to sit well with him.

My understanding is that something like 80 per cent of women receive pain relief during birth, and I feel he didn't believe I could belong to the remaining 20 per cent.

He warned me to hire a private midwife to see me through the birth if I was determined to have the baby "naturally".

As this was a rather cost prohibitive option I decided to dispense with that advice and trust that my husband would be able to keep me buoyed up through the process. I specifically asked the obstetrician to encourage me if I was losing my will to avoid the epidural.

The upshot of this story is this: a baby that was almost two weeks overdue, an induction, extremely painful contractions from the get-go, a pain relief-free labour for some 14 or so hours and then the obstetrician declaring me only half dilated - and me begging for an epidural.

I felt my first urge to push as the epidural was finally going into my spine. The baby ended up being suctioned out with the ventouse cup, and I narrowly avoided going into theatre for a c-section because I lost my ability to push almost immediately.

I am very grateful to have a healthy daughter, of course. But I can't help still feeling angry that I wasn't helped over that pain threshold with more active encouragement.

Of course, an obstetrician seeing seven women give birth on the same night is not able to provide that level of service, and a tired husband, sick of seeing his silly mare of a wife groaning in agony for hours on end because of some macho desire to experience the same labour her foremothers did, was not able to buoy me sufficiently.

It's a feeling that perhaps men - and probably some women - can not quite understand: why you want to do it yourself, why you want to experience the pain and push through to the other side of it.

Why you feel disappointed in yourself when you don't have the reserves of strength, bravery and forbearance you thought you had.

And now I've been through that experience myself I do understand why women choose to avoid the whole issue by staying at home, where they believe themselves to be more in control of proceedings.

However, for me the risks of potentially not getting to more extensive medical help in time outweigh that lingering, perhaps somewhat irrational, irritation I have over a moment in time some 12 months ago now.

- Dita De Boni

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