Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Freedom for Birth

Just a warning for all of you who know me well.  I'm on my soapbox again!  But it is interesting, and an issue I'm very passionate about, so bear with me!

For all three of my births, I've been cared for by some excellent midwives.  Lefty and Righty's birth took place in hospital with kind, supportive NHS midwives.  Coo was born at home seven years later, also with NHS midwives present, and it was a wonderful experience.

But Mr J's birth, three years after the twins', was different.  Lefty and Righty's labour and delivery was induced, and as a result was long, complicated, and difficult.  They were born "naturally" in the end, but it definitely didn't feel very natural to me!  

When I became pregnant with Mr J, I really wanted a more physiological birth.  I'd become friends with a midwife who worked in the NHS, and at a birthday party for her daughter, met more of her NHS midwife friends, most of whom had small babies.  To my surprise, all of these NHS midwives had given birth with an independent midwife, at home.  I spent time talking with them and questioning them, and I realised that with Mr J, I was most likely to have the type of birth I wanted at home with an independent midwife.

Dan agreed with me, and Sarah, the independent midwife we chose based on others' recommendations, made her first visit. We liked her immediately. No insurer will offer professional indemnity insurance to independent midwives, so we signed a document noting that we were aware of that and were still happy to proceed with birth at home minus insurance.  

Mr J's birth was amazing.  [Read the full story here.]  Sarah was reassuring, quiet, strong, and just let me get on with the process. The entire experience was eye-opening and confidence-building for me.  Being able to choose my midwife for Mr J's birth made all the difference.


In October of this year, new EU directives are being put in place that will make it illegal for independent midwives to work without professional indemnity insurance. Because insurance companies refuse to insure them, they will no longer be able to work independently.

The NHS midwifery system is brilliant. Most hospital births take place with no doctor in sight, the midwives fully in charge. The UK's advanced attitude towards women's birthing choices is the envy of many women in more restrictive countries. Wonderful MLUs [Midwifery-Led Units] are being opened all over Britain by the NHS. These birthing units offer labour and delivery in a relaxed, home-like environment for low-risk births.  Sounds great.


Your baby is breech?  Sorry, hospital --and most likely C-section.  Twins?  Yep, hospital.  C-section for your last delivery?  Sure, we'll try a VBAC but only in hospital.  Fifth pregnancy?  Oops, no MLU for you; you're high risk.

So what if you feel you'd rather give birth at home, even with a higher risk pregnancy? And what if you know a midwife who has years of experience in safely delivering all of these types of high-risk home deliveries, but is not allowed to practise legally because she has no insurance?

Maybe you're not considered high-risk at all. What if you booked for a birth at the MLU but it's full to capacity on the night you go into labour and you didn't want to end up in hospital? What if you had a home delivery scheduled with NHS midwives but they can't send the required two midwives to you because of a staff shortage? What if NHS home births are eventually no longer offered because the MLU takes the place of home?

Ever heard of free-birthing?  If you haven't, you'll start hearing about it if the government has its way.  Many women, including myself, aren't willing to be told how we have to give birth.  And if we have no choice but to do so, would choose to free-birth rather than have our choices restricted to whatever the NHS deems appropriate for us. 

Think the fact that you don't have a choice doesn't matter?  Or that the idea of having freedom for birth choices is just not an issue here, because this isn't the USA or Hungary?  Over-medicalisation of birth is creeping up, even in the UK.  Michel Odent calls it the "masculinisation of childbirth".

Take fifteen minutes out and watch this, even if you feel it's an issue you have no interest in.  It's thought-provoking and sobering to see a simple freedom restricted in countries that claim to respect human rights.

Yes, I know... that was slightly over-the-top at times, especially for someone like me who is an introvert in activist's clothing and isn't into drama.  But the basic premise is very important: women should be allowed to choose the manner in which they give birth.  This is a simple issue of human rights!

Find out what you can do to help, and follow Choose Your Midwife, Choose Your Birth on Facebook to support independent midwives' right to practise. 


  1. I had no idea about all of this - I only had one pregnancy since my husband had two children from his first marriage and we only wanted three kids. I went to the hospital for the birth because I had to be induced. I didn't even consider alternatives because I was 1) young and 2) didn't know any better. But boy, if I could go back and do it over, I'd do things differently. I can see how an at-home birth could be empowering and so much better than being surrounded by hospital staff and machines and etc.

  2. I was the same for my first, Melissa... I had no idea, either! It's amazing to see how different things can be at home --obviously, hospital is necessary for some births but not all. :)

  3. If I could do it all over again... my first would have been a great home birth. I had no complication whatsoever and not much pain either. 4 hours start to finish. :) My last two, I would have bled to death, however, it happened because they physically removed my placentas and this caused me to rupture and need blood transfusions. I often wonder if they had just let me be, if I would have naturally expelled the placentas without all the trauma. They seemed in an awful hurry. Anyway, if I could do it over, it would have been so wonderful to have them all at home.


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