By Sue Leonard.
Published in Feelgood, The Irish Examiner on Friday, 22nd August.
Most women give birth in a hospital. It’s where they feel safe, and cared for. Others prefer to have their babies in the comfort of their home, with the assistance of a trained, professional midwife.
Some women go further. They are choosing to give birth at home without anyone medical present at all. They’re going for an unassisted or Free Childbirth.
Freebirthing has become popular in the States. The movement is led by Laura Shanley, a mum from Colorado who has written a book about Freebirthing. She had all her four children that way.
A few women in England are following Laura’s example. Some of them could be seen on a TV programme ‘Outlaw Births,’ shown on Channel 5 back in July.
Does Freebirthing happen in Ireland? Krysia Lynch coordinator of The Home Birth Association of Ireland has heard of such births spoken of.
“But here they are not so much Free Births as ‘unassisted deliveries,” she says. “This is where a woman actively chooses to have an unassisted delivery, but will not have an unassisted pregnancy. She will be taking ante natal care, either from a hospital or a homebirth midwife.
“The Home Birth Association does not support unassisted birth,” she stresses. “We advise women that if they want to have their baby at home they must be under the care of a professional.
“But some women will do so. And for a whole variety of reasons, some logical and some less so. Some will talk about it in hallowed terms.
“A midwife may not need to assist much in the first stage of labour. You might manage without her in the second stage. It’s during the third stage that complications can happen. I think it’s complete insanity to go it alone.”
Irish women won’t admit to many people that they planned an unassisted delivery.
“The husband will call the midwife and say that the baby has already been born. Or they’ll go to a hospital to get the baby checked and say the birth took them by surprise.”
Freebirthing is legal in Ireland. There is no legislation outlawing it, and no law covering the area at all. There is a law saying that only a medical practitioner should attend a woman, except in an emergency, but it would it would be hard to prove that should a partner assist, he hadn’t done so because of urgent necessity.
Tracy Donegan, a Doula, can understand why a woman would choose an unassisted birth.
“I don’t see many of them, but I am seeing some; particularly those who have had bad hospital experiences,” she says. “They feel confident. They have no fear. They think birth is a normal part of life.
“But Irish couples don’t openly admit to planning an unattended birth. In Ireland saying you’re having a homebirth is seen as strange. Saying you are doing it without a midwife, they’d think you were insane.”
Sarah (name changed,) had decided on a homebirth after a horrendous hospital birth.
“The birth in hospital was, in my eyes inhumane,” she says. “My son was born in two hours, but it took two years of counselling to get over it. My doctor diagnosed post traumatic stress disorder.
“I researched the area of birth. I became involved in different organisations and I trained as a doula. For my second birth I engaged an independent midwife. But somewhere deep inside me I knew I was going to birth this baby myself. An instinct told me it was going to be ok.
“At the end of the pregnancy I felt, ‘I am ready. I felt connected and knew everything would be ok. I had no pain until the baby was coming out. My husband was there and my best friend, but I was in another world. I lay on the floor and the contractions were intense but not painful.
“Then I felt sick and realised the baby was coming. Two pushes and he came out. None of us were afraid. I felt enveloped in safety and love. We then called the midwife who took over. There was such peace in that room.”
SIDEBAR. WHY WOMEN CHOOSE AN UNASSISTED BIRTH.
· Women who have had a traumatic hospital experience, whose only option is a hospital birth. Maybe there are no homebirth midwives in their area, or they do not fit the criterion. They may be in a pathological state.
· Women who want a home birth for whatever reason, and cannot get one.
· Women who actively want an unassisted birth. They may have had a few homebirths already. They realise they could, actually, do it on their own.
· Women who have a deep spiritual connection with birth. Maybe they have worked as a doula, or have witnessed lots of homebirths. They trust their body and the process of birth. They would aim for an unassisted delivery, but they trust that their body will sense if something is wrong. They’d then call a midwife.
© Sue Leonard. 2008.