Reports suggest that the Duchess of Sussex plans to give birth at home, just as the Queen did. While I’ve no doubt Meghan will be extremely well organised and looked after by the royal household and the very best medical team, nothing – not even all these months of relentless media scrutiny – will prepare her for the judgement and unhelpful comments from people unimpressed by her choice. Having had two wonderful home births of my own, I know the unwelcome and almost always unresearched opinions come thick and fast, right up until labour day and beyond.
Why, like Meghan, Meryl Streep, Demi Moore, Davina McCall and Gisele Bündchen, did I choose not to go the route of modern convention? I’m not remotely hippie, not anti-establishment, very much not an earth mother and have no axe to grind. I have enormous faith in medical professionals and great pride in the NHS. But I was born at home, as were two of my brothers, and I feel most relaxed, at ease and in control in my own house. The fear of chaos and noise, loss of privacy, of doctors watching clocks and deciding I’d been in labour longer than hospital guidelines prefer and so suggesting we cut things short with medical intervention, or being left alone for hours on end, not being able to eat, listen to music, open a window, and in particular, spend the night with my family – it all made me very anxious.
I instinctively knew that this anxiety wasn’t the right environment in which to safely deliver my baby, and my NHS midwives and GP agreed with me – every mother is entitled to be considered for delivery at home, and is within her rights to change GPs if her requests are stonewalled.
Like Meghan’s, my pregnancies were healthy and normal and therefore ideal for planned home birth. Nonetheless, I researched home birth thoroughly and felt reassured that the hospital was nearby if things didn’t go as they should, or if I needed more pain relief on the day (most home birth hospital transfers happen because the mother decides to have an epidural, or because either she or the baby is too tired and stressed to continue without assistance). We can only choose so much – nature should always have the casting vote.
Meghan will, yet again, be accused of being contrary and wilful; too American, New Age and modern for engaging, ironically, in the same practice as our beloved Queen. But what Meghan and Harry have reportedly signed up for is not the primal-screaming, placenta-eating, primitive affair people might imagine. A home birthing family can usually expect two midwives (sometimes with students present to observe) bringing with them the same gas and air canisters offered by delivery wards, and a load of other medical paraphernalia to check and monitor the baby’s progress, perform minor surgery and repair, and deal with resuscitation emergencies.
Their side of the bargain includes a duvet they won’t miss when it inevitably ends up in a binbag (top tip for the Duchess: Primark), clean towels, an anglepoise lamp in case of post-labour stitches. Harry, or any other home birth partner, is there to support mother and team, fetch supplies as needed, make up a fresh bed and to provide a steady flow of tea. Before midwives leave, they perform all the necessary safety checks on mother and baby, help latch him or her onto the breast and arrange to visit the following day. Throughout the entire process, the mother is never left alone, as is commonplace in hospital.
I support wholeheartedly any woman’s decision to deliver in hospital, birth centre, pool or operating table for that matter. I just wish that those who’d never make my decision would extend home birthers the same courtesy, or at the very least acquaint themselves with the facts.
Family members, colleagues, complete strangers who knew not the first thing about it, told me constantly that home birth was unsafe. In fact, the stats for planned home birth, in real terms, are as safe as hospital delivery. The word ‘planned’ here is essential, because too often all home births are lumped in together as though they speak for the practice as an entirety.
For example, a woman who goes into spontaneous labour too early is obviously ideally better off in hospital. Ditto teenage girls, who either don’t realise or ignore that they’re pregnant and end up giving birth in the downstairs loo.
Then there are women who have sudden labours and very fast deliveries at home, or the frankly irresponsible minority of women who choose “freebirthing” i.e. labour without any medical assistance. These cases are often plonked under the same umbrella, which only skews stats and public opinion. Planned home births like mine or Meghan’s are organised in conjunction with a GP, hospital and local midwife team, and ultimately signed off by a consultant obstetrician if there are any doubts.
When people aren’t sounding alarm bells, they’re sniping to home birth families about perceived cost to the taxpayer, a spectacular failing in maths that fails to consider that interventions, obstetricians, anaesthetists, epidurals, hospital beds, Caesareans (far more common at the end of a planned hospital birth, chiefly because epidurals are known to slow down labour) are all infinitely more costly than two qualified midwives with basic pain relief drugs in someone’s home, using their water, electricity and linens.
Having been through it twice, I am genuinely excited for Meghan and Harry – whether they ultimately first meet their baby at home or a hospital. Less than two hours after the first contraction of my second labour, two NHS midwives left me in my own bed, in clean pyjamas, my favourite mug of tea in one hand and a contentedly breastfeeding baby boy in the other. The house felt calm, familiar, relaxed, and I was on cloud nine. I hope that after nine months of such ludicrous scrutiny and judgement over her own pregnancy, Meghan is left to enjoy the same.
Have you chosen to give birth at home? Were you or your children born at home? We want to hear your home birth stories in the comments section and in the Telegraph Family Facebook Group.