I’ve been hearing stories from so many women lately who wanted a homebirth but, for various reasons, couldn’t make that happen. Either they didn’t have the options necessary in their community or they were risked out, or they had no support. We seem to have a whole new subset of birthing women out there – the homebirther at heart stuck birthing in hospital. It’s a really hard place to be. You don’t fit in with the hospital birthers OR the homebirthers. No-one seems to really understand your pain and loneliness and sadness. You don’t seem to have a tribe. I’m not going to say that “I understand how you feel” because everyone will feel differently. But here’s my story as a “homebirther at heart stuck birthing in hospital”.
I don’t often write about homebirth. Because I’ve never had one. I haven’t really felt “qualified” to give my opinion on homebirth. But here’s the thing – I really wanted a homebirth! I voiced my idea about wanting a homebirth when I found out I was pregnant with my first baby and my partner basically said no. His opinion was that our baby would likely be too big and therefore I’d need help. So instead of doing any research (I didn't even know there was research I could do!) I spent my pregnancy sulking about the fact that I was stuck with hospital care. I ended up with a caesarean. Second time around I wasn’t going to be pushed over – I had done my research, knew my stats and knew that my best chance of a healthy birth was to have a homebirth.
The birth I wanted. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Then a few things combined to make that not a reasonable option. I started looking for a midwife to support my plans when we started trying to conceive. I thought that given how many women seemed to have no trouble HBACing that this would give me HEAPS of time! I started e-mailing all the midwives on the Homebirth Australia website. The responses started to come in…"sorry I don’t service your area”; “sorry I don’t attend HBAC”; “sorry I’m out of town on your due date”; “I can support you at hospital if you like”. Then I fell pregnant first cycle. My partner and I were both unemployed and I had so far managed to save $200 of an estimated $5000. Then my mother in law died. Then we didn’t know where we would even be living by my due date. On top of all that my partner still didn’t support a homebirth. I could not handle the emotional stress of attempting to make a homebirth happen - even if I had known what to do!
To say that I was devastated would be an understatement. Every time I thought of having to go to hospital I would start to cry. I had a complete panic attack during the hospital tour and almost ran out. I felt ill at the thought of having to birth my baby in hospital. And deep down I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. It just never felt right. I didn’t feel like I would be able to “switch off’ as I didn’t trust the midwives involved. My “best case” scenario was that the birth would happen so fast that I wouldn’t make it to hospital – but I knew that was be unlikely.
So what should I have done? I did an independent childbirth education course, which was brilliant and gave me some AWESOME techniques to use. I hired a doula – who I loved and trusted totally. I learned all I could. I practised declining things I didn’t want. But I still wanted a homebirth. And every time someone told me that I SHOULD have a homebirth another piece of me died inside. Because I couldn’t see a way to make that happen. Even if I could get the funds and a place to birth the baby ALL the midwives I had spoken to had been unable to help me. I didn’t realise that there were other midwives out there. And I certainly didn’t know how to access them!
Planning my second hospital birth is the biggest regret of my life. Even though I didn’t feel I had any other options it is a decision I will feel sadness about for the rest of my life. Yet it is hard to find other women who share that sadness. I feel like the homebirthers are all shaking their heads and saying “I told you so” and all the hospital birthers don’t seem to understand why I even wanted a homebirth to begin with. Then there’s the group of people who suggest that obviously it’s a good thing I was in hospital since I needed a caesarean. And the “all that matters is a healthy baby” group.
This looks nothing like home, does it? Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
To anyone who has a friend telling them that they really want a homebirth but can’t here’s a couple of tips:
DON’T tell her that she can have a really nice hospital birth. She doesn’t WANT a hospital birth! She KNOWS that hospital births can be nice to some women, but that isn’t what she wants. It makes me think of the reservations clerk who told us that our hotel chain had no vacancies in the Gold Coast property so “would you like to book into Cairns instead?” – ummm no…Cairns is a lovely destination FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO GO THERE, but it’s NOT where I want to go right now and just because it’s in the same state doesn’t make it a “good” option – it’s 1500kms away!!! Hospital birth is probably about 1500kms away from homebirth – you cannot have a homebirth in the hospital.
DON’T tell her how much you think she SHOULD have a homebirth. Unless you have a workable option for her - like a midwife lined up who is happy to attend her, a house for her to birth in that will not require her to move away from her life and the money to pay for it all. She KNOWS that she should have a homebirth – it’s why she wants one. Every time you tell her how much she really really really should homebirth a little piece of her soul will die.
The choice in maternity care in Australia is a big fat illusion. We DO NOT all have the same options. Many options are dependent on finances. Some options are simply not available in some communities. Some options are highly dependent on support from your family. Some options just plain suck.
I will not be attempting to birth in hospital again. I have well and truly learned my lesson. I AM a homebirther. I do not labour well in hospital surrounded by people who don’t think I can do it. I do not labour well when I feel trapped and scared. I understand this now and I know more about what I need to do next time to ensure my own safety.
But to the woman who is not there yet. Who has no support. Who has no real options. I say this: It may suck and you may feel sad. It may feel like nobody understands. You may feel traumatised and panicked every time you hear about a homebirth and / or a hospital birth. It’s okay to not feel excited by the prospect of birthing in hospital. It doesn’t make you a bad mother to feel sad about the fact that you are being forced into a birth location not of your choosing. I don’t know how to get over the feeling of loss and grief – because I never did. Talking about it with others helped a little, but I carry my feelings of sadness with me all the time.
The women of Australia DESERVE real choice, real autonomy and real respect. But we are a long way from achieving it yet. Until we do I imagine there will be a LOT more women falling into the category of homebirther at heart stuck birthing in hospital.
Private obstetricians do have a higher fee for caesareans I believe. Then there are also additional fees for the anaesthetist and longer stay in hospital. In the public system I believe that hospitals simply receive the funding on the basis of what happens and the Obs are paid a regular wage rather than a for service fee.
I totally get you, Lizzi. I too always wanted a homebirth. I got 0 support, so I reluctantly went to the hosp. I'll spare you the gruesome details. After that, I vowed to never birth in a hosp. again. I started educating myself. I had 2 UCs before I found a midwife - by that time, I was a midwife! My 1st homebirth labor was only 1 hr, I was sure glad I hadn't planned on going to the hosp. as I never would have made it!
I'm so pleased that you have had positive experiences since your first. I'm a bit of a slow learner and silly me went back a second time...I'm planning to UC for my next if I can't get a midwife - and with all the restrictions currently being placed on midwives it's unlikely I'll be able to find one to support me.