At this point we’ve all heard that Meghan Markle is planning to have a home birth. What we haven’t heard is much support for her decision, with all speculation focussing on her age and the risks of birthing outside of hospital. In the absence of any real discussion of her ability to choose, her innate knowledge, and the high likelihood that her birth will be uncomplicated, I would like to voice my support and share my experiences with you.
I too, was a woman in my thirties who chose a home birth for my first child. Even though I did not know anyone who had done it, I had researched enough to know that it was a safe choice, a quieter and less invasive choice, and a perfectly legitimate one. Because it is not the norm now everyone questions it, forgetting that pregnant women used to be cared for exclusively by midwives.
In my twenties I studied anthropology, and completed a whole semester’s research on the medicalization of childbirth. I traced back to when and why birthing was brought to hospitals, out of the midwives’ domain and into the (male) medical model. It was fascinating and opened my eyes to how medicine can be controlling and was especially dismissive of women’s knowledge. This attitude prevails in today’s society, with mothers routinely ignored and overridden to the point that we often don’t trust our own bodily signals or intuition.
After that course, I knew I wanted home births for my own children, despite not knowing anyone else who had done it. My son Dante was born a few months after Dannii Minogue’s home birth didn’t work out, but that didn’t sway me. Also, my husband wasn’t on board initially, but after showing him research and documentaries and chatting to homebirth midwives, he saw that giving birth was a natural process that didn’t need to be feared. I was 30 years old, very healthy mentally and physically, and had a low-risk pregnancy. We booked with the Adelaide Women’s and Children’s hospital in South Australia to have a home birth through their midwifery program.
Two days before our official due date, I woke with contractions. Anthony set up our birth pool and called the midwives, and I could hardly wait to get into the water once it was ready. One midwife arrived after about an hour and checked my progression, which was steady and quite fast. From the time I woke up to the time Dante was born, only four hours passed!
The second midwife came through our front door just as Dante was coming into the world. It was nice to have her there as she was my primary midwife throughout the pregnancy, but it wasn’t really necessary. Everything went very smoothly and Dante and I sat in the pool learning to breastfeed while we waited for the placenta to come. He was a bit bruised in the face from such a fast delivery but otherwise perfectly healthy. I was over the moon that I was now a mother, and I loved the experience of being at home in my quiet, private place. I enjoyed chatting to the midwife throughout the labor and having Anthony’s support, and always felt relaxed and really happy that he was on his way.
Throughout my second pregnancy, we were living in a smaller town which does have a hospital but no home birth midwifery program. There was one private home birth midwife there though, and we employed her services as soon as we discovered my pregnancy. I was 34 and even more confident after such a successful first birth experience, and I assumed that this labor would be as short or even shorter than Dante’s. I was very wrong!
My second labor was slow and drawn out, and took almost 24 hours in the end. It wasn’t all active labor though and my waters didn’t break: my daughter was born fully in the caul the following morning in our birth pool. I expected that the whole experience would feel the same as Dante’s birth, and I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t. But there were no complications or difficulties apart from it taking so long, and finally Allegra was born, perfectly healthy and exactly on her due date. Dante was three by then and was amazed and a bit overwhelmed by the whole process.
If my waters had broken early in Allegra’s labor, we might’ve ended up in hospital like Baha Nourian did. But our midwife was keeping an eye on how I was going, and we fully trusted that her knowledge and experience would keep me and our baby safe.
Throughout both of my labor experiences, our midwives did little more than check my progression and quietly oversee the proceedings. There was never any talk of needing more resources or attending hospital. There were back-up supplies on hand and qualified staff in attendance, but the midwives didn’t need to do anything to help me give birth. I caught both of my children in the birth pool, and was free to move into whatever position I liked best the whole time.
The midwives helped to clean up and stitched me up afterwards, and took some measurements of our babies later on. They had the essential knowledge that could’ve been used if necessary, but they were able to leave me to it, and I had different but equally powerful experiences.
I think most women’s home births are fairly straightforward and hands-off like mine were, although of course there are times when complications arise. I have two friends who planned to have home births this year, but both ended up in the hospital for different reasons. It was not what they had hoped for but when it comes down to it, they and all mothers want a safe delivery and healthy child, however it happens.
I also have many friends who have successfully given birth at home, and several did it on their first attempt like I did. Others were unhappy with their experiences in hospitals and chose homebirths for their subsequent children. We all trusted that our bodies could do it, and knew that if anything did go wrong the hospital wasn’t far away.
There is such fear in our culture that mothers and babies could enter a life-and-death situation in the blink of an eye, but in reality, that almost never happens. All mothers who plan a home birth are advised to let the nearest hospital know of their due date and their plans. We all must remain low-risk throughout our pregnancy and we are all educated and responsible. And we are all just performing the most natural of processes, that our bodies are designed to do. We do not need to be managed in many circumstances, we just need to let our baby and our innate wisdom flow through.
Every single woman I know who has planned a home birth is highly intelligent and well-researched. We are not a bunch of nitwits who want to stick it to obstetricians. We educate ourselves, have faith in our bodies, and would never risk the health of our babies unnecessarily. We also must do it within a society who looks down on us and actively wants us to conform, simply because we are not going along with the most popular option.
I think it’s wonderful that Meghan is opting for this path, despite what would probably be intense pressure from most people around her. Let’s celebrate her right to choose, and her willingness to be different when she is such a well-known public figure. Let’s celebrate strong and educated women who want the best experience for themselves and their children. Let’s celebrate each parent’s right to a private affair, including their decision not to push Meghan and the baby to be photographed immediately after the birth. And let’s celebrate the royal baby, and all babies, however they enter the world. They are all miracles.