Freebirthing – would you choose to give birth without a medical professional?
Every woman is entitled to the birth she wants, but what if you don’t want a midwife or doctor present? Nancy Dorchester reveals why she used freebirthing for her second baby…
With my first baby, Javier, 5, I’d planned a home birth. A few weeks before my due date, however, we discovered he was breech.
An obstetrician tried to manoeuvre him into the head-down position [a procedure called external cephalic version], but this didn’t work and I was told that as my baby wasn’t in the optimum position a hospital birth was the best option and a caesarean was likely.
I knew the risks of a home breech birth, but after consulting several independent midwives and obstetricians, I felt that it was the natural thing and that I could do it.
I told the hospital that I was going to have a vaginal birth at home, and two midwives were with me for the birth. For much of the time, however, I insisted they stayed outside my bedroom.
Even when they did come in during the final stages, I didn’t let them touch me. I just knew I had to listen to my body and remain relaxed. Giving birth to Javier was one of the most empowering experiences of my life.
“I decided to go it alone next time”
When I fell pregnant again, I decided that I wanted to give birth on my own. After Javier’s birth I knew it was possible. Opting for an unassisted childbirth, or ‘freebirth’, wasn’t an irrational decision.
I did my research and I wasn’t inflexible – I fully intended to call for assistance if the need arose.
I discussed it with my partner, Justin, and he was supportive – after seeing how I’d coped first time round he had faith that I could do it. Although there had been two midwives present then, I’d essentially done it by myself so it didn’t seem like a huge step.
“We were worried it could be illegal”
We didn’t tell the hospital, mainly because we thought it was illegal and that Justin might be prosecuted for being in attendance at a planned freebirth. Because of this, I didn’t even tell my mum about our plans.
A couple of days before my due date I experienced mild pains all day, and by 3pm my contractions started in earnest. Justin came home from work early to set up the birth pool we’d hired, and by 8pm I was starving.
After a few mouthfuls of scrambled egg, my contractions stepped up a gear.
“I had complete confidence in my body”
I wasn’t frightened – I had confidence in my ability to do this alone. I’d been told how to do an internal examination on myself by the independent midwife I’d consulted prior to giving birth to my first baby, so I knew how far along I was. I got into the birthing pool and tuned into my body, following my instincts and doing what felt natural.
I wasn’t worried about bleeding or tearing (even though I’d torn with my first birth), and I’d done research into water births so I knew what to do. I think it was very important that I’d made sure I was informed and knew what to expect.
About 45 minutes before I gave birth, however, Justin called the midwife. I was mad at him at the time (I screamed out when I heard him on the phone).
But he made the call as he didn’t want to risk being prosecuted. Still, we both knew it was too late – our baby would be born before the midwife had time to get to us.
“I didn’t check my baby’s sex for 20 minutes”
During the final stages, I didn’t push, I just breathed through the contractions and let them do the work for me. It was incredibly peaceful and natural.
When Angelo was born, weighing 8lb 8oz, I cupped his head in my hands and lifted him to the surface of the water. It was amazing and beautiful and everything else disappeared – it was just me and my baby.
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I put him straight to my chest and we remained like that for an hour, until the midwife arrived. I didn’t even check what sex he was for nearly 20 minutes!
I didn’t tear this time and the placenta was delivered naturally. That hour was utterly magical and the most profound bonding experience.
“One woman said I was dangerous”
Midwives tell me I’m lucky that nothing went wrong, but I believe that a lot of childbirth complications are caused by unnecessary disturbance of labour and intervention, which causes fear and anxiety in the mum and stress in the baby, prolonging labour and making it more risky.
I was interviewed on local radio, and one woman called in and said I was ‘dangerous’ and ‘mad’, but the most common response I get is ‘That’s amazing!’
Birth is too often treated as an emergency situation, when it’s a natural function of the female body. My experiences inspired me to train as a doula, and I now work with women during childbirth to make sure their voices are heard. Women can give birth alone, but it’s not for everyone.
Wherever you decide to give birth, I think it’s important to ensure that you are fully informed, and that you know yourself and your body.”
Unassisted childbirth: the experts’ view
Is it safe?
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) vice president, Maggie Blott, says, “Those women who give birth without a hitch on their own are very brave, but also very lucky that obstetric problems did not arise during their deliveries.”
The RCOG also states that there is no reliable research regarding the safety and success of unassisted childbirth, and that women should be aware that mums may need to have quick access to care during emergencies.
Evidence shows that 30% of low-risk pregnancies require transfer to hospital on account of complications during delivery.
Is it legal?
“If a woman gives birth before medical professionals arrive, then those who assist her would not be open to prosecution because it is an emergency scenario,” says Janet Fyle, spokesperson for the Royal College of Midwives.
“And if a woman decides to give birth completely alone, without assistance, she will not be prosecuted. However, if a woman plans to give birth with someone other than a doctor or a midwife to assist her, then that person could be prosecuted. It is illegal for anyone other than a registered midwife or doctor to assist in the delivery of a baby.”
What our mums say about freebirth
When we shared this story on Facebook, we have to say we had quite a reaction.
"I'm normally one to say to each their own but I'm just amazed that people would want to put themselves at risk," says Kathryn G.
"I'm just thankful this was a positive outcome and we're not reading it as a warning story - but I just can't fathom why you would risk it.
"Even home births with midwives present seems alien to me - but I understand that a little bit."
"Me and my daughter would be dead if I tried that," Tricia M tells us. "Sounds good but in theory for most, not very practical xx."
Ruth N is unequivocal: "No chance. I had planned a home birth with midwives for my first child: I ended up in hospital being prepped for emergency c-section before she was born by forceps delivery.
"She was in danger and we had to get her out straight away. She was literally ripped out of my womb. She could have died. Difficulties during birth are not uncommon and it's always better to be safe than sorry.
"Willing to risk your child's life and your own to me is ludicrous. I know lots of women every day have very straightforward births and I also know there is far too much intervention nowadays than perhaps is necessary but why risk it?
"There must be a middle ground where you get the sort of birth you want without risking lives."
And May B reckons she'd definitely think about it: "I would but with someone on standby."
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