Dot writes: this is a post that may just be perpetuating an uncomfortable incident those involved would like to put behind them, but it has been making me uneasy and I feel the need to say my piece. Recently Sarah Stewart commented on a post by “Dr Crippen”. The post was about an incident in which an independent midwife based in Kent had written online about a homebirth which, in Dr Crippen’s view, had been seriously mismanaged. There has since been a bit of an online spat about Sarah’s intervention, which I found a bit upsetting because I like Sarah and I felt Dr Crippen pitched into her in an unnecessarily harsh and personal way (though Sarah now would like to take back part of what she wrote – that’s why I’m not directly linking to it).
What made me deeply uneasy was the way Dr Crippen’s post, intentionally or not, became a forum for people to gang up on homebirthers. The comments included numerous derogatory references to ‘madwives’ and seemed to see the incident described as typical of homebirth and midwife-led care, which I sincerely hope it’s not. One person commented that it was ridiculous to do ‘something as dangerous as giving birth outside a hospital’. What happens to women and babies caught in the middle of all this hostility and fear? If support for homebirth and faith in normal labour can’t come from within the mainstream health-system, then the sort of dodgy practice Dr Crippen criticises will be the only alternative to hospital birth; but I don’t accept that a woman who chooses homebirth is selfishly endangering her baby for the sake of ‘a hippyish sense of well-being’ (to quote another choice phrase from the comments). I refuse to believe, as this comment seems to imply, that the woman’s job is to grin and bear it while something happens in her genital region that isn’t about her at all. Nor do I think the benefits of homebirth are analogous to having a chocolate eclair and a glass of wine after your lentil stew. They’re not some kind of frivolous extra; the hope is that the physiological process itself will go more smoothly in a more familiar and calm environment.
The thing is, after reading about the case Dr Crippen criticized I did actually feel quite alarmed about what can go wrong at a homebirth and wonder if, when the time comes to produce Prawn’s little brother or sister, I will have the confidence to go through with one. Who knows whether the next labour will be as easy as this one was? Women need their caregivers to understand that birth is a personal, social and spiritual event as well as a physical one for both mother and child; they also need their caregivers to jolly well know what they’re doing from a medical point of view. A polarisation of ‘medwives’ and ‘madwives’ can only harm everyone involved.