Giving Birth At Home
Sir, - Your feature "The mother of all labours" (The Irish Times, February 9th) was a harrowing account, whose introduction - "A father in rural Ireland, who watched his partner's attempt to give birth at home end in tears" - had me expecting to read that their baby had died. Fortunately, this was not the case. I don't underestimate their trauma: our planned home birth in 1993 became an elective Caesarean section for pre-eclampsia, and we are forever grateful to our competent independent domiciliary midwife who got us to the hospital when that was where we needed to be . Thankfully, just 20 months later we had the beautiful and empowering experience of a home birth.
While sympathising with the distress experienced by your writer, I must take issue with some of his conclusions. He writes of the "pain-relieving injection" (presumably of pethidine) and "crucially" of a dose of Syntocinon, which were administered in hospital, and then of his baby being born blue and lifeless, needing resuscitation. That was my own experience on the birth my first child in hospital (I was unaware of alternatives); I received synthetic oxytocin and pethidine and my baby took half-an-hour to be resuscitated. I know now it's no coincidence: both drugs have been shown in studies to cause respiratory difficulties in new-born infants. Their continued routine use in Irish maternity hospitals mystifies me.
The independent domiciliary midwives known to me - there are 14 on the list we at the Home Birth Association of Ireland send to enquiring parents - do not fit his categorisation as taking "risks as part of a campaign to return childbirth to the home". They are highly skilled and dedicated to their vocation of providing a home birth to over 200 babies annually. He also states: "We would have to say, from our experience, that having a baby at home in Ireland is just not safe." Perhaps it would be more correct to say, that from their experience, a home birth for their baby was not safe. Marie O'Connor's 1992 study of Irish intentional home births, Women and Birth, co-funded by the Coombe Hospital and the Department of Health (curiously, never published - ask the Department of Health why not) and studies in the British Medical Journal of November 23rd, 1996 and the British Journal of Midwifery, March 1996, all attest to the safety of planned home birth.
Birth can never be guaranteed to end with a healthy, live mother and baby/babies, regardless of where delivery occurs. However, we can be sure of two facts: the safety of planned home birth and the persistence of Irish maternity hospitals in pursuing the active management of women in labour, employing routine techniques from breaking the waters to administering Syntocinon, withholding effective and safe pain-relief such as birth pools and the sustaining properties of food (crucial in long labours, particularly). All this which effectively increases the pain, difficulty and danger of what should and can be an empowering experience. For unbiased information on birth options, write to us or telephone 040557795. - Yours, etc., Monica O'Connor, Co-ordinator, Home Birth Association of Ireland, Langford Cottages, Summerhill, Co Meath.