“I have no choice but to give birth without a midwife during lockdown”

Written by Georgina Probert

The coronavirus pandemic means that women’s options for giving birth are at an all-time low, forcing some expectant mothers to consider the radical practice of unassisted birth or freebirthing. Georgina Probert, who is 30 weeks pregnant, speaks to three women to find out why they feel giving birth without a midwife may be their only option.

Being pregnant is an emotional rollercoaster at the best of times, let alone during a global health crisis. 

When the severity of Covid-19 became clear and pregnant women were classed as ‘vulnerable’, my first thought was to have my baby at home – after all, the party line is “stay at home, stay safe”. No sooner had I got my head around the idea of a home birth being the safest option, it was announced that many NHS trusts have suspended their home birth services.

With restrictions around where women can give birth and access for birthing partners changing at such a fast pace, it is daunting to plan for a birth you are happy with – let alone your ideal experience.

Many expectant mothers who wanted a home birth with support from NHS midwives are now considering an unassisted birth. Also called freebirthing, this involves giving birth without any assistance from a medical professional. While it is much more common in the US, freebirthing is gaining traction among British women who are determined to give birth at home, with or without support from midwives.

But would pregnant women even be considering this controversial option if it weren’t for the pandemic? Here, Stylist speaks with three women who are considering an unassisted birth in the next few weeks.

“I won’t know until the day if a midwife will be coming to my labour”

Dental practice manager, Jodie-May, 30, from Essex is 40 weeks pregnant with her third child.

My NHS trust is reviewing home births daily, so there is a chance that no midwives will be able to come when I go into labour – and I won’t know until the day. I am adamant that I won’t go into hospital. Many other pregnant women haven’t been taking self-isolation as seriously as me and I could end up on a ward with people who could put my baby in danger.

I’m confident my birth will be safer at home and I believe in the power of mother-led hypnobirthing, which I used during the birth of my son two years ago. My husband is completely supportive of us having to do it alone with no midwife. He says I zone out and ignore them anyway!

Having researched freebirthing online, I feel prepared to have an unassisted birth and I have been listening to birthing affirmations to stay positive. However, I’m concerned about aftercare, such as checking the placenta – this hasn’t really been explained to me. My midwife told me I might have to take the baby to hospital to be checked but, at the same time, I’ve been told to stay in complete isolation. It is very confusing.

“Everything is telling me to stay at home”

Tahnee, 28, is expecting her second child at the end of May. She is a hypnobirthing teacher and founder of Bump & Mind, and lives on the Isle of Wight.

Until we went into lockdown, I had planned for an assisted VBAC [Vaginal Birth After Caesarean] at home. Now, home births are suspended in my area and I’m concerned that I might be refused care. As we are on the Isle of Wight, we can’t transfer to another trust, which has left us with limited options. There are two ‘home from home’ rooms, similar to a birth centre set up, in the island’s obstetrics unit, but they are being reserved for symptomatic women.

I’m going to stay at home and let the midwife know I am in labour, but if they ask me to come into hospital I won’t. Everything is telling me to stay at home. So it will be a case of either a midwife comes out to attend to me or I will freebirth.

Being a hypnobirthing teacher, I’ve got a good understanding of my body and how it works, but a lot of people won’t. If you want to freebirth because you have always wanted one that’s a different story. But if you are only considering it because of the pandemic, exhaust all other avenues and go to the highest point in your trust to see if you can have an assisted home birth.

“My biggest worry would be that an emergency would occur without us noticing”

Laury Needham, 29, from Leicestershire is 41+ weeks pregnant with her second child.

We would prefer a midwife to be with us at home, but if any restrictions were to be imposed, it would definitely be a freebirth. My husband doesn’t drive and there is no childcare for our daughter, on top of the birth partner restrictions now imposed at hospitals. We wouldn’t be willing for either of them to not be present for the birth. Going to hospital would mean I’m on my own in every scenario under the current circumstances. This birth has the potential to become an incredibly negative experience at what should be a happy occasion.

My ideal birth would be very hands-off in our birthing pool at home. We are hoping my daughter, who is almost three, will be closely involved in the process. We have thought seriously about what we’ll do if the situation does force us to freebirth. This includes if, when and who we would call, and if we’d still insist on being attended. My biggest worry is that an emergency would occur without us noticing, which could have life-long consequences for me or the baby.

Despite this, I believe that birth is natural and a labouring woman is best left to do what her body tells her to do. I know I could do it unassisted if needed, considering the fact I want the midwives to be very hands-off anyway (no vaginal exams, minimal disruption from monitoring etc). Being relaxed and calm is key to a good birthing experience for me.

Should you consider an unassisted birth?

Charlotte Edun, doula at The Good Birth Practice, explains why women should not fall into choosing an unassisted birth: “Choosing an unassisted birth is a big decision and women who take this path invest lots of time researching and making peace with the risks and balances,” she says.

“Birth is always unpredictable, so the best birth plans are those that prepare you to cope positively and comfortably whatever happens (rather than laying down absolutes, musts and won’ts). I recommend speaking to your midwife to understand the protocols in your trust and re-visiting your birth plan as many times as you need to.” 

Images: Getty, Unsplash

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