Experiences of booking a home birth in the UK

On this page, women have described in their own words their experiences of booking a home birth.  Some found it easy, whilst others encountered opposition.  If a 'booking story' in your area is included, it may be particularly relevant.  Where an author's email address is included, she has offered to discuss her experiences if readers would like to contact her directly. 

Scroll down through all the stories, or jump straight to one. The stories received most recently are at the top of the list:

Anonymous in Slough
Anonymous in North Devon
Sue in Gloucestershire
Claire from Leeds
Helen in Hampshire
Anonymous in England
Kristy in Nottingham
Joan Smith
Jo Bottomley in Taunton, Somerset
Caroline Graham in Lowestoft, Suffolk
Julie Curran in Selby, North Yorkshire
Pam Beck in Suffolk
Anonymous in North Yorkshire
Anonymous in Edinburgh
Alyson O Neil in Fife
Anonymous in Edinburgh
Penny Gaines in West Sussex
Helen Griggs in Colchester
Joyce Johnson in North Surrey
Cerys Byrne in Basingstoke, Hampshire
Anonymous in Suffolk
Nikki McFarlane in Gloucestershire
Angela Horn in London (Greenwich)
Wendy Bambury in London (Tooting)
Catherine Bethell in Reading, Berkshire
Sam Newman in South Oxfordshire

The Stories (newest first):

 

Anonymous from Slough

I knew I wanted a home birth long before I got pregnant. So, when I was 6 weeks' pregnant and my GP asked which hospital I would deliver in, I said that if I had a straightforward pregnancy I would have my baby at home. It was immediately obvious that she thought this was unwise. She began by saying that a home birth was not advisable for a first baby and went on to say that anyway a home birth was not an option in this part of the country. Even if I did manage to find a midwife willing to deliver me at home, she added, she would not be happy to come to the rescue if anything went wrong. What's more, she stressed that since she works part time, if I needed emergency treatment when she was not on duty I'd be stuck. Up to that point, I had politely replied with "I see" and "Really?", but I couldn't take anymore of this rubbish and reminded her that, unlike her, 999 does not function part time. She also said that if I had a hospital birth I could be discharged as soon as 6 hours after delivery, so I wouldn't have to spend much time in hospital if that was what I wanted. I began to wonder if she would quote every single line from the “You can't have a home birth because...” section in this website.

I had meant to inform my GP of my intention out of courtesy and somehow expected I wouldn't have the approval of the medical establishment. I had also done quite a bit of research on home birth and knew the information my GP had given me was misleading to say the least, so I didn't take much notice of her advice and went on to see my community midwife.

My midwife, too, said she would not recommend a home birth for a first baby, especially not to someone with my medical history. I had some abnormal cells removed from my cervix with a procedure known as diathermocoagulation, which has left a small superficial scar on my cervix. She claimed that the scarred tissue could prevent my cervix from opening up properly in labour, and I could end up transferring from home to hospital for a C-section. This was later dismissed as nonsense by the consultant obstetrician I saw at a routine hospital appointment.

I wanted to keep my pregnancy as stress-free as possible and didn't feel like engaging in a battle against the NHS. Above all, I felt it was important for me to be looked after and delivered by someone I knew and trusted and who fully supported my decision. For these reasons, I booked maternity care with an independent midwife - an expensive option, but worth every penny. I had a beautiful and exceptionally easy home birth a month ago and couldn't be happier with my choice.

My advice to women keen to book a home birth is to do some research before discussing this option with a health professional. Sad as it may be, my experience shows that you cannot always expect to receive accurate and unbiased information from your GP or midwife.

Anonymous in North Devon

My first baby is due in August and due to a deep fear of hospitals I have decided on a homebirth. I live in North Devon and the midwives have been great. I was really worried about demanding my right to a homebirth expecting the old "....not recomended for a first baby..." but it couldn't have been further from the truth. Instead I got "...great we really love homebirths......good for you...." I don't even have to see my GP. A new system has also just been introduced in our area. From now on all women in labour will be attended to by a midwife they have been seeing through their pregnancy which the midwives are really pleased about. This means that hospital or homebirth we are going to be lucky enough to have a familiar face with us.

Sue in Gloucestershire

You wanted to know about experiences booking a homebirth. Here's mine since I feel it is important that people hear the good experiences as well as the bad ones.

My first daughter was born in hospital after a long (26 hours), but straight forward labour with TENS and pethidine for pain relief. However, since she was small for dates I'd seen more than enough of the hospital for monitoring before her birth. And I saw more than enough of it afterwards, because she wouldn't breastfeed.

When I discovered I was expecting my second child I rang my (Herefordshire) GP's surgery, who put me in touch with their practice midwife. (I live a mile or so south of the Herefordshire border just into Gloucestershire.)

She was really kind and helpful and didn't bat an eyelid at me requesting a home birth. However, she said that the way things were funded she could do antenatal care if I had a hospital birth in Gloucester, but not for a home birth. She therefore contacted the nearest Gloucestershire midwives on my behalf and it was they who took over my care.

Again no one ever questioned my wish to have a home birth. They seemed to have a clear protocol for doing home births, they knew what they had to bring and what they needed me to provide.

They nagged, very politely, that I ought to see my GP who I'd managed to avoid right at the beginning of my pregnancy, by being so late for the appointment he'd been called away (Not intentional - toddler, tractors and no parking spaces!)

I have to say I was in no hurry to try again, since I haven't lived here that long and didn't know him well enough to know how he'd react. When I finally did see him he was fine about the whole thing and quite happy to come out and check the baby afterwards. He was more concerned about where my house (a bit in the middle of nowhere) was than where I was having the baby.

He was also fine about providing a prescription for some pethidine, which the midwives preferred not to carry.

The midwives continued to be supportive through out my pregnancy and by the time I went into labour most of the team had managed to find the time to visit my house, to meet me and to find the place.

In the end Isobel was delivered by the midwife who had handled the majority of my antenatal care, whom I knew well and liked and who my husband had also met.

Sue Hutchinson mum to Emily 30/1/98 and Isobel (HB) 23/2/01
smh@whabbit.demon.co.uk

Claire from Leeds

I had a trouble free pregnancy and birth with my daughter (born in October 1999) and was incredibly lucky in that my community midwife was on duty the night she was born. All my aftercare was also with her and when she signed me off she said "let's try a home one next time!"´. The idea really stayed with me.

Sadly I moved out of the area, but when I discovered I was pregnant again in February 2001 I borrowed 'Home birth' by Sheila Kitzinger from my local library and decided to request a home birth.

The GP looked very shocked when I made my request - she hummed and hawed and said that the practice didn't do them. Then she scurried out of the room to talk to her colleague. On her return she suggested that the best thing I could do was wait until my booking appointment and discuss it with the practice midwife. I had to wait until I was 13 weeks pregnant before I could see the midwife and was starting to get a little apprehensive about her reaction. However, she was utterly delighted. It transpired that the practice (a partnership of 6 GPs) had had a policy that they would not deal with home births but would refer those who requested them to more sympathetic GPs. This was because one of the partners was 'very anti' (her description). However, in January this year that particular GP had left the practice. When I made my request the remaining partners discussed the policy and changed it!

If all goes well I'll be the first (planned) home birth for 15 years at my medical practice. I was a little concerned about the level of experience but my midwife regularly attends other home births as she is part of a wider community team.

From Helen in Hampshire

Having read many other experiences of both trying to book a home birth and the struggles women have had to stay in control of their labour once in hospital, my experience was by no means unusual but did have a devastating effect on me emotionally and mentally. It is something I have no intention of allowing to happen again.

Pregnancy No.1 was a complete no-no. I was living in Alton, Hampshire at the time and got absolutely no support from my GP or the midwives. In fact my GP was almost hostile! I eventually realised I was not going to get my wish when the convinced my husband he might lose both me and the baby if he didn't talk me out of a home birth. The rest of this story is only dredged up in extreme circumstances, or when a well-meaning midwife catches me out!

Pregnancy No.2 and a house move to Whitehill, Hampshire. You might think this would be a different story, particularly as my midwife has a lot of experience with home deliveries. Not so. Due to the fact that RSCH, where Harry was delivered, cannot find my notes and Harry's delivery was not straight forward, my midwife is reluctant.

We compromised by booking me into The Grange, which is a midwife run wing of the local hospital. Over the last few months (I'm now 28 weeks) I've mulled over the differences between going to The Grange and staying at home. The only difference I can think of is that they are about 5 minutes closer to the hospital should I need to transfer. The Grange do not have blood should I need a transfusion and they cannot perform ventouse or forceps deliveries. I challenged my GP recently with these thoughts and she was still reluctant, talking about bleeding and the possibility that the ambulance might not be able to find my house. My road has a huge motorcycle shop on the corner, I think they'd find us!

Finally my husband championed my cause directly with our GP and she has actually admitted to performing many deliveries in far worse places than my home, and that she'll make sure she's not on holiday when the baby is due! Now I just have to convince the midwife.....

I would like to say that, had I been better informed first time round I may have had a home birth with Harry, or at least had the opportunity to try. It was my error not to get the facts, but I have to say that those facts are not easy to get hold of, unless you're on the internet. This time I've done enough reading to know what my rights are and what can go wrong, but more importantly what can go right! I honestly believe that I am a perfect example of why home births should be supported more readily by the NHS. My fear of losing control was totally vindicated by going to hospital. At least at home I know my wishes will count for something.

Hope all this helps someone else make the right choice for them!

Helen.

The (hospital) birth story of Helen's first baby, Harry, is online.

From Anonymous, in England

I requested a home birth from my G.P. as soon as the pregnancy was confirmed. I was 34 and it was my first pregnancy. Both my doctor and my midwife were positive throughout - the only exception being when the baby temporarily went into breech position at about 32 weeks. It turned out that my midwife was very experienced in home births, so I was able to get exactly the kind of birth I wanted. This included no ultrasound, no blood tests, no vaginal examinations (before or during labour) and a flat full of friends ! I had a lovely, pain-free labour because I was totally relaxed about the whole experience.


From Kristy in Nottingham

I had a far easier experience booking the home birth than many of your other correspondents, it was a remarkably pain free process. My midwife was extremely positive, though both the GP and hospital doctor were not, as it was my first baby. There were mutterings about unknown pevis, first birth, risky etc! However, I decided to trust the midwife - they are the experts. I was always prepared to go into hospital if they said so - I relied on their judgement.

Kristy's first baby was born at home in May 1998. Her birth story is online.

From 'Joan Smith' in England

I first asked about having a home birth when I went to the doctor having found out that I was pregnant again just five months after having our first son. I was very disappointed when the doctor informed me that home birth was not an option in our area, and I dismissed the idea and booked into our nearest maternity unit.

In fact, there is no part of the UK in which home birth is 'not an option'; this doctor was deliberately misleading his patient. Anyone who hears a similar line should contact the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) for help in booking a home birth.

When I was about six months pregnant, I happened to mention home birth to my midwife at a routine antenatal appointment. She didn't seem surprised at the doctor's response, sighed, and told me that of course home birth was an option. Doctors dismissed the idea because they felt the risk was too great and that they would be responsible if something went wrong. However, the midwives arranged the home births without doctors being involved at all, and they had a very positive experience of the benefits of home birth. .. We booked the birth as soon as we decided to go ahead, as due to lack of resources, the midwives in our area can only take on three home births in any month.

While you may be told that your health authority will only take a certain number of home birth bookings, etc, you should not let this deter you from booking a home birth if that is what you want. Such 'limits' are best ignored. It is the health authority's responsibility to sort out its own staffing problems, not yours. Again, AIMS are the people to contact if you have any trouble.

Joan's second baby was born at home in May 2000; her birth story is online.

From Jo Bottomley in Taunton, Somerset

I had a disastrous experience of booking a home birth with my first child.

First stop was my GP. She told me outright that I could not have a home birth. Her reasons - First baby, you have Asthma (very mild, I might add ) and you're too fat. I left in tears. Next stop was the midwife. "The doctor has already said no" was all she would say.

The consultant was worse. They scanned me and decided that I had got my dates wrong by around three weeks. They refused to believe that my dates were correct even when I pointed out that my husband was two hours drive away at the time of conception having an operation and that there was no possibility of it being anyone else's. Again I left in tears.

When even my midwife refused to believe my dates, I requested a new midwife from the director of midwifery. I was asked to go in to the hospital to speak to her and after a very long chat she seamed happy that I knew all the "risks" and understood my reasons for requesting a new midwife and home birth.

Things seamed to be going well until my due date came and went. When I was two weeks overdue I contacted the midwife to ask what I should do. She told me not to worry as I wasn't due for another week. I was frantic with worry as I was being told that my baby may be stillborn if I went too overdue. When I was FIVE weeks overdue I was finally induced.

Jo's baby, Daniel, was born by a difficult forceps delivery, which left her with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Exactly a year later I conceived. Unfortunately the director had changed and was not happy for me to have my baby at home even when I explained that I was now terrified of hospitals. I was told that I could not have the midwife that I had requested as she was ill, but strangely she had taken on another woman who was due a week before me. This time I refused to even discuss a hospital birth so she resorted to scare tactics. She told me that I would die or my baby would get stuck. I was told that not every woman could give birth, and second babies are usually 1lb heavier than the first. She described in great detail haemorrhaging and shoulder dystocia. She didn't like the fact that my friend and I were not afraid to research things on our own and ask questions that she couldn't really answer.

We discovered that there wasn't much they could do in hospital if the baby got stuck, so I wouldn't be much worse off at home. I was summoned to see a different consultant this time after asking for midwife only care. He was OK. He advised me to go to hospital but wished me luck all the same.

Jo's daughter, Cathlin, was born at home on 2 February 2000 - Cathlin's birth story is online, together with more details of Jo's experiences.

From Caroline Graham in Lowestoft, Suffolk

caroline@grahama.screaming.net

I was told by my doctor that baby number 4 would be due on the 21st September 1998 and I waited patiently for my booking visit with the community midwife, Karen, who asked me where I wanted to have the baby. As my last child was born in 1989 I presumed she meant in the hospital on a bed!!! She said in hospital or at home and I automatically said Hospital. She said that she really enjoyed home births and would like me to have one. After she had gone and when Andy came home I discussed it with him and he was a bit worried about it as this was his first child; the other three were from my first marriage.

I decided to get some books from the library and I also purchased Sheila Kitzinger's Home Birth book which Andy and I read with great delight. I rang my midwife and told her I had changed my mind, she told me that as of the end of that month she was transferring to a different part of my town and another midwife Sharon would now be my midwife and she really liked home births too. I had already had my booking in visit at the local hospital by this time so they did not know of my plans.

Doctors visits, scans and all those lovely tests followed. The scan at 19 weeks told us that the placenta was low and another scan for 24 weeks was booked where I was told that the baby was small for dates and perhaps it would be a good idea if I gave up work (Yes!!!) Which I did and rested up. The hospital told me that I may need another scan but the midwife at 32 weeks said that the baby felt a good size and didn't bother to book me another one. The blood test came back that I was anaemic so iron tablets were prescribed!

My midwife Sharon came at 34 weeks and left my birth pack and told me to make a doctor's appointment to get a prescription for pethidine in case I needed it. This I made and I went to see my normal doctor's partner as he was away.

Unfortunately this is where the trouble began, the doctor asked what I wanted and I said pethidine for a home birth and she replied that this was the first the practise knew of my intentions, I explained this was what I wanted and I had the support of the midwifes and I was told that it was not Suffolk Doctor's policy to prescribe pethidine and that if I wanted to risk mine and my baby's life by having a home birth I would have to do it with no pain relief whatsoever as that was what birth was supposed to be - painful.

She also asked me how many children I had, and when I answered this would be my 4th she told me that she would appreciate it if I booked for a sterilization as soon as this one was born!!!! On leaving the surgery and speaking to my midwife I transferred doctors and went to see my new doctor (actually the doctor I had when my other 3 children were born) who said that it was fine for me to have a home birth and did I want any pethidine!!!!!! (luckily the midwife had got some for me at the hospital) My doctor also said he would attend the birth if I wanted him to if he was on duty at the time!!!!

We are planning another baby in 2001 and I hope to have another home birth - hopefully not so eventful this time!!!

Take care, best wishes
Caroline

Ayesha Eden Graham was born on 22nd September 1998 (her scan due date) after a 3 hour labour at home. She weighed 9 lb. Ayesha's birth story is online.

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From Julie Curran in Selby, North Yorkshire

juliecurran@supanet.com

I had no problems at all with booking :

Went to GP for booking visit at 12 weeks, discussed my previous two rapid labours 4.5h and 1.75 h respectively. We lived 40 min from the hospital, no family close by to step in readily to look after the older two, so GP suggested the homebirth. It was what I wanted but the way I put the above led her to suggest it which was great.

Midwife fine, if a little " well you might have to go in, keep an open mind"

I only went to hospital once for a 20 week scan, as I wanted to see the baby. Senior obstetric registrar turned out to have been in the same year as hubby at med schoool so they spent the appointment discussing research while I languished on bed! He clearly had personal reservations but was quite happy for us to make the informed choice and go for it.

To be honest, the only person I had to spend any time convincing was my husband. His teaching as a med student had been very hospital-only birth-based, but he was delighted with the home birth when it happened, said he felt much more involved, less of a spare part, would happily do it again. He also commented that I had seemed in a lot less pain this time, which I put down to being relaxed, and in control.

Julie Curran

Julie's son Patrick was born at home after a 2 1/2 hour labour, start to finish! His birth story is online.

Julie is now pregnant with her fourth baby and is planning another home birth:

I booked a booking in appointment at 10 weeks, I was a little apprehensive as I had moved practices' since I had Patrick ( we moved house, only 8 miles, but out of previous GP's area) and did not know the staff at my new practice at all. I need not have worried. The practice midwife was off sick, so I was greeted by Liz, who had delivered Patrick at home, and said " Are you having this one at home then ?" to which I replied "Yes", and there was little else to discuss !

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From Pam Beck in Suffolk

sin@songlake.freeserve.co.uk

I had a horrible experience with my first pregnancy. I had read about homebirths and thought it was a great idea. I knew I was not a high risk pregnancy since everything was fine with the first, I had just been induced.

I thought I would have to fight the GP and midwife to get a homebirth. the first time I talked with my midwife I asked her about it with my husband there. He was really scared by the idea since this is his first child and he was afraid of the things that can go wrong. The midwife calmed his fears by telling him that homebirths were quite often easier and less stressful than hospital births.

Apparently homebirth is not as common in Suffolk as I thought it would be. My midwife was thrilled that I wanted a homebirth. She has asked me throughout the pregnacy if I still want it, and always my answer has been yes. It seems that my midwife and another that covers for her are very much pro-homebirth. I think they are wonderful and I would have given anything to have either of them there for my first delivery.

My OB seems to even like the idea of a homebirth. I can't say enough how pleased I am with the care and support I have recieved so far from both my midwife and my OB.

I never talked with my GP about the home birth until after I had booked it. I figured they have very little to do with a pregnacy anyway, so why bother. I have seen one of my GPs for other reasons and I am sure I told him that I was having a homebirth. He seemed fine with the idea, like it wasn't a big thing in this area.

I have seen the obstetrician at 15, 32, and 36 weeks. I am not due to see her again unless I hapen to go 10 days over my due date. I don't think the 36 weeks visit to the OB was a standard one. At my 32 week visit she found the baby breech and wanted me to have a scan to check position and size since I have gained very little weight. Everything was fine by 36 weeks and the baby's estimated weight at 36 weeks was a healthy 7lb 8oz. Everything is set now for a homebirth.

Pam Beck
Lakenheath, Suffolk

Pam's baby Kira Jadzia Beck (hubbie is a die hard trekkie)was born at home on 11 November 1999 weighing 7lb 6oz - her birth story is online.

*****

From Anonymous in North Yorkshire

6 Week appointment with community midwife #1

I stated I would like a home birth if everything went well, This was put on my notes and my midwife beamed! "great" she said!

10 Week appointment with community midwife #2

"a home birth - well it's a long way off but I wouldn't recommend it. You are very young (24!!??**)and it is your first baby so your pelvis is untrodden ground so to speak". I left her office knowing that I would be continuing to request a home birth but it was early days and I had no concerns.

14 Week appointment with community midwife #2

"You dont really want a home birth, If your husband is away at the time you may give birth that would defeat the object" My husband is in the forces and at the time was on standby to go to Kosovo. I agreed that I would not want my home birth in this area alone but I would go back to my home town and family and have my home birth there.

My husband was taken off standby and had no work commitments away for the next six months my pregnancy was progressing like something out of a text book - perfect, and midwife #3 came on the scene.

the months that followed...

"you want a home birth? We weren't aware. Well its too late to book one now. Too many women in one month to allow you to book one" midwife #3. I was getting suspicious

"most first births are transferred to hospital during labour any way, you should book a hospital delivery to prevent the danger of having to transfer in labour" - my obstetrician

"The nearest hospital is too far away to safely arrange a home birth" - my midwife

"response times for ambulances in this area are too slow to risk a possible need to transfer you to hospital whilst in labour" - my midwife

"your baby is too big to allow you to go past term or have a home birth as medical intervention will certainly be required, best arrange a hospital delivery" - my obstetrician

"Your baby's growth has settled down we allow the pregnancy to continue 2 weeks past term and expect no problems but you cannot have your home birth as we do not have the midwives available" - my obstetrician

"we have booked your home birth but if when you go into labour we have no one available you will have to go into hospital" - My midwife

" I haven't delivered a baby in years, I do not agree with home births and cannot agree to prescribe you Meptid for your home birth" - My GP. I didn't want my GP to deliver my baby but I did want the Meptid. I finally convinced him to give me the prescription; he was blue with rage by the time I left his office.

Current situation

I am six days overdue. On my due date the supervisor of midwives arrived at my home carrying a letter stating that I was wrong in my assumptions that I had a legal right to skilled midwifery care at home for the birth. If they could attend at my home they would but resources are stretched and the chances are I will have to go to hospital.

I wrote back after LOTS of advice stating I will be having my baby at home assuming there are no medical or obstetric complications and that I did not accept the issue of resources determining where I will give birth.

Yesterday the supervisor of midwives returned to my home with a letter in response drawn up by the Trust and their solicitors again stating I have no right to have a home delivery if they cannot find a midwife to attend .... This is the last move in this chess game which has had me in tears for probably half of my pregnancy.

I read all your home birth (booking) stories and feel sad that I cannot relate to one of them they are all positive in some way. Your web site and others which I found through yours have helped structure my arguments I just wish I could say I was winning. I will keep you informed.

I tried to contact the author of this contribution to find out how she got on in the end - but have never heard back from her... if you read this, please know that several people have written to ask after you, and have been appalled at the way you were treated. AH

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From Alyson O Neil in Fife

alyson@oneila.freeserve.co.uk

I have booked a homebirth for October. I had a straightforward delivery with my first child and wanted a homebirth for my next one. I have many reasons for wanting a homebirth and the only opposition I came up against was from my G.P. The midwives have been great so far and my request for a homebirth at my booking in appointment was not met with the disapproval and consternation I expected, in fact it was positively welcomed.

I had been contemplating a domino delivery for my second child and when I found out I was expecting I phoned my G.P to let him know and to get things moving i.e a referral to the hospital as I didn't want to take up an appointment in the surgery which someone who was unwell could have used. He literally went berserk when I requested a home or domino delivery and he said things like I can't sanction that and do you have any idea the danger you would be putting yourself and the baby under etc etc. The conversation in a way made me more determined to go for a homebirth and I said to him that at the end of the day it wasn't up to him and I put the phone down.

By the time my booking in appointment came around I was in a state of panic and anger and I fully expected a confrontation with the midwife. As she was filling the form in I said you may not be happy about this but I would really like a homebirth and without even looking at me she said no problem and circled the section on the form. I couldn't believe it, I asked how many they had and she said quite a few in fact we had two last week.

The obstetrician who saw me at the same appointment was young and I think inexperienced and she didn't even comment on my choice. My last appointment which was at 24 weeks at my local surgery was with the community midwife who was really nice and obviously all for homebirths. She asked me if I had seen any Doctors at the surgery during my pregnancy and I said no and why was she asking, she said that she had been summoned down to the surgery and had been questioned regarding the number of requests for domino and home confinements. I asked why and how many had she had and she said 2 home delivery requests including your own and 4 domino requests and she said that this was no more or less than usual. I asked why they were so concerned and she said it was because they were scared complications arose during delivery and that they may be called out. She also said that they would be the last people to be called out and that the reason they were scared of this was that none of them have delivered a baby since the 1970's.

Alyson (mum to Jack 2yrs and ? due 20 Oct 99)

Ben Luke was born on 1 November 1999 after a 3-hour labour, mostly at home. Alyson transferred to hospital because there was meconium in the water. Ben's birth story is online.

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From Anonymous in Edinburgh

I'm 25 weeks along with my first pregnancy, and booked for home birth. It took a bit of a fight! When I went to my GP to say I was pregnant, I had to ask about the options for the delivery (at that point I hadn't decided anything, was just asking for information to think about). No choice.... the Simpson (The Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavillion at the Edinburgh Royal Infimary) or nothing.

I tentatively asked about home birth, and was told very bluntly "don't be silly!". That annoyed me so much, I started asking around... I got a lot of support and advice from the local Active Birth Centre and AIMS branch, and was put in touch with a home birth support group, who told me how to 'press the buttons' in the system to get a referral to the community midwives.

So when I went up to the Simpson for my booking visit, after getting all the preliminary tests out to the way, I stated I wanted a home birth - the midwife was a little surprised, but not against.

I then had to have an interview with an obstetrician, who tried to tell me how dangerous it was, and that I was such a high risk patient (1st birth over 35) blah blah blah, but I kept calm and restated my wish, and got my referral.

The community midwives are very nice and supportive - came to inspect the house and interview me and my partner, and I've received lovely caring antenatal care so far. The midwives are not at all worried that I'm an elderly primi, since I'm in excellent health and junior is growing just fine. GPs are furious with me of course.... but at least they have agreed to do the post-natal visit. I wish the whole thing was less emotionally charged - my blood pressure went up during the stressful phase of trying to get the referral (which of course was used against me - high risk, blah blah) - it went back to normal as soon as the fight was over. Stress and aggro is the last thing you need in pregnancy. Why can't it be a simple choice?

If you are considering booking a home birth in Edinburgh and the Lothians, this mother advises:

There are few GPs in Edinburgh who support home birth, so you have to be prepared to put up with some level of disapproval from your GP. I have heard that there is a GP in Leith (sorry, no name) who does not chew your head off if you ask for a home birth - he apparantly phoned the community midwives himself and helped set up the initial contact for his patient (someone I spoke to briefly at an antenatal class). However, he would not get involved in the care beyond that, but its not necessary when the midwife clinics are so good

First port of call should be the community midwives - there is a contact phone number at the Simpson, though the midwive team based there only cover the south side of the city. However, if you tell them where you live, they should be able to give the contact number for the correct team. Each team works out of a local health centre or local hospital and covers a sector of the city; for example: team 6 covers N.W. Edinburgh from the West End to Barnton, and they run antenatal clinics in Davidson Mains and Stockbridge.

Most people I have spoken to, have found the service provided by the community midwives excellent. This has been my experience with antenatal care so far too. However, if you do find you don't want to use the NHS midwives, there are some recommended independent midwives working in the Lothians - someone from one of the organisations below can put you in touch.

Useful sources of information and support:

Lothian Homebirth Support Group Diane Farrell 0131 478 0659 Ruth Kirkpatrick 0131 478 0923
AIMS and Edinburgh Birth Centre: Nadine Edwards 0131 558 1582 (nadine.edwards@aims.org.uk)
NCT (Mon-Fri 9-12am) 0131 260 9201

(The author does not want her name/email address published here, but is happy to email privately with local people.  If you would like to contact her please email angela@horns.freeserve.co.uk and I will forward it to her.)

UPDATE from 'anonymous of Edinburgh': 'A baby girl (7lb 6oz, AGPARs 10,10) arrived Friday 26th October, after a 2 1/2 hour (!) INTENSE labour, drug-free, at home, as planned.' Congratulations!

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From Penny Gaines in West Sussex

(penny@frodo.demon.co.uk)

Penny enquired about home birth for her first two children, but did not book one. However, she had an unplanned home birth with her third baby. Here is her story:

First labour lasted three hours: I had started the second stage before I realised I was in labour. Went to hospital by ambulance, and the head was visible by the time I got to the labour room.

When I got pregnant with the second, I asked my GP about home births: not because I particurlarly wanted one, but because I didn't want to have a baby en route to the hospital. He spent ten minutes telling me what a bad idea it was, and that a friend of his had been in Romania, and knew how bad a home birth could be. He also pointed out he hadn't actually attended a birth for over ten years. He did say he could transfer me to a doctor in another practise, if that doctor was still taking on new patients.

The hospital consultant had a similar spiel, except, this time it was home births in Ethiopia. As my husband was not in favour of a home birth, I decided to go ahead with a hospital birth. In the event, I had a 4.5 hour labour, with plenty of time to get to hospital.

Third time round I didn't try to book a home birth. However I had a two hour labour: I woke my husband after one hour, we tried to ring my parents, but their phone wasn't working. Nick woke one of the neighbours, then rang for an ambulance, the ambulance men took one look at me, and decided to ring for the midwife. She arrived five minutes after the birth. My GP (same as for #2) came to see me that afternoon, and said something along the lines of "I suppose we ought to plan a home birth next time". I think my health authority is West Sussex Health Authority. Some of my friends have planned home births without problems. Penny Gaines

Penny is happy to email the full story of her unplanned home birth to anyone who is interested. Contact her on (penny@frodo.demon.co.uk)

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From Helen Griggs in Colchester

helen@bedlam.freeserve.co.uk
Iceni midwifery team in Colchester, under the Essex Rivers Hospital Trust.

My son Alexander was born at home. I had always been uneasy about the idea of a hospital birth, and at my booking appointment with the midwife she suggested that if no problems developed, a home birth might be an option, a view echoed by the rest of the team.

My antenatal care was shared between the midwives and the trainee GP at my surgery,although my normal GP approved my decision once he was sure I was aware of the risks involved, and that I would be prepared to transfer to hospital if it was felt necessary, He was happy for me to be prescribed pethidine, and to come and perform the post-natal check on my son after he was born.

I cannot praise the midwives enough for their relaxed, patient-centred attitude, and all the help they gave me before,during and in the days after my son's birth. I would recommend a home birth to anyone.

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From Joyce Johnson in North Surrey - Staines, Ashford & Egham:

jm.johnson@ukonline.co.uk

Registered with North Surrey Health Authority; St Peter's Hospital Chertsey; Ruby Team of midwives.

Were your midwives/GP/obstetricians supportive?
Midwife suggested home birth to me for my second (1993), since my first labour was only 3 hours. My GP spent about 30 minutes trying to talk me out of it, saying how much safer it was in hospital, how it is unacceptable to lose a baby these days, how she thought I was one of the sensible ones, etc. Midwives and GP assumed I would have a home birth for my third (1997) and fourth (1999) children, so no negative comments. My impression is that the midwives love doing homebirths and would do anything to facilitate them.

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From Cerys Byrne, Basingstoke area (Hampshire)

cerys@thebyrnehouse.freeserve.co.uk

Registered with North Hants Hospital community midwives

Were your midwives/GP/obstetricians supportive?
I mentioned it to my midwife at my booking appointment and she was fine about it, I opted for midwife care and didn't see my doctor at all. All my antenatal appointments were with my midwives, who do a job share. I had no negative feedback at all.

Unfortunately due to meconium and me having the flu I didn't actually have a home birth. I had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance and ended up with an epidural as I was simply too exhausted to cope.

I was very glad to have spent the early part of my labour at home and really appreciated the way the midwife stayed with us all through it, she accompanied us in the ambulance, stayed throughout the labour and delivered Kieran. In the hospital there would have been no guarantee of having a midwife I knew or the same midwife from start to finish. I felt that this made it worthwhile booking a home birth even though he wasn't born at home and, were I considering having any more children (which I'm not) I would definitely book a home birth again. My husband was originally not very keen but agreed that it was nice to have had some of the time at home and the one-to-one midwife care.

Kieran's birth story is online, together with Cerys's thoughts and advice on transferring.

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From Anonymous in Suffolk:

For my first birth in 1993, I found it quite easy to 'book' a home birth. I live in Suffolk and came under the then Allington NHS Trust, and Bury St. Edmunds Hospital.

What actually happened was that I got high blood pressure and other signs of pre-eclampsia and ended up in hospital, being induced then having an emergency c-sec. Both the Doctor at Hadleigh health centre and the midwives were very supportive and I had no problem at all in booking that first home birth. Now I am due shortly and will have (hopefully) a scheduled section at my local hospital. I would say to anyone planning a home birth that they should try to listen to the advice of their midwife. Mine was very constructive and helpful, and told me what I would need to do in order to get the birth I wanted.

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From Nikki Macfarlane in Gloucestershire:

Childbirth Educator & Labour Supporter - macfar@pacific.net.sg
http://www.parentlink.org

Which health authority/hospital/community midwives' team you were registered with?
Gloucestershire Trust - I know from working there as an ante-natal teacher that the availability and support for home births varied considerably. For this reason, I requested that I be cared for by the North Cotswold team of midwives who cared for many women planning home confinements. Being a small team was an advantage since I had fewer midwives to get to know.

Were your midwives/GP/obstetricians supportive?
For my second birth, I asked my GP about homebirth as an option with my community midwife in the room. They knew I had had a complication free pregnancy with number one and number two and the birth for number one was a hospital waterbirth, no complcations, 8 hour labour with no drugs or stitches. However, GP said that homebirths were not available in this area and that I could not have a homebirth without a GP of which there were none locally who would cover because they were considered so high risk. I later discovered after my 2nd birth that there was a local GP who would have supported me and I didn't have to have a GP at all.

I was very angry that not only had my GP (who in every other way I trusted and respected - she was an excellent family doctor) lied to me but also my midwife had sat and listened and not once then, or at a later point, let me know that I could in fact have a home birth if I wanted one. She had arranged for me to visit a hospital to change my booking so I could have a water birth but I still felt very let down.

With my third birth I was by then a trained ante-natal teacher and was determined to get my home birth. I told my midwife it was what I was having, didn't see my GP at all for pregnancy care, and booked with the midwifery team I wanted who were wonderful.

I did feel that the reason for the lack of suport was fear - fear for what a GP and a midwife thought to be a foolish high risk exercise in a high risk exploit (giving birth). They were never nasty or rude, never told me I was risking my baby's well being, never tried to deliberately obstruct me. However, they also never openly supported me.

My GP did, towards the end of my third pregnancy, explain that she understood why I wanted a home birth but she was sorry she couldn't be the one to be at the birth. She explained that it had been a long time since she had been at a delivery and didn't feel confident enough in case of problems. I was really pleased that she said this to me - it gave me a lot more faith in her. She came out to do the paediatrics check afterwards and was very warm and relaxed. I would say the most important thing is to fully understand your rights and then stick by them. If you want a home birth you are entitled to one - other people have no right to deny you of a homebirth because of their own fears and prejudices.

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From Angela Horn in London (Greenwich Borough)

angela@horns.freeserve.co.uk

Greenwich District Health Authority, Thames Team community midwives (1998).

I planned a home birth for Lee, who is my first child. I did not involve a GP in my pregnancy at all - I just phoned up the local hospital and asked for the Supervisor of Midwives' office, and said that I wanted to book a home birth.

A male midwife phoned back and made an appointment to come out to see me. I was expecting a fight, but had none at all - he said that the community midwives did lots of home births, plenty with first babies, and that as long as I and the baby were healthy, it was no problem. He explained the situations in which the midwife would want me to transfer to a hospital booking before labour - eg high blood pressure - and indications for transfer in labour. We discussed the relative risks and benefits of home and hospital birth, and at no point did this (or any other) midwife try to change my mind, criticize my choice, or suggest in any way that home birth was inappropriate for me. They were all professional and seemed enthusiastic about home birth. The only confrontations or awkward situations were:

1. I did not feel comfortable with the fact that there were male midwives on my local team. The (male) midwife who did my booking was obviously peeved that I said this, and did make some comment about 'well, if you go into labour and only a male community midwife is available, you'll just have to go into hospital'. I said that I would rather be attended by Atilla the Hun and his smelly henchmen than go into hospital. He later arranged to transfer my care to an all-female midwife team. I wondered why he didn't just suggest that in the first place, rather than suggesting I might have to go to hospital.

2. A friend who is a doctor lost his cool somewhat when I told him that I was planning a home birth. I asked if he'd read all the research published in the British Medical Journal (23 November 1996) on home birth safety. He replied to the effect that he didn't care if research showed it was safe, I was still mad. I quoted more stats at him, he still thought I was mad; he did call back later to apologise! Similarly, a pregnant doctor (psychiatrist) at a local ante-natal swimming group freaked out when she found out that several of us in the group were planning home births. She too said that she didn't care how much research had been published showing it was safe, it wasn't and there was no way she would consider it. I found both these episodes revealing and amusing, but it might not have been so entertaining if either party had been my GP.

3. My only disagreements with the midwives came when we discussed possible transfer situations again, a couple of weeks before the baby was due. No-one was suggesting that I would have to transfer, but I had become increasingly desperate to make sure that I had this baby at home if it was safe to do so, and was becoming paranoid about every possible situation which might stop me. I had heard of women being transferred on what struck me as over-cautious grounds, so I wrote a birth plan setting out what situations, and at what stages, I would consider transfer. I disagreed with the local health authority policy on a couple of issues, and gave the midwives copies of published research which supported my views.

The midwife team discussed my birth plan, and some of them were unhappy with it. A senior supervising midwife (not on the team) asked to come and see me to discuss it, and I went into a bit of a panic (this made my blood pressure shoot up from around 100/70 to 130/90, although it returned to the lower level when panic was over. So much for claims that the diastolic (?) blood pressure reading is not affected by stress). I called Pat Thomas of AIMS, who advised me to avoid unnecessary conflict and to keep myself calm; I could have this discussion if the relevant situations arose, and I did not need to meet the senior midwife if I thought it would worry me more. It was very helpful to talk to someone who helped me to put things into perspective, whilst not deprecating my concerns. In retrospect I can see that I really was being daft, panicking over minute details of everything that could possibly go wrong, and provoking confrontation when none was needed. The issues I was worried about did warrant further debate, but this was not the time for it.

I decided that I would be more able to relax when I had discussed things with this midwife, so we met. She asked why I disagreed with the policies in question, and why I had specified certain things in my birth plan. She gave me credit for having done my homework, and was very suportive but businesslike; we agreed that any transfer recommendations would be open to negotiation, and not just dependent on hospital policies. I wanted to establish that my baby and I would be treated as individuals and that the midwife would use her judgement to assess our situation, regardless of 'policy'. For example, there is a world of difference between a distressed baby passing meconium in labour with possible heart rate signs of stress, and a baby who shows no sign of stress, but has traces of old meconium in the water - yet hospital policies state that both cases should transfer. Transferring to hospital is an intervention in itself, with risks as well as possible benefits, and I wanted to make sure that my baby and I were not exposed to those risks unnecessarily.

The senior midwife stressed that the community midwives in her teams supported home births, and were keen to avoid unnecessary transfers too. She was very reasonable, and not at all put out by the fact that I was an awkward customer.

Lee was born at home on 6 January 1998; his birth story is online. He was born on his due date and the waters were wonderfully clear, so all my worries had been academic!

***

From Wendy Bambury, in Tooting, London

As told to Angela Horn. Wendy is happy to speak to local people; please contact via angela@horns.freeserve.co.uk

St George's Hospital, Merton Sutton & Wandsworth Health Authority (1998)

I booked a home birth for my first baby, Monica, directly with the midwives and did not involve a GP. I used a standard letter requesting home birth care, as suggested in a childbirth book. I sent this to the Director of Midwifery at St George's, and received a prompt and positive reply allocating me to the Red midwifery team, and wishing me the best for my home birth.

The midwife who came to my home for the booking visit was very positive and reassuring - as were five of the six team members I met. The sixth was someone who I did not get along with anyway, but I got the impression that she was not enthusiastic about home birth. She told me that all women booking home births had to see a consultant at 36 weeks, when I would find out if I was 'allowed' a home birth. I knew that I had a right to a home birth regardless of what anyone thought they would 'allow', but at this stage of pregnancy I was left feeling apprehensive about the meeting with the consultant, as the midwife had made it sound like I needed his 'permission'.

The consultant asked why I wanted a home birth. I said 'Because I think it is best for me and my baby' in tones which made it clear that the matter was not open for discussion. Fortunately he left it at that and did not try to persuade or pressurise me. The consultant did say 'You realise that the midwives don't carry resuscitation equipment, don't you?', and said that they could not intubate at home. This seemed a strange comment, as I was sure that they did and could. A midwife later confirmed that this was rubbish, and that they did carry the relevant items and could use them.

My husband came with me to the appointment with the consultant, and I believe that this helped. It showed that we were united, and that we both understood what we were doing, and also provided moral support for me and made it less likely that anyone would try to bully me.

Overall, the midwives on my team either seemed very enthusiastic about home birth, or if they were not, they must have gone to great pains to stop their own feelings affecting me.

A couple of minor points were amusing. There was a big red sticker on my notes saying 'Home Birth', and whenever I was introduced to midwives, I was always referred to as 'The Home Birth', with a big smile.

Monica Isobel was born at home on 13 January 1998 and the midwife who attended was very supportive. She even resisted pressure from a registrar who wanted me to transfer (because of prolonged first stage following a pre-labour hindwater leak, which the hospital classified as a rupture of membranes).

Monica's birth story is online, told by her Dad, Haydon.

******

From Catherine Bethell in Reading, Berkshire

I have just had a home delivery with my second child and had booked one for my first but things did not go to plan. Here are the details you requested. I have replied twice - one for each birth as they were treated very differently!

Both births booked with West Berks Health Authority, Royal Berks Hospital

1st birth

Peter born 4/6/97 in Royal Berks Hospital at 42 weeks following induction using ARM.

Midwife was very supportive - including doing battle with both the hospital and the GP at various points. GP was not supportive and told me that it was unwise to have a homebirth for a first baby (the old 'untried pelvis' line). Tne senior registrar at the hospital was excessively rude. He actually wrote on my notes that he advised me that homebirth was dangerous (he nearly got a written complaint).

Birth became a lovely experience due to kindness and skill of midwife who attended in hospital.

2nd birth

Mark born at home 1/6/99 at 42 wks and 3 days - I was sure I cooked my babies a long time and so I lied about my dates by 3 days to give me a bit of leeway if we got as late as I suspected!

GP was supportive this time (same GP!! - obviously that pelvis had passed with flying colours) Was admitted to hospital at 31 wks with threatened prem labour. Had nothing but support from the staff there for my planned homebirth.

One of the midwives attending Mark's birth was the same as the one who attended Peter's - by pure chance! We also invited a student midwife to attend. We had all kinds of problems which resulted in an episiotomy and ambulance transfer after delivery. Baby needed resuscitation and was admitted to scbu for a few hours as a precaution.

Catherine Bethell
c.bethell@talk21.com

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Sam Newman in South Oxfordshire

sam.newman@ndirect.co.uk
Didcot community midwives

I knew even before we tried for a baby that I wanted a homebirth; my mum fought for one in the late sixties for both her kids when it was not the 'done' thing, and I always felt proud that I was born at home - illogically!

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I booked myself in to see the GP and went along to "demand my rights". The GP was absolutely fine and just said, "Ok, see the midwives at 12 weeks". So I did. The Didcot Community Midwives are, in my experience, very much in favour of homebirth - although they don't get much chance to do them! They checked I knew what the other options were (I did) but put me down for being at home.

Later in my care, we talked through the risks, mostly so that they were sure I had considered everything. The only problem I encountered was when I said I wanted pethidine available to me at home, and the midwife said I needed the GP to prescribe it. The GP said they wouldn't, that if I wanted the drug (apparently meptid is the option they prefer in this area) I should be in hospital - but to tell the truth, these types of drug are not often used in this area, full stop. I went to see another GP I get on better with, and he gave me the prescription in case of need.

In my spare time I work as Advertising Rep for my NCT magazine, and I recently approached the independent midwives practice which covers this area to advertise with us. They refused (in the nicest possible way!) because there is little need for their services in this area; the midwives and GPs in South Oxfordshire are so supportive of women - and homebirths in particular - that the money would have been wasted! This just backs up my experience.

Sam

Sam's baby Milly was born in hospital after a difficult presentation meant that Sam needed to have an epidural. Her birth story, together with Sam's advice about transferring, is online.

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Have you have booked, or attempted to book, a home birth in the UK?

I would be very grateful if you would allow your story to be posted here - anonymously if you prefer.  The intention is to give a representative sample of experiences - not just the difficult and dramatic, although they are welcome too! Regardless of whether you did give birth at home in the end or not, I would really like to hear from you: angela@horns.freeserve.co.uk

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