TWO or three years ago, a woman - the friend of a friend - was giving birth at home. Everything was going smoothly. Then, after her baby daughter was born, she suddenly began haemorrhaging, quickly losing so much blood that she was on the point of losing consciousness. Obviously this should have been diagnosed immediately as an emergency.

Realising something was badly wrong, the woman's husband tried to persuade the midwife to call an ambulance. But the midwife, unwilling to admit she was out of her depth, compromised by trying to call the local GP, who was not available. After several fruitless attempts, she relented and the ambulance was called. The woman was rushed to hospital, where she was given a six-pint blood transfusion that only just saved her life.

This kind of story is one to which a potential father, caught up in the home versus hospital birth debate, is likely to be highly vulnerable. I should know. In less than three weeks, my wife is due to give birth for the second time. The question of where she is to have the baby has been dividing us for months. It is still not resolved.

The problem for fathers such as myself is that we find ourselves caught up in a debate that is fogged by fashion and sexual politics. The history of childbirth is riddled with practices that have been regarded as sacred right up to the moment when they are held up to ridicule and abandoned. Is, for instance, the practice favoured by many hospitals of rupturing the sac of amniotic fluid in which the baby is held, at the beginning of labour, one of these? How are we to judge? It is a procedure that has been challenged by some experts, including many midwives.

Pregnant women tend, understandably, to be influenced by the midwives they see regularly during pregnancy. But my own reaction is to want to take the obstetricians' side. Childbirth mythology is a jungle to many of us fathers. We prefer to put our faith in the familiar - in hospitals and doctors, in technology and operating theatres.

Not my wife. She finds all that disconcerting and inappropriate. After all, she says, hospitals are for ill people and she is not ill (I reply, they are for ill people and for people having babies). The first time around, under some duress, she agreed not to have the baby at home. Our baby was therefore born in a London teaching hospital. While my wife succeeded in her determination not to accept any pain- killing drugs, she was unhappy about the hospital's role in the birth.

Until the last five minutes of the birth, she was attended only by a young student midwife. She blames the midwife for the fact that her flesh tore so severely as the baby was being delivered, and the hospital for the fact that she waited from 10 o'clock in the morning until six o'clock at night for the tear to be stitched.

What's more, she says, hospitals are the last place you want to have a baby, because they are dirty and full of germs (she is right, the place was filthy). And if you are really unlucky there will not be a delivery room free and you will have to give birth in a ward, with everyone listening in beyond the screens.

What her case seems to boil down to is that she feels unable to relax in a hospital. And if she can't relax, she says, she will find it far, far harder to do this extraordinary thing of pushing a baby - a whole baby - all the way from her uterus into the open air.

Two days ago I bumped into a woman in the street, an acquaintance of my wife's through the National Childbirth Trust. When I mentioned our dilemma to her I was taken aback by the vehemence with which she set out to lecture me on the merits of home birth - me, whom she hardly knows. Home birth, I realised, is more than just a weighing up of pros and cons, a dispassionate judgement of circumstance. This is war, it is us against them, the enlightened against the despots. And I am on the side of the unenlightened, the politically incorrect.

Many people are against natural childbirth in principle. But, the thing is, I agree with my wife about unnecessary hospital interventions - the drugs to induce labour, the rupturing of the membranes, the monitoring, the pethidine, the epidural and the episiotomy. If my wife does not want these I will help ensure she is not given them - just as if she were at home. The birth will be as natural as a hospital birth can be.

In fact, I am even quite happy for her to have the baby in our bedroom at home. Just so long as we can have a fully equipped operating theatre set up in the spare bedroom next door, with surgeons standing by. Then, if by some terrible chance something should go badly wrong, we won't be left, like our friends, with my wife losing consciousness through loss of blood, and no one to tell us what to do except an inexperienced midwife with a political agenda to maintain.

(Photograph omitted)

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