Lucy Cavendish: Why I recommend the magic of a home birth

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The Independent Online

Reports that first-time mothers who give birth at home are more likely to have a baby who dies will have put the fear of God into every pregnant woman. And with the health services recommending in the same week that women be given Caesareans on demand, it seems the likelihood of anyone opting for a home birth is increasingly remote.

This is a terrible shame. I've had four children, the last three, Leonard aged eight, Jerry, seven, and Ottoline, four, in a birthing pool in my front room.

Was it easy? Of course, it wasn't. When it comes to a home birth, there is no such thing as pain relief. There are no epidurals. There are no obstetricians. Mind you, I gave birth to my first child, Raymond, now 15, in hospital and barely saw a midwife at all during my induced and consequently endlessly painful labour.

Going into labour is a confusing business. All sorts of things happen that are amazing and wonderful. I remember thinking: "I'm going to give birth to a baby out of there?" But it can also be dangerous. There are risks wherever you have your baby.

When I had Raymond in hospital, it was so painful I was begging for an epidural. But that slowed everything down. I couldn't feel anything when I did give birth and was so badly bruised I was in pain for weeks afterwards, which made me depressed and miserable.

I had my second baby at home, and it was so painful I nearly bit the paws of my dog lying near me on a sofa. I harangued my midwife throughout, asking her continually when it was all going to end. She gave me reassuring answers. "Soon," she kept saying.

During the worst parts I wondered why on earth I had opted for a home birth. I'm not a hippy. I drink caffeine and eat meat. But I had loathed the experience in hospital. I felt oddly over-managed (bossy midwives) and yet under-managed at the same time. The whole process of being injected with this and drugged with that felt seriously freaky. All I wanted with my three subsequent children was to be able to relax, curl up with my baby in my bed and drink tea and eat toast.

That doesn't mean to say I wasn't worried. But my midwife, Lynn Walcott – mother of the footballer Theo – explained that if something was likely to go wrong, she would spot it as the pregnancy progressed.

Not everything went smoothly. My third son was born in such a rush I lost a lot of blood. He wasn't breathing. I remember gazing at newborn Jerry and he was, essentially, blue. But Lynn was so calm I didn't panic. She slapped him, kept him on my breast and didn't cut his umbilical cord. Eventually, he started breathing.

Was it a near-miss? Lynn wouldn't say so. I believed her and opted to give birth to my daughter at home again. This time, Lynn carefully set up her resuscitation kit in front of me to calm my nerves.

I needn't have worried about anything. It was a textbook birth. There was a knot in my daughter's cord but it was loose. Lynn felt that if I had been through a stressful labour in hospital, that knot would have tightened. At home, I remained calm and relaxed and the knot did not tighten. Lynn took photos of it, and these have been used to illustrate articles on the benefits of home birth.

I am not intending to give birth again. I've had my brood. But I really hope last week's report in the British Medical Journal doesn't put too many women off. Home birth is a magical experience. And you get toast in bed afterwards as well.