Letter: Childbirth: heaven at home and hell at the hospital, or vice versa?

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Sir: My hope is that the Changing Childbirth report will do what its title suggests. It is tragic that many mothers would agree with Maggie Brown and Queen Victoria about giving birth being the 'dark side of womanhood'. It is not surprising that Maggie Brown's gloomy view of labour is the result of four hospital births. My experience of one hospital and two home births has led me to very different conclusions.

Labour is painful, but anxiety, and therefore pain, are encouraged by a hospital labour room where there is little to do but wait for the next contraction; by meeting people you have never met before; and by having in evidence equipment that will induce or resuscitate. If, on top of this, you are strapped to a machine that leaves you semi-mobile and often semi-recumbent, there is little chance of your labour being less than 'torture'.

Compare the alternative. You are in your own home and labour starts in familiar surroundings. You do not have to travel while in pain. In due course your midwife, whom you know well by now, arrives. If the speed of your labour does not overtake you, you can put the children to bed, hang out the wash, make a cup of tea, have a bath and undertake 101 normal activities that distract you from the pain and, because you are moving and upright, encourage the efficient working of the contracting muscles. The labour and ensuing birth can then be an occasion not of 'suffering in extremis', 'a form of torture' or the 'dark side of womanhood', but on the contrary one of the most fulfilling experiences of womanhood, a moment of inexpressive joy and intimacy as a family.

Yours sincerely,



9 August