There is no 'right' way or place to give birth

Discussion about the ‘best’ place for women to give birth is ongoing today, with new guidance from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) that state “45% of women are at extremely low risk of complications and may be better off giving birth elsewhere” (not in hospital). However, we need to remember there is no ‘right’ way or place to give birth, and to not forget about the needs of women who have suffered a traumatic birth.

The argument is that giving birth at home, or in a midwife-led unit is safer for mums assessed as being ‘low risk’ because they are more likely to be relaxed in familiar surroundings and are less likely to have unnecessary interventions. That makes sense to me, and sounds very positive.

Empowering women to choose where they have their baby is a wonderful thing, provided they are given all the information they need to ensure that choice is informed, and best for them and their baby.

Ultimately, every woman is individual with individual needs.

My pregnancy was going completely to plan until 24 weeks, when I was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia and severe HELLP syndrome. I was transferred from my local hospital to a specialist hospital two hours away by blue light ambulance.

Being so ill, and at genuine risk of death if left untreated, I was effectively relieved of any choice over what happened to my body. I felt like a human pin cushion; I had wires going in to and out of my body, and so many medical professionals from different specialties coming to see me I lost count.

My son Hugo was born by emergency Caesarean section while I was under general anaesthetic. I woke up in intensive care, and first met my son 30 hours later.

Me and Hugo

Me and Hugo

Yes, my situation was rare and extraordinary, but it is why I get so cross and frustrated when I read comments that say words to the effect of “All women should have a choice about where they give birth.” In an ideal world, yes, they should. But we need to reflect that there are many situations where women do not have a choice, situations where interventions are necessary for the sake of mum and baby.

That statement should read “All women should have a choice about where they give birth wherever possible, and according to the woman’s needs.

Those who promote the positive birth movement do a fantastic job promoting the message that for the majority of women, giving birth will be a beautiful, natural event, and women should be encouraged to see it that way.

However, it can be difficult to get people to understand how frustrating it feels that Hugo’s birth was anything but natural – and it compounds my distress that my birth experience was anything but ‘normal’.

Even though I know rationally that my illness and the premature birth of my son were the result of circumstances beyond my control, there is a large part of me that feels like I failed as a woman and as a mother because my son’s birth was so medicalised.

I was heartened to read in the Birth Trauma Association’s statement about the new guidelines that “there is no right way to give birth” – for women who, like me, had a traumatic birth this is invaluable validation that I am not ‘abnormal’.

What is more important than validation, however, is appropriate support after a traumatic birth for women who need it. Individual mothers will need support suited to their individual needs. They need to be signposted to relevant services.

It is unacceptable for women who have experienced a traumatic birth to leave hospital without knowing what support is available, and have to proactively seek it out themselves, as I did.

My needs are complex, because my birth trauma issues are intertwined with grief over the death of my son, Hugo, who died aged 35 days. I have finally got the support I need, which I am so grateful for – but I had to fight for it.

Some women may feel so helpless and disempowered as a result of their experience that they may never get the help they need.

Pregnancy and birth is a beautiful, natural experience. But we should also take time to acknowledge that birth will not always go to plan, and there will be times where women will not have a choice because of circumstances beyond anyone’s control. We also need to ensure mothers get the support they desperately need to overcome their ordeal.



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0 comment on There is no 'right' way or place to give birth

  1. cuddlesmuddles
    December 10, 2014 at 6:44 pm (7 years ago)

    I’m so sorry for your loss, what an awful experience you have gone through. This is a great post as I often think too much emphasis is placed on this supposedly empowering ideal of natural birth. I had an emergency c section first time round. I was just glad we were both ok but since then have often felt society was implying I’d failed somehow. Which is, quite frankly, rubbish. For my second baby in August, I had an accidental vbac; I had planned a c section but my daughter came early and quickly. It was amazing, mainly as I wasn’t traumatized afterwards, but it’s just cemented my view that it doesn’t matter how or where you give birth, the mum and baby are the important things. I kept my planned c section a secret as I felt ashamed to admit that I didn’t feel I could try a ‘natural’ birth and that really isn’t how it should be. #brilliantblogposts

    • Leigh Kendall
      December 11, 2014 at 10:03 am (7 years ago)

      It’s so sad you felt that way about your planned c section. Those ‘too posh to push’ headlines have a lot to answer for. The consequences of a pithy headline can be far-reaching and long-lasting. Thanks for commenting xxx

  2. Honest Mum
    December 9, 2014 at 11:45 am (7 years ago)

    An incredible post, you are so right. I left hospital with my first having suffered a traumatic birth without support, feeling lost and alone. It took months to heal and a councillor who helped me recover. Every parent deserves support and so many people along the way from health visitors to GP’s failed me before I managed to persuade and it really was me persuading, a new GP to forward me to a councillor. The fight shouldn’t be so long and hard. Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts x

    • Leigh Kendall
      December 10, 2014 at 5:01 pm (7 years ago)

      I’m sorry you also left hospital after a traumatic birth without knowing how to get support, Vicki. It’s awful, and every patient does deserve support. I’m glad you found a counsellor, but I couldn’t agree more, the process should be much easier. Thanks for commenting xxx

  3. puzzledbythepieces
    December 7, 2014 at 12:16 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks for sharing this. I was very low risk and had a completely uncomplicated pregnancy. We planned for a natural birth. However, I suffered a sudden unexpected placental abruption the night we went in for an induction since my daughter was late. If it weren’t for the fact that we were already in the hospital, we likely wouldn’t have gotten the day that we had with her. I use to be much more open about woman giving birth wherever they wanted, but I am living proof that sometimes things can change unexpectedly without warning. I was super low risk and had no complications during my pregnancy, yet things changed right as we approached home plate. There will be no gambling for me with my future children’s lives. I will definitely be at a hospital for any children I have in the future.

    • Leigh Kendall
      December 7, 2014 at 10:52 am (7 years ago)

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Your story exemplifies what many people have been saying about the guidelines – an assessment of ‘low risk’ doesn’t tell the whole story and with the best will in the world things can change unexpectedly in pregnancy and labour. Some say such stories frighten women away from home births, but it’s not about that – it’s about being honest with women about what can happen, and to have individualised care for individual women’s needs. Thanks for commenting xxx

  4. Ginny Williams
    December 4, 2014 at 7:35 pm (7 years ago)

    I so agree. It drives me mad to hear of the kinds of reactions “babylossmama” above had–ALL THAT MATTERS IS A HEALTHY MUM, HEALTHY BABY!! How often do we need to repeat this? Not every mother can have a VBAC for many reasons–too risky for her and/or the baby. Not every woman can give birth vaginally, or breastfeed, or manage labor without pain relief. I think once you lose a baby, these issues mean nothing. I have “what if’d” my experience with my stillborn, full-term son over and over and over. It took me years to acknowledge that he was probably never going to come home, on matter what we’d done delivery-wise.

    I wish guidelines would recognize that every woman’s experience is different, and the best laid plan can be shot to hell in an instant. (Sorry, I’m feeling myself getting incensed…it has been a long day.) If you and your baby are alive and well, you’ve had a perfect birth, no matter how it happened. Sad, but true.

    *All right. I’m off my soapbox now.*

    • Leigh Kendall
      December 5, 2014 at 6:52 pm (7 years ago)

      Please stand on your soapbox for as long as you want, Ginny, it’s an important issues and all views should be heard. Yes, I agree that guidelines should recognise all women, and their experiences are different, and the best laid birth plans can go awry. I couldn’t agree more too that a perfect birth is mum and baby being alive and well, irrespective of how baby has come out, or where the birth has taken place xxx

  5. joyandpops
    December 4, 2014 at 4:05 pm (7 years ago)

    This is such a worthwhile debate and a very balanced post.
    My first child was born by natural delivery at 41 weeks (with epidural), Unfortunately I knew throughout my labour that he had died. He was a very big baby at almost 11lbs and everyone spoke about ‘how well’ I did and how ‘brave’ I was. The truth was there was no bravery in that delivery room and I begged for a c-section.
    My following two daughters were born by elective c-sections at 38 weeks. I had to fight for my first c-section all the way up to 36 weeks pregnant. I couldn’t face another natural delivery, I was too freaked out as it was and my memories of the birth are harrowing.
    It is so important that women be allowed to choose – though I do think we should also remember that a living mother and baby is the most important outcome and the mode/place of delivery pales in comparison. Also, Doctors generally just want a happy outcome too. They don’t deliberately want to go against women’s wishes.
    I must add though that my first pregnancy was considered low risk and ended in tragedy. If I was ever considering a home birth I would want a lot of extra checks/scans to determine if the pregnancy is genuinely low risk.
    Great post.

    • Leigh Kendall
      December 5, 2014 at 6:50 pm (7 years ago)

      I’m so sorry – I knew your first child was born sleeping, and that experience is beyond words. I completely agree, women should be allowed to choose, and a living mother and baby should be the most important outcome. Mums having previous traumatic experiences should also be taken in to account when decisions about where are woman gives birth are taken, in addition to an assessment of physical risk. Thanks for commenting xxx

  6. Caroline B
    December 4, 2014 at 2:08 pm (7 years ago)

    I had to have a semi emergency and semi elective section after a double induction failed and I was 42 weeks pregnant. All I wanted was a safe delivery.

    Frankly, I’m of the opinion that if all women could have planned C sections there nay be less birth trauma and the NHS would probably find it cheaper to manage. (This theory isn’t based upon anything other than my liking my two sections 🙂

    • Leigh Kendall
      December 4, 2014 at 4:00 pm (7 years ago)

      Absolutely, all women want a safe delivery more than anything. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how the baby comes out – the priority should be for a positive experience for the mum, rather than thinking back how awful it was. Thanks for commenting xxx

  7. babylossmama
    December 3, 2014 at 4:35 pm (7 years ago)

    Please keep telling women this – it still needs to be said. I, like you, had an emergency c-section under general anesthesia at 24 weeks. I mourned the loss of my “natural” birth, but it paled in comparison to mourning my son, who died at 26 days old. If I am lucky enough to get pregnant again, I will be induced at 37 weeks for another c-section; the choice is not mine due to my classical incision, the likelihood of uterine rupture during active labor, and the fact that my prior premature birth was due to placental abruption. That said, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to defend this type of birth to people. I get looks of derision for not wanting to “at least try” a VBAC and from those who thing I’m “privileged” because I’m planning on a scheduled c-section. Trust me, I didn’t want this. But trust me too – what I want more than a perfect birth scenario is a living baby. Keep preachin’, mama!

    • Leigh Kendall
      December 4, 2014 at 3:52 pm (7 years ago)

      Fear not, I won’t stop! Natural birth is fabulous for the women who are able to do it, but the women who are not, for any reason, should not be made to think they are lesser women or mothers. I completely agree, being in a similar situation to you with any potential subsequent pregnancy – I prioritise a living baby to take home more than a perfect birth. The guidelines need to make sure all women’s needs are met – emotional as well as physical. Thanks for commenting, mama! xxx

  8. Louise
    December 3, 2014 at 2:49 pm (7 years ago)

    Fabulous and very balanced post Leigh – I completely agree with the points you are made. I have always been very passionate about home birth and enabling women to see it is a choice where appropriate but I agree that it is not the ‘right’ choice for everyone – whether that is down to personal preferences or circumstances. I originally hoped for a homebirth with Jessica and my plans changed with the diagnosis of her heart defect. A hospital birth was the most appropriate choice in those circumstances and in your situation many of your choices were taken away from you due to HELPP syndrome. It needs to be acknowledged that with the best will in the world, many women are not going to be able to have the birth experience they might have hoped for and it is so important that adequate support is available for those women who have traumatic experiences x

    • Leigh Kendall
      December 3, 2014 at 3:04 pm (7 years ago)

      Thanks Louise. I’ve read some beautiful accounts of home birth – it looks wonderful, if it is appropriate and safe for mum and baby. Absolutely, a hospital birth was the appropriate choice for Jessica’s birth. I couldn’t agree more that we need to reflect that for so many reasons there will always be women who do not have a choice about the birth of their baby, and we need adequate support. Thanks so much for reading and commenting xxx

  9. momcon1
    December 3, 2014 at 2:05 pm (7 years ago)

    I love this post and thank you so much for posting. I had to be induced for my babes birth and am glad for our health and safety. I wish we all could just respect the choices or lack of choices mommies have sometimes. Whether it is the way birth happens or the ability to breastfeed. Mommies need support not judgement. In the end we all need to do what is best for our family at the moment. I value your words and thank you for sharing.

    • Leigh Kendall
      December 3, 2014 at 3:01 pm (7 years ago)

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. Absolutely, we need to respect the choices – or lack of – that women make. It would be a far better use of energy to make sure women get the support they need, rather than continually offering judgement xxx


2Pingbacks & Trackbacks on There is no 'right' way or place to give birth

  1. […] right place to give birth. I have previously outlined my thoughts about the debate in posts such as There is No Right Way or Place to Give Birth, and the Importance of Balanced Messages When Talking About […]

  2. […] The speech was full of aspiration and positivity, which is understandable in the context of the hospital seeking to become one of the country’s highest-performing maternity services (a few years ago they ranked amongst the worst). However, speakers do need to be mindful of the range of women who are likely to be in the audience. Pregnancy and birth does not always go to plan – there are times when it is unavoidable, it is no one’s fault, and women like me do appreciate this being acknowledged. That’s my soap box moment – it is a point of sensitivity. […]

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