I was directed by a friend to Charlie Brooker's latest column. I'm not usually a fan of his (although I do enjoy his little rants on 10 o'clock live) but, since my friend had recommended it and the subject was babies, I gave it a read. I have to say, I mostly liked it. It's nice to hear a man, particularly a man who generally isn't publicly sentimental or emotional, talk about the wonderful experience of becoming a father. Plus I think he managed to get the balance between being funny and being heartfelt just right.
However, just one sentence did immediately remind of something that's always annoyed me a little bit. Mr Brooker mentioned that he fails to "comprehend why any sane 21st-century human would refuse an epidural". He is not alone in suggesting which methods of child birth are the right methods (or in his words, the "sane" methods) and I'm fairly sure it was just a funny aside anyway. So I'm not about to start a rant against Charlie Brooker. However, it did remind me of all the unsolicited advice on the "right way" to give birth I received from both parents and childless people during my pregnancy. I must say, advice on this subject from people who have no experience of it was a little more annoying than from those that have been through it or at least witnessed it. Many mothers-to-be have also sought my advice on this subject since I gave birth. Just as with any advice regarding parenthood, my advice is always "Well, this is what I did and it worked for me so maybe that's something to consider but really you should go with what you want or what works well for you". Of course, there are certain things that I would just describe as right or wrong. For example, and without going into this too much, I am against any form of smacking or hitting children and I am for feeding children fruit and vegetables. But with most parenting issues, I strongly believe that, as all parents and children are different, people should go for what would be best for them and their children.
I also advise doing extensive research on various methods and ideas. While I was pregnant, I looked into childbirth methods for the majority of the first 6 months. Me and my husband (I do think fathers should have some say in this, although the person actually giving birth should maybe get the deciding vote) decided that I would aim to have a water birth using gas and air in a hospital. I say "aim" because one can never accurately predict what's going to happen during child birth. As it happens, everything went well and I think having a water birth with gas and air worked well for me. I'd probably choose it again if and when I have a baby again.
The comments I got when I told people about my birthing plans ranged from enthusiastically positive to insulting. Some people thought it sounded wonderful. Some thought it sounded utterly stupid and crazy - why wouldn't I want to make birth as painless as possible? Some thought I must be some kind of hippy who didn't believe in medicine (I asked these people what they thought gas and air was. In one case, the response was actually "yeah but it's not like real drugs". Yeah, I'm clearly the crazy person in that conversation). Some people asked why I wanted gas and air at all, they believed that childbirth was something to be experienced without any kind of medical interference. Some asked why I wanted to be in a hospital rather than in the comfort of my own home. I think only a very very small number of people actually bothered to ask me why or how I had made my choice. The truth is the idea of having an epidural scares me. I have a huge problem with needles, never mind one being stuck in my spine. Added to that, I have looked into many cases of an epidural causing paralysis. Yes, the likelihood of this happening is slim but it does happen. I liked the idea of a water birth. It sounded relaxing and I thought that could really help. As it happens, I did find it relaxing and that did really help. I wanted to be in a hospital because I knew I wouldn't feel comfortable at home. If something went wrong, I wanted to have medical assistance to hand.
I am in no way saying that because a water birth worked me, that every pregnant woman should have one. For starters, I know that, at least in some hospitals, you cannot have a water birth if you are labelled as "high risk". Some hospitals don't even have the facilities to give the option of water births and even if they do, it's possible that one could turn up at the maternity ward in labour to find that all of the water birthing facilities are in use already. The midwifery team at our hospital of choice would not arrange a home birth for a first time mother so I wouldn't really have had that option unless I wished to do so without a midwife present. Other factors could lead women to have very different births plans than mine. Some women may be much happier with having injections, some women may have cultural or religious reasons for particular choices, some women may not be comfortable in water and some women may feel more secure with a doctor performing the birth rather than a midwife.
My conclusion is this: childbirth is, in my opinion, the most personal experience there is. Therefore, how you go about that should also be a personal choice. There is no "right way" to give birth. It's your baby, not your neighbour's, not your best friend's and not your mother's. Do your own research. Look into your options and make your own decision.