It was just a simple letter to a problem page in the UK, but it’s sparked thousands of shares and comments, and turned into a massive slanging match over home birth.
The letter, headed “My nephew is disabled and it’s all his mother’s fault”, was sent to Mariella Frostrup at The Guardian. A woman explained that her brother’s wife had had an emergency c-section for her first child. For her second child, she decided to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) at home, against the recommendation of her doctor.
“The home birth went terribly wrong and my nephew has been left permanently damaged,” the woman wrote. “I knew my brother was browbeaten, but not to the extent he would let his wife harm their child.”
The woman added that it had caused “major rifts” in the family.
“My heart is breaking over this. I feel my nephew was exposed to severe parental negligence and I cannot get past my anger over it.”
Agony aunt Frostrup didn’t hold back, telling the woman it was “probably none of your business”.
“Nobody could have predicted such an eventuality, not even the doctor,” she added, “and, although you feel strongly that they made the wrong decision, it’s one that was theirs alone to make and then to live with the consequences.”
She told the woman that there was plenty of advice out there saying that a VBAC was a perfectly safe option, and that many people preferred to welcome a baby “in the comfort of their own home”.
Frostrup said that a more natural reaction to the situation would have been empathy.
“Instead you’re raging and blaming, making assumptions about your sister-in-law’s culpability and generally acting like a demonic harpy instead of a concerned in-law.”
Many of the readers backed Frostrup, calling the letter “a nasty rant” and “selfish, self-satisfied, over-righteous nonsense”. There were plenty who defended the sister-in-law’s decision to have a home birth.
One said that sometimes people have to do what’s best for their own mental health, adding, “It's not all about the baby all the time.”
Another said the situation could have happened anywhere. “Maybe it would have been safer in hospital but that doesn't guarantee it.”
But there were also those who backed the original poster and felt the sister-in-law had done the wrong thing.
“She was advised not to have a home birth for her second child, but decided to ignore her doctors,” one wrote. “This is a bit more than a ‘regrettable decision’ - it was reckless and selfish.”
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Home births are more common in the UK than in Australia. Statistics for 2015 show that 2.3 per cent of new mums in the UK gave birth at home. Women aged between 35 and 39 were most likely to choose that option.
In Australia, the home birth rate is under one per cent, although it’s higher in some parts of the country than others. In the Byron shire, it’s three times the national average.
Women in Australia planning VBACs are generally advised that a hospital birthing suite is a safer choice than a home birth.
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