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The obstetrician's comment that tells us exactly why more women want home births.

Men in suits are wearing name-tags and the water glasses have stopped clinking. A room full of highly-paid medical professionals has erupted into raucous laughter.

“Meghan Markle has decided she’s going to have a doula and a willow tree… let’s see how that goes,” chuckles Dr Timothy Draycott, much-decorated envoy of the Royal College of Gynaecology, Professor at the UK’s Bristol University and an obstetrician who’s personally received an award from The Queen. “She’s 37, first birth… I don’t know. We’ll have to see.”

The eye-roll wasn’t specified in the reporting of Dr Draycott’s comments, but it’s heavily implied.

Imagine that. An educated 37-year-old woman with the world’s best medical advice at her disposal having an opinion about how her first baby is born.

Dr Draycott’s comment, made at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ annual General Meeting in Nashville on Saturday, conjures the stereotype of the cluelessly idealistic first-time mum, more interested in gazing up through the calming leaves of a “willow tree” than in delivering a healthy baby.

And a room full of doctors laughed at it.

And then we wonder why women are taking decisions about their bodies – and the bodies of their unborn children – away from the halls of hospitals and into their own homes, their own phones, their own Google searches. Anywhere that makes them feel less powerless and stupid for questioning the status quo.

This is dangerous.

The media has widely reported – although it can’t be verified – that since news broke that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, was choosing to have a home birth for her first child and including a doula in her attending team, enquiries into home births in Great Britain increased by 40 per cent.


Listen to Holly, Mia Freedman and Jessie Stephens discuss the Meghan Birth Effect on Mamamia Out Loud, here: 

That’s a lot of women, thinking they might like to birth their babies differently. Some of them would fall into the “low-risk” category who, according to Professor Hannah Dahlen from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Western Sydney University, might be better off having their babies at home. “I was part of a team that looked at all of the studies of low-risk women’s births around the world, comparing home births to hospital births. There was no difference in outcome for the baby. But for the mother [home birth] is safer on every single level – they have less intervention, less perineal tearing, less bleeding, better recovery and better breast-feeding rates,” Professor Dahlen told Mamamia.

But, of course, not all pregnancies are low-risk. And not all births go according to plan.

There have been truly horrendous outcomes of home births that did not follow the script. Like those involved in the trial of Lisa Jane Barrett, the now deregistered Adelaide midwife who was charged over her involvement in two home births that resulted in the deaths of two babies in 2011 and 2012. In both cases, there were circumstances that constituted risk – one was a twin birth, the other a breech, but the official position of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College Of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists remains that there is nowhere safer for a baby to come into the world than a hospital, and that home births are associated with a higher risk of infant death and seizures than planned hospital births.


So with all that information under their belts, why do a small but increasing number of women choose to home birth?

Business Chicks' Australian Founder Emma Issacs has had all five of her children at home, attended by a midwife and a doula. Image: Instagram. 

Could it be, in part, because of exactly the kind of patronising commentary provided by Dr Draycott in Nashville?


Could it be that when women can share their stories and experiences in their millions, and draw from a cannon of childbirth trends that range from "twilight sleep" to hypnosis, forceps, free-birthing and back again, they are less inclined to treat their baby's arrival like a solely medical event like a tooth extraction or appendectomy?

Could it be, that although the face of obstetrics is changing - there are more women than men training as obstetricians in NSW - the idea of the paternalistic consultant who comes straight from golf to check in on his 'little women' isn't shifting?

Could it be that when the establishment publicly dismisses the informed choice of an educated woman as some sort of airy-fairy indulgence, they erode the trust of the people who choose to put their lives - and those of their children - in their hands?

Professor Dahlen certainly thinks so. "The more we mock women, point the finger and laugh at them, the more we will drive them into less-safe options, like 'free birth' (birth at home with no trained midwife) or home birth where there are significant risk factors," she says.

Home birth is not the safest option for bringing a human into the world for every woman. But laughing at women's choices is not going to convince an expectant mother of that.

It might just make her all the more determined to stay the hell away from you.

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