I was not the kind of girl who fantasised about the kind of wedding she was going to have. But I've always had very strong ideas about the kind of birth I wanted, long before I was even thinking about having children.
I knew I didn't want my babies born into the hands of a stranger in a medicalised environment. Without even knowing the terms back then, what I wanted was a low intervention, midwide-led birth.
So, it was with deep satisfaction that, at the Mercy Hospital’s Family Birth Centre (FBC) in Melbourne, I birthed my first daughter into her father’s hands, with my sister holding my own hands and a midwife encouraging me on. It was quiet and peaceful, the light was dim and my surroundings more home than hospital-like – with wooden cabinets and robes, a double bed, couch and en suite – not a white wall or white coat in sight. In the day that followed our daughter’s birth, our room at the FBC was my husband’s and my sanctuary as we came to grips with the responsibility we now shared for this small and apparently not very happy human being.
We were lucky enough to go on to have two more low risk pregnancies and birth two more daughters at the FBC. Each time, we felt cared for and supported by the centre’s team of midwives and a sense of ownership over the way in which we brought our daughters into the world. To us, the FBC provided the perfect compromise between a home and hospital birth, where we had the comforts of home but with the security of medical assistance less than 10 steps away should it be required.
So, it saddened me greatly to hear this week that the FBC, the last of its kind in Victoria, faces closure.
I am sad not because I believe everyone should have a low intervention, midwife-led birth at the FBC. I know that the model does not necessarily work for every expectant family. Indeed, between the births of my first and third daughters, I learned that pregnancy and childbirth is not at all what I first thought – terrible and unexpected things can and do happen to mothers and babies.
But I am sad because I believe in choice – and I believe that all women should have access to the birth centre model as part of a range of choices. We should be given access to water births, elective Caesars, epidurals and everything in between – and supported in our informed decisions by our chosen caregivers. Closing the FBC leaves the 40 to 60 families who choose to birth there every month now having to compromise on their beliefs and values and find a less satisfactory alternative.