By Robert Virtue.
While giving birth in a hospital remains the most popular option for mothers in New South Wales, a few hundred women choose to give birth in their homes each year.
Anne Turner is the mother of three children, one of whom was born at home, and is a committee member of the Hunter Positive Birth Support Group based in the Newcastle area.
The group aims to offer peer support, information, and an opportunity for pregnant women and mothers to share their experiences.
“We want women to feel allowed to enjoy that [birthing] experience, and to find ways that they’re going to be able to enjoy that experience, rather than being frightened of it or having it over-medicalised,” Ms Turner said.
“A lot of women feel that it’s a normal life event, and where they live is where they want to birth.
“It’s a very big difference for women who’ve birthed in hospital and home.
“[They] will talk about how different it feels to just be in your own space; you feel often a greater sense of control, more relaxed, safer.”
Homebirthing regulated to ensure safety
In the Hunter Valley, Hunter New England Health (HNEH) operates the Belmont Midwifery Group Practice (BMGP), which in turn runs a publicly-funded homebirth program.
It is open to women who have no identified birthing risks and are booked into the BMGP.
The group said it followed strict guidelines and was in constant contact with obstetricians.
In NSW in 2014 there were 228 planned homebirths and 30 homebirths that ended in hospital admissions.
In the HNEH district in 2014, there were 72 planned homebirths and nine homebirths that resulted in hospital admissions.
In the same year, there were 9,728 hospital births in the region.
Women share experiences in support group
The Hunter Positive Birth Support Group helps mothers to share their experiences and offer advice.
Ms Turner had two of her children in hospital, but her third child — a daughter named Aisling — was born at home.
“It was just the most beautiful day in our family’s life,” she said.
“The environment of birthing at home is indescribable. Before I did it, I was very pro-homebirth as an option, but I didn’t understand how different it would be until I did it.
“Aisling was born just before dinner time, so my mum just fed the kids [their] dinner, and they popped in and out to visit the baby and go back to their pasta.
“When it was their bedtime, I just passed the baby over to someone else and put my other two children to bed.”
Ms Turner said having a midwife at the birth who she knew well helped her feel more at ease.
“The great thing with homebirth is you have the one midwife looking after you the whole time,” she said.
“So you would tend to develop a good relationship with them and ask a million questions along the way that come up.
“You do need to prepare the house a little bit — just having lots of warm towels and a warm blanket for the baby, maybe a waterproof mat or something in the home. But it’s not as big a deal as people often think it might be.