Few things polarise opinion like childbirth. We meet some of the extreme birthers from birth-phobics who'd rather be unconscious, to the secretive free-birthers, and lotus birthers who have unconventional plans for their placentas.
It should be the most personal of choices. But when you decide how you want to have your baby, it can feel like a battlefield. Find out more from as seen in our new series Extreme Births on LifeStyle YOU.
The Most Natural of Natural Births
Fewer than three per cent of women choose home birth in the UK, and in Australia that number was even less – just 0.9 per cent in 2010. But according to statistics, home births have experienced a huge surge in popularity with the rates doubling over the last four years.
Thirty-five-year-old Kati is one of those choosing to forgo the hospital. “I think people think that you’re brave or you’re crazy or you’re selfish even; but I want to be in control of my own birth,” she says. “I had my first baby at home; it was amazing, it was really beautiful."
Catering to this market is the bohemian Mama Baby Sanctuary in Lewes. There are dried placenta capsules, whale music and yoga. They believe your body is perfectly capable of giving birth naturally, we’ve just forgotten that it can do it on its own. Some even like to leave the umbilical cord uncut attached until it falls off naturally.
Kati is also part of a growing number who chose to eat their placenta. “You know, I thought it was a bit weird when I first heard about it, but when I started reading up I thought, actually, why wouldn’t you do it? It’s just to replenish my body of the nutrients that it’s lost." “I looked at different ways of ingesting placenta. Some people choose to make a pie out of it and share it with their family; but for me, I am going to make my placenta into a smoothie; a fruit smoothie.”
33-year-old Lisa also has grand plans for her placenta. Usually the umbilical cord is cut soon after birth as there’s no scientific evidence to prove it has any benefit, but Lisa believes otherwise. “A lotus birth is when you don’t cut the cord and you don’t remove the placenta from the baby, so they stay attached until the placenta detaches naturally; which can take anywhere between two and ten days,” says Lisa. “In really primitive times and in the wild, mammals don’t get rid of the placenta. I just don’t see the need to take it away; it’s joined to the baby for nine months and keeps it alive and then it just seems a bit cruel when the baby’s born to cut it and take it away from it.”
With a general mistrust of the medical profession due to a previous bad run-in, these women believe birth is sacred and should be private, away from interfering medics and midwives. Free birthing is not without its critics who believe it puts the baby’s and mother’s life at risk, but regardless, it is a phenomenon growing in popularity both in the UK, the USA and Australia.
Jo, 37, is due in a few months and is choosing an unassisted childbirth in her houseboat. “Women have been giving birth for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years; without the assistance of medicine,” explains Jo. “The medical profession, I think, feel quite threatened by free birth, because it challenges the fact that we need doctors and that we need midwives. All we’re doing is what is natural and normal for human beings. It’s the crazy hospital thing that I think is the madness actually.”
There are no statistics on numbers of women who free birth; it can be a secretive and underground world. But free birthers are a concern to midwives. “It’s not against the law for mums to deliver their own baby; but nobody can act in the capacity of a qualified midwife or doctor,” says midwife Lorraine Towler. “We wouldn’t encourage anybody to free birth. Women choosing not to have medical professionals in attendance worries us.”
I Want an Epidural NOW!
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those that vie for a hospital birth with every painkiller under the sun and elective caesareans, with plenty of pampering afterwards. “I‘m completely for drugs in childbirth,” says 34-year-old Anna who is expecting her second child. “Why should you suffer like somebody did 100 years ago? I had an elective caesarean the first time around with Alexander and that was my choice.”
About a third of all Australian babies born in 2012 were delivered by caesarean section, with rates ranging from 17.1 per cent for teenage mothers to 50 per cent for mothers aged 40 and over. “I’m very much in control and I hate things that happen randomly and I don’t like surprises; so, another reason for the caesarean is that, I know what time, I know what day. But also I can feel that I can have my hair done and I can look nice and I can feel as a woman again," says Anna.
After the birth, well-heeled mothers such as Anna can drop into the Mermaid Maternity Retreat on Chelsea’s King’s Road – part hotel spa, and part nursery and clinic. A sort of residential luxi-spa for pampering bewildered new mums with loads of money, you get private transfer from hospital, all nutritional meals, breastfeeding support, a daily midwife visit and a spa room for a pedicure if you so wish. New mums can also enjoy acupuncture, reflexology, massage, facials and post natal yoga and ongoing support in the first few months of baby’s life.
“People do keep saying to you, you should do it this way and you should do it that way and there’s no solution that’s right or wrong; it’s whatever works best for you,” says Anna. “You can’t put a mould on everyone; everyone is not the same, we’re all born differently, we all have different thoughts and different views on life and that’s why we all make our own choices.”
What do you think? Would you elect for a free birth or an elective caesarean? Let us know by commenting below!
Be sure to tune into Extreme Births on LifeStyle YOU, Thursday April 16th at 9.30pm.