Homebirths are on the rise: Meet a mother who had her children at home

The demand for homebirths has gone up by more than a third during the pandemic, with Cork and Kerry the busiest regions, according to The National Homebirth Service
Homebirths are on the rise: Meet a mother who had her children at home
Shelly O'Halloran says she was mentally prepared for homebirth. Picture: Brendan Gleeson.

The National Homebirth Service has reported an increase in registrations from 272 in 2019 to 354 last year, across all HSE regions. Cork and Kerry was the busiest region in both years with 127 (2019) and 129 (2020) women registered for a homebirth.

For many people, the idea of giving birth at home is unthinkable as they imagine all sorts of dangers occurring away from the ‘safety’ of the delivery suite.

But women have been having babies at home since time began — some are planned, some not so — and these days many midwives offer a home birthing service and keep strong links with the local hospital should intervention be required.

Shelly O’Halloran had her two children — Clíodhna and Luna — at home and says both were positive experiences that worked for her and her partner, Glen.

“I did a lot of research on my first pregnancy and realised what a normal physiological event birth is for the majority of women,” says the Clare woman. “I was healthy so it made sense that birth could be relatively low risk.

“I don’t really like leaving things to chance so attended a Gentlebirth workshop which was empowering as it prepared us for all eventualities and we felt mentally well-equipped.”

A calming environment

Shelly, who works as a doula, sometimes suffers from anxiety and, believing the hospital environment could make her feel anxious, made the decision to give birth at home.

“I like to be in control and worried I wouldn’t be in the hospital,” she says. “I was also concerned that having to deal with multiple new faces while in labour might hinder the optimisation of my hormones.”

Supported by two midwives, she remained active for as long as possible before becoming immersed in the birthing pool surrounded by candles. This, along with various exercises, encouraged the birth of her first daughter.

It was such a positive experience, that when she became pregnant again there was no decision to make and her second daughter was also delivered into a "calm, loving environment" at home.

“There is a lot of misinformation and scaremongering and many first-time mothers don’t even realise it’s an option, but I would highly recommend homebirth,” Shelly says.

A steady interest in the service

Midwife Gail Mackey says that interest in homebirth does seem to be on the rise.

“With my experience of a full workload each year and anecdotal evidence from social media, there seems to be a steady number of women seeking this model of care in Ireland,” says the Dublin-based midwife.

“With more and more families looking for a more personal experience of childbirth which is a statistically safe option, I predict the numbers will rise over the next few years and hope the number of midwives in community practice will increase too.”

According to the experienced homebirth midwife, there are some instances when home delivery is not advisable.

“If a woman wishes to consider a homebirth she will have a full assessment of her current and past obstetric and medical history and evidence-based recommendations regarding the place of birth are discussed,” she says.

“In some circumstances — such as placenta previa, a history of more than two caesarean births or some underlying medical conditions — it would be advised to birth in a hospital.

“Sometimes the distance from a hospital is brought up as a reason not to have a homebirth but research does not back up the claim. And in some circumstances, it may be preferable to have the midwife come to the woman’s home rather than risking a road-side birth or unassisted home birth.”

Professionals must work together

It’s essential to have a link between the hospital and delivering midwife and expectant mothers are advised to book into their local hospital in order to have scans and bloods done — should a transfer to hospital be necessary, the transition of care would be easier if the information is already on file.

Indeed, Tracy Donegan, midwife and founder of gentlebirth.ie, says it is important for professionals to work together to give the best possible care.

“The safest care is collaborative care between midwife and hospital to ensure the best outcome for mother and baby,” she says.

“A positive working relationship with your closest maternity unit is essential especially in the unlikely event of a transfer to the hospital which needs to be as seamless as possible."

  • First published in Feelgood in 2019

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