Yoga teacher and mum-of-two Claire Maguire describes the reasons why she opted for a homebirth, outlines its benefits and looks at its take-up rate both in Ireland and globally
I’ve never met anyone having a homebirth,” exclaimed a surprised mother as we sat talking in a Co Meath playground last winter. “Are you mad?” cried my friend Deirdre
when I broke the news to her about planning my water birth at home in Ashbourne. In truth I wasn’t shocked by the reactions of people, who, after an initial intake of breath, were all extremely encouraging and supportive. According to the local public health nurse,
planned homebirths recorded in this busy commuter town stand at one – me.
I was told by most people I was very brave to be planning a homebirth. I agreed. But I also believe that to be true for women opting for a hospital birth. There are a great many uncomplicated pregnancies that could fare better away from the bleeping of a thousand
machines and my pregnancy, deemed ‘normal’ and ‘low risk’, was to be one of them.
Childbearing is a significant event for any family and every mother has the right to a safe and satisfying experience. My water birth at home compared to my land birth – I opted for a hospital birth with my first son Louis – exceeded all expectations thanks to my independent midwife Colette Donnelly, turned friend and confidant. We had a bond and a trust built steadily over the 40-week period that ultimately led to the safe arrival of my second boy.
Colette handled all my appointments in the comfort of my own home from six weeks to full gestation. She spent my labour quietly by my side, monitoring baby, and just shy of six hours delivered Jude into the water with no drama or panic, just peace and calm. I am often asked, especially from yoga mums who attend my pre-natal yoga school in Co Meath, if I was afraid at any stage. I have a great sense of awareness, both physically and mentally. I have been practising ashtanga vinyasa yoga for 11 years and, as a result,
know the limits and boundaries of how far I can take my body. If I had one concern in the lead up to my labour it was that I would have to be transferred to hospital.
A woman in labour, no matter where she chooses to birth, needs her ‘zone’. That zone can often be lost during the car journey to hospital or disturbed when taken from her space as she makes her way to the labour ward. She needs that space to birth comfortably
without loud noises, and free of panic and demands. I had water, soft yoga music, dimmed lights and limited conversation, the perfect combination for a comfortable birth.
While it seems homebirths are on the rise in most other countries, Ireland has drifted in the opposite direction. Figures from the ESRI reveal that in 2010 177 homebirths were attended by independent midwives, nearly half of what it used to be in 2000. The Homebirth Association of Ireland estimates around one in 14 women wishes to access this service but cannot. So while demand for homebirths is quite evident, it is the shortage of midwives in the community that is limiting the choices available to women.
The National Maternity Hospital links in to a homebirth scheme and, according to the Homebirth Association of Ireland, women must book in within days of a positive test as often the out-of-hospital programme is full to capacity.
The Minister for Health Dr James Reilly has said that more women in Ireland should be offered the chance to birth at home. Reilly’s comments have been strongly welcomed by the midwifery community. Birth centres have become a common feature of maternity services in Europe, North America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The rate of non-hospital births in the US has increased dramatically in the last 10 years, Canada included. The homebirth rate in the UK averages about 2pc but there are areas within the country where this is much higher. A similar situation has emerged in Ireland. The ESRI processes and records homebirths affiliated to the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin as hospital births. Homebirths provided by Waterford and Wexford General are recorded as same. Therefore statistics do not reflect the true success rate of homebirths in this country.
The establishing of a birth centre would revolutionise maternity care in Ireland. It would also give women who otherwise would pass on a homebirth a chance to move away from a medical set-up and meet their birth somewhere in the middle.