As parents, we have to make countless decisions on behalf of our children. They depend on us to responsibly and lovingly care for them, and we try our best to bring them up to be healthy, loving, confident individuals. There are few laws that dictate how we must raise our children, but an abundance of unsolicited public opinion about other's childrearing practices. Examples that immediately spring to mind include, vaccination, bed-sharing, and breastfeeding. In making decisions about how we raise our children, we are all filtering through our knowledge, our beliefs, and our experiences to reach the choices that feel the most fitting, the safest, the best for us and our children. So, who are we to judge another for choosing a different path for their child than we would choose for our own?
Home birthers know only too well that their choice of birth place is condemned by many as being unsafe. When it is insinuated that we choose to put our own desires for a gentle birth ahead of the welfare of our children, such a judgement call is as inaccurate as it is obnoxious. The ongoing debate about the safety of home versus hospital birth has two essential aspects that I want to share my opinion on, 1) that safety is about more than just the physical wellbeing of individuals, and 2) that 'degree of safety' is determined subjectively, and rightly so.
Seemingly all the articles that debate the safety of home versus hospital birth, base their arguments around one factor: the numbers of babies and mothers that die during birth. But safety, defined as: "the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury" (Oxford Dictionary), is about more than just survival. Birthing women who are traumatised by their experience did not have a safe birth experience, babies that are separated from their mothers at birth, or who struggle to breastfeed because of the drugs in their systems, did not have a safe birth experience. If issues of safety around 'birth place' were only related to numbers of mothers and babies who survive the birth experience, then I might've had a tougher time deciding where I'd have chosen to give birth, because the figures appear to be very similar for healthy women choosing to birth at home, compared with healthy women choosing to birth in hospital. But, of course, I'd be selling myself pretty short if I didn't consider those other important elements of safety, namely "How will the birth place I choose impact on my mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing, and that of my baby?"
Of course, then, 'degree of safety' can only be determined by the birthing woman, herself. No-one knows better than her what the safest option is for her and her baby. Besides, she has the right to autonomy in her decision-making around where, with whom, and how she wishes to give birth. It is not only incredibly undermining and patronising to assume that anyone has the best interests of a woman and her baby at heart, more so than she, it does massive damage to the birthing and mothering culture we are cultivating as a society. If a woman doesn't have a voice during her birth of her baby, when does she have a bloody voice?! Let's stop making the 'place of birth' debate about 'proof' of safety, because all the evidence in the world doesn't trump a woman's right to choose what is right for her.