Ellen Widdup tackles the big debate over ‘crowdbirthing’

Ellen and her husband welcome her firstborn to the world

Ellen and her husband welcome her firstborn to the world - Credit: Archant

My daughter just got kicked in the head by her unborn sibling.

My daughter just got kicked in the head by her unborn sibling.

She deserved it. At the time she had her face pressed right up against my navel and was shouting “If you are a boy, we will be leaving you at the hospital!”

She’s quite serious too.

She actually asked if she could be present at the birth so she could be first to find out if the testosterone was going to creep up a notch in the household.


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“It’s better to find these things out quickly so you can deal with them faster,” she told me sombrely. “Like ripping off a plaster.”

After explaining to her in the nicest way possible that, boy or girl, the baby would be coming home to live with us, I added to her disappointment by refusing her offer of additional birthing partner.“It is usually just mummies and daddies present at the birth,” was my explanation.

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This is rarely the case, of course.

Indeed, when my daughter arrived, I had carefully laid out in what they call “a birth plan” my idea for who should be present.

This is supposed to tackle your expectations, preferences and preparations, but is really just a way for the medical industry to give you superficial control.

I don’t know a single person whose birth plan became a reality.

Mine focused on scented candles, dimmed lights, calming music and a natural delivery with one trusted midwife.

The real thing involved the stench of antiseptic, the bright lights of an operating theatre, some Bhangra music, a gynaecologist, a paediatrician, an anaesthetist, three midwives and a group of gawping medical students.

“It helps me work,” said the doctor, indicating the tinny radio playing the Punjabi drumbeats in the background.

And who was I to argue with the man holding a scalpel dangerously close to my nether regions?

I didn’t even complain when two of the students asked to inspect his handiwork.

This could be because I was drugged up to the eyeballs.

Or it could be because by then the whole process of childbirth had made me feel so incredibly vulnerable that appearances went out the window and my need for reassurance took over.

Perhaps this is where the brand new phenomenon for crowdbirthing has come from.

Just as it says on the tin, this new trend calls for a crowd to witness a birth.

And not a crowd of medical experts like I had. A crowd of friends and family.

Urgh.

I’m trying to think of a worse idea than being flanked by your nearest and dearest while you’re forced to lie on an uncomfortable hospital bed with your bits exposed for hours on end. And I can’t.

But according to a survey, the 20-somethings’ appetite for sharing every aspect of their lives has made it onto the labour ward, with an average of eight guests in attendance at each birth.

Most of those surveyed (who were between the ages of 16 and 29) said they would have their partner, mother and mother-in-law there as standard.

Then they might invite their sister, a handful of BFFs and perhaps a photographer to document the whole gory process.

I agree it sounds unlikely, but you can’t argue with data collected unscientifically to publicise a website, can you?

Now, of course, being part of a birth is an honour and privilege which unites.

But it’s also extremely intimate, quite traumatic and very stressful.

I can’t quite imagine my Nan teetering on the edge of my bed, encouraging me to breathe, while my Auntie hands round scones.

Nor can I imagine my mates – particularly those without children – coping with the drama without being able to live-Tweet it.

And they would have to shut off mobile phones in case they interfere with medical equipment.

But, equally, there’s nothing like having your mum around when you are vomiting; your partner if you are scared; your sister if you want to divulge an irrational fear; your best friend if you just want to be listened to, honestly, when you say you can’t manage.

This is a hard job for any midwife to be able to do alone – perhaps impossible – which is why we have to be grateful that we have moved on from a time when a woman gave birth without a single soul she knew in the room.

In my grandmother’s day, that wasn’t untypical.

Then opinions changed and the father was expected to be there to share in all the pain and joy.

We look back on midwifery in the 1950s with nostalgia today, in dramas such as Call the Midwife.

They are so different from the likes of One Born Every Minute, where a father can join the mother in the birthing pool, cut the cord and announce the sex of the baby.

These days, people are surprised if a dad chooses not to be present.

Indeed, I couldn’t have coped without my husband by my side at the birth of both my children – and he will be there again when number three arrives.

But aside from any necessary medical staff there will not be anyone else joining us at the party.

No grandparents, no aunts, no uncles, no brothers and sisters. And certainly not my eight-year-old daughter, despite all her protestations.

We all do the parenting thing differently.

From the decisions we make in pregnancy to the choices in labour, through to how we choose to feed, clothe and nurture our babies.

Perhaps crowdbirthing is the future.

But while I enjoy sharing a snapshot of my life with you all, right here, I’m afraid it isn’t for me.

@EllenWiddup

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