There is no single ‘right way’ to give birth. It may seem an obvious thing, but we all have different interests and life experiences, our bodies don’t all work exactly the same way, and we have different cultural backgrounds and family relationships.
The birth of a new baby is not just a physical process, it is a powerful moment in the lives of each family member. How we feel in the moment has a direct relationship to how our bodies respond. This is why we each make different decisions about where and with whom we give birth.
For the past two decades, it has been difficult to find information about homebirth in Canberra, or to access care from a homebirth midwife. In 2016, ACT Health commenced a homebirth trial. The trial enabled one or two women per month to give birth at home, with the care of a midwife from the Birth Centre at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children. That trial is now complete after 42 successful births.
I have advocated for more than a decade for homebirth options, including as ACT Branch President of Maternity Coalition, and a founding member and Convenor of Friends of the Birth Centre Canberra. The success of the homebirth trial, and ACT Government plans to make homebirth a permanent option, are cause for celebration. This is the result of many years of advocacy by homebirth groups and midwives, with political support such as the inclusion of homebirth access in the 2008 Parliamentary Agreement between the ACT Greens and Labor.
But it’s also worth thinking about who hasn’t had the option of public homebirth in Canberra.
The trial was restricted to women who live within 15 minutes of the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children in Woden. This means women in south Tuggeranong weren’t allowed to join the trial. Nor were families in Ainslie or Watson. Gungahlin residents also weren’t eligible.
Most of these suburbs are within a 15-minute drive to the public maternity unit at Calvary Hospital Bruce, with its operating theatres and obstetricians and special care nursery, but the rules for the trial were about travel to the hospital in Woden, not Bruce.
Despite this, small numbers of women in those suburbs have been giving birth at home. These families paid for a private midwife, usually from Goulburn or the South Coast of NSW, at significant personal expense. Some may have decided on a private midwife even if they had been eligible for the public homebirth trial, but they were never given the option.
Preventing access to a midwife closer to home is not safer. Requiring women to pay privately for a homebirth midwife is not equitable.
Three of the 12 recommendations in the trial’s final report specifically address this geographic inequity. By allowing women to transfer to the public maternity hospital closest to them if the need arises, we can provide a public homebirth option to those who previously have been denied access.
With the success of the trial, it is time to provide a public homebirth option to all Canberra suburbs. It’s time to respect a woman’s right to make decisions about where, and with whom, she gives birth.
Emma Davidson is the ACT Greens candidate for Murrumbidgee in the ACT Legislative Assembly election in October.