There are no medals or uniforms to mark us out. But put together a group of dads and it doesn’t take very long before home birth veterans start swapping their war stories.
There’s no sitting in a hospital corridor doing the crossword before being handed a swaddled child by a smiling midwife — at home, there’s nowhere to hide.
And with only one in 40 births in England taking place in a domestic setting, we’re a relatively small band of brothers. Having myself answered the call of duty three times, I was delighted to learn that we’re now set to get the royal seal of approval.
‘Why Meghan’s set on a home birth,’ read yesterday’s headline in the Daily Mail. For, instead of heading off to the private Lindo Wing at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, it has emerged that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are considering having their first child in the privacy of their new home, Frogmore Cottage in Windsor.
Tom Rawstorne, pictured with one of his daughters, was there for the home delivery of all three of his girls. He has passed on some tips for other fathers about to experience a home birth
Thirty-seven-year-old Meghan still practises yoga daily, a friend observed, has ‘sailed’ through her pregnancy, is in extremely good health and sees no reason why she could not enjoy a safe delivery in the privacy of their own house.
As for the Prince, he intends to be by his wife’s side ‘every step of the way’ — which, for a survivor of home births like me, sends shivers down the spine.
The option, the article continued, would also have the benefit of giving the couple the privacy they crave.
Ah, the naivety of the uninitiated, I thought, as I cast my mind back to the births of my trio of daughters.
Because the fact is that, no matter how good you are at doing the Downward Dog, the reality of a home birth for a man is altogether less alluring than it might at first sound.
Here, in the spirit of openness, I pass on some tips learned at the coal-face, so to speak, of the home birth movement . . .
JUST THE TWO OF US
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, pictured, are said to be considering having their first child in the privacy of their new home, Frogmore Cottage in Windsor
According to royal insiders, Harry is determined to be at Meghan’s side every step of the way. That’s the beauty of a home birth — no anonymous army of medics running in and out. Just you two, the midwife and all the comforts and facilities of your own home at hand.
Unfortunately, as I discovered, that doesn’t mean a home birth magically imbues the male partner with hitherto-invisible resources of patience, empathy and understanding. Or that you will have any clue as to what to actually do to help.
With no other medics on-hand, it dawned on me very quickly that the successful outcome of any home birth was going to be reliant on two of the trio involved — my wife and the midwife — not me, no matter how hard I tried.
I remember, during home birth No 1, the moment that, according to the literature, I should have been elevated to the status of some sort of iconic birthing god.
My wife was in our bedroom, pacing the room, several hours into labour. I could tell she was beginning to flag. What to do?
Simple. Head to the kitchen and rustle her up a healthy, yet invigorating, snack.
I had pre-chilled a melon in the fridge especially for this purpose (as suggested by some National Childbirth Trust guru at the antenatal classes I was ‘encouraged’ to attend) and, when I re-emerged with it, cubed and arranged on a plate, I was expecting to be greeted with the sort of smile that MasterChef’s Gregg Wallace normally reserves for a sticky toffee pudding.
But when I wafted the fruit beneath my wife Charlotte’s nose, there was no rapturous praise or beatific expression. Instead, she turned green and pushed me — and my melon — away.
TAKE A BACK SEAT
Tom said he prepared for his daughters arrival by attendeding NCT classes, and watching home birth videos but didn’t dare argue with his wife during the home birth (file picture)
Which leads me on to my second pearl of wisdom. Don’t be upset or angry at rejection, Harry. Get used to it.
Modern thinking has it that you should be an integral part of the whole process.
In reality, however, the final decision doesn’t rest with you, so be prepared to feel confused, bemused — and more than a little bit petrified.
Before the birth of my first daughter, I attended NCT classes, read half-a-dozen books and even watched a home birth video or two.
All I can remember is that almost all the men had beards (good start, Harry) and insisted on stripping off and getting into birthing pools with the women.
But a home birth was what my wife wanted. And I didn’t argue with her.
Like Meghan, what Charlotte wants, Charlotte gets. So, no hospital waiting room for me.
And anyway, today, refusal to go along with your partner’s birthing plans will have you marked down as some sort of Victorian throwback, the sort of chap who wouldn’t in a million years know where to locate a perineum — let alone offer to help oil it pre-birth (there are men who do this, apparently.)
Had my wife instead said that she wanted to go the hospital route and take all the drugs on offer, I’d have jumped at the chance, being a risk-averse sort of chap. She didn’t, so we didn’t.
HAVE A SNEAKY BAG PACKED
Tom also suggested having a bag packed just in case a hospital trip is needed (file picture)
In the end, with our first, we ended up in hospital anyway.
After eight hours of pushing in the privacy of our bedroom, it became apparent the baby was stuck and my wife was blue-lighted to hospital by ambulance, where the baby was delivered by a consultant armed with a device that looked like a toilet-plunger which he suctioned to her head — the baby’s, not Charlotte’s.
I’d never been so grateful for medical intervention. Charlotte was insistent she could have stayed at home and just needed more time.
What I took away from the experience was that if things don’t work out, don’t hesitate to rip up the birth plan — a healthy baby is all that counts. I would never, ever say to my wife ‘I told you so,’ but, between you and me, Harry, bear in mind that for women having their first baby, home birth slightly increases the risk of serious problems for the child — from five in 1,000 for a hospital birth, to nine in 1,000 for a home birth.
So do have a hospital bag packed just in case. Just don’t tell her.
DON’T SKIMP ON THE KIT
The most important job for any home birth father is to sort out the kit —which generally means getting your hands on a birthing pool, as it’s good for relaxation and pain relief during labour.
Our first two were born while we lived in South East London, where home births, like reusable nappies, were all the rage.
It meant hiring a pool, rather than buying one, was straightforward. If only the same could have been said for deploying it.
Like most first-time parents, we were pretty clueless. As the due date approached, any twinge would be taken as a sign of imminent birth. Cue me erecting the pool and spending the next three hours filling it with hundreds of gallons of water, while at the same time worrying whether it was so heavy that it would collapse the floor and end up in the cellar below.
Another piece of advice was to never scrimp on the kit like Tom did for his third daughter’s birth, which ended with water being splashed on the floor and an unimpressed midwife
I remember reading that the pool weighed the same as 15 people standing side by side in the same spot.
By the third home birth, and now living in Kent, I was taking wild shortcuts, ordering a birthing pool on the internet from China. At just £75, it was, I’ll admit, something of a bargain.
But, on the big day, the midwife clearly didn’t seem to agree. The pool, she declared, was too shallow. With my wife in it, there was a chance the baby wouldn’t emerge directly into the water, but into the air first and then the water.
Which is a total no-no and potentially dangerous for the birthing child.
Reluctantly, I accepted there was no choice but to fill the pool right to the very brim.
The practical effects of this meant that I spent the next two hours telling Charlotte not to move too much, for fear of splashing our newly fitted wooden floors. Just the sort of advice that a woman in labour really appreciates.
The next problem was the temperature of the water. A birthing pool is meant to be kept at a steady 37c. Again, to save myself a few quid, I’d not bothered to buy a thermometer. Instead, I demonstrated to the midwife that simply by dipping my elbow into the water — as you might with a baby’s bath — I was able to tell it felt just right. By now, the midwife was looking at me in a way that suggested she thought I was totally insane. ‘No, it’s VERY important that it’s exactly the right temperature,’ she said slowly, loudly and very clearly.
Which is how, 20 minutes later, and having run two red traffic lights, I found myself in the town centre looking for a water thermometer and shouting at a traffic warden: ‘Where’s the aquatic shop? My wife is giving birth!’
PUT THE KETTLE ON – AND KEEP QUIT!
With the second two midwives, Tom’s main duty was ensuring they had everything they needed including tea, biscuits and endless chatter (file picture)
The first, unsuccessful, home birth wasn’t helped by the fact that the midwife was unknown to us and arrived without any gas and air. I was very disappointed.
Other fathers had told how a sneaky snifter of this widely used painkiller — literally available on tap in most hospitals — had helped them get through the harder parts of the labour.
Indeed, one study found ‘asking for a go on the gas and air’ was one of the most common things men do during a birth.
Fortunately, Charlotte seemed to cope fine, somehow managing to go the distance all three times without any pain relief at all.
With the second two midwives, my main duty was ensuring they had everything they needed: tea, biscuits and, with the final birth, endless chatter.
So much so that after covering pretty much every subject under the sun, Charlotte was forced to intervene and tell us both to be quiet. ‘I am trying to give birth here,’ she said, adopting a tone that brooked absolutely no argument.
YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN NOW . . .
I hope you’ve got some practice in changing nappies, Harry. Because, once the mum has been checked over and the midwife has departed, you and your partner are very much left in charge — there are no nurses popping in to palm the baby off on or show you the ropes.
I failed the first test by putting a nappy on back-to-front. Our first visitors — my parents-in-law — got a soaking when they picked up their grandchild.
THE POST MATCH MEAL IS VITAL
After the birth it was an advantage to have the family’s own things ar