I was 12 weeks pregnant when my NHS midwife asked me: 'Where would you like to have your baby?' Guessing she wanted me to choose between hospitals, I went for the nearest - King's College in South London. 'So,' she said, 'you don't want to be considered for a home birth?' I had thought home births were the exclusive preserve of West Country hippies. But ten minutes later I left my London clinic with 'home birth possibility' written on my notes. And to my surprise, Mum and Dad thought it was a great idea.But her Romanian mother-in-law was, to put it mildly, a tad anxious about the whole affair:
'I was born at home in the dugout during the Blitz,' said Mum. 'Your granny said giving birth was like shelling peas. Not like today - pregnancy is treated like an illness.' Dad, a retired livestock farmer from the Highlands, added: 'Aye, an animal will always take itself off to give birth; you need to be somewhere private. Don't ever forget you're a mammal. Mammals aren't designed to give birth in a bed.'
Mum wasn't exaggerating. As a Forties baby she was one of the last generation to be predominantly born at home, often minus pain relief, hot water or a bathroom. Change came with the creation of the NHS in 1948. Soon, more than half of babies were born in hospital; ambitious obstetricians wanted everyone under one roof and the Government agreed.
It was another day and night before Mara [her baby] arrived. I distracted myself watching movies, taking deep hot baths and eating to keep my strength up. I was glad to be at home. But my mother-in-law Elena, who had flown in from Romania, had other ideas. She hid upstairs, resisting the urge to call an ambulance, and spent 36 hours crossing herself, suffering sympathetic labour pains and shrieking that someone should give me an injection every time I let out a long moan.Mothers-in-law are great. But anxious MILs at my labor? No thanks! They would get a gentle push out the front door, with the assurance that I would call when the baby has arrived.