The birth entourage: when there's a crowd in the delivery room

 Photo: Universal Pictures

About 10 seconds after I informed my mother I'd gone into labour for the first time, she and my sister burst, beaming and proud, into the hospital delivery room, clearly having broken speed limits and intending to stay to cheer the child on and out.

Alas, half an hour later, medical staff determined the cord was choking the baby. The obstetrician hustled all onlookers out of the room and I was sped to the operating theatre. Touched as I was by their love and support, I confess I felt far more comfortable that my husband and I were able to share our son's first moments in the world before I introduced him everyone else when I was fully dressed and holding him in my arms.

Many women would clearly think me prudish. According to a survey of 2000 mothers, published yesterday by video-blogging site Channel Mum, there is a new trend for the "Birth Entourage": young women, in particular, now have an average of eight people present at some point during birth.

Even more astonishing (at least to us prim old fuddy-duddies) is that after the mother's partner and own mother, the third most popular birthing partner is the woman's mother-in-law (MIL). As one friend declares: "I would rather have a lion in the delivery room."

Former nurse and midwife Clare Byam-Cook, bestselling author of What to Expect When You're Breastfeeding - And What If You Can't, however, believes that the MIL-supported labour "is very much the thing".

"When I was working as a midwife, women would often have their own mother there if she was available, or their mother-in-law if she wasn't," she says. "Now, lots of mothers are choosing their mother-in-law to be their only birth partner, full-stop. Not just one of six others."

While many may still be unconvinced that a MIL on the prowl, pre-birth, is the best policy, Lyndsey Harris-John, 33, is proof that such a choice can herald triumph, not disaster. She invited her mother-in-law, Penny, to witness the birth of her first son two years ago, on the suggestion of her husband, Daniel.

Penny (who, full disclosure, also happens to be a midwife) had accompanied the pair to every antenatal appointment. But more importantly, says Lyndsey, "she always treated me like a daughter. It made sense."

Penny, 60, accepted - with reservations, knowing the couple were counting on her expertise, as well as her loving support. "I was worried I would fail them. None of us was relaxed," she says. Inevitably, there was more intimacy at the birth than Lyndsey had bargained for: "We'd agreed beforehand that she would stay at the head end, or it would have been weird, but it got to the stage that I was in so much pain, I didn't care."


Lucian was born after 11 hours. "Watching Lucian's birth was the most spiritually fulfilling event of my life," says Penny. "I wept with joy. Afterwards, Lyndsey hugged me and thanked me for looking after her. But it was she who had achieved something, not me. I was simply honoured to watch."

Unsurprisingly, not every such birthing experience goes so smoothly. Kellie Wildridge, 29, still regrets her mother-in-law "inviting herself" to the birth of her second child when the contractions began. "She had actually been due to look after my eldest daughter, Kathleen, while I was in labour," she says. "Instead, my husband's sister took over while my mother-in-law, Vicky, climbed into the car and came with us.

"I'd been having contractions since the early hours, so I went along with it, partly because I was in pain and just wanted to get to the hospital, but also mindful that my husband might be grateful for her support.

"Having her there dramatically altered the dynamic," she says. 'She was trying to offer words of encouragement, such as "You can do this", but I felt under greater scrutiny. I cried far more than the first time, and I'm sure it's because I simply couldn't relax. Twice, I had to ask her to step away from my nether regions, where she was looking for my baby's head crowning."

Even worse, her presence ruffled other familial feathers. "The situation also upset my own mum," says Kellie. "Understandably, she felt that if anyone other than my husband was going to be with me in labour, that person should have been her."

The Telegraph, London