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‘I gave birth in my living room, had a shower then went to bed – it was beautiful’

A photo of Naomi Pemberton, the co-founder of Holding Her Space
Naomi gave birth to her son at home

Giving birth to her first child at the hospital was never on the cards for Naomi. A trained doula, she already knew how to conduct a home birth and said the recent death of her mother – plus the disproportionately high mortality rates of expectant black mothers – meant another hospital visit would be ‘triggering’.

Instead, she welcomed her son submerged in a rented pool in the living room of her home in Moss Side. “My son was born at home; after the birth everyone left, we had a shower, we cleared the placenta because it was still attached and then we went to bed,” said the 39-year-old.

“It was so empowering to have control over what happens next. Being able to go to sleep in my own home and being able to wake up with a new baby, it was a beautiful experience.”

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“I’d say I supported my own birth rather than delivered my own baby,” she joked.

“There were still midwives there and the father of my son, my sister and my grandmother. But I was very adamant about how I wanted it.”

Naomi says she was warned by medics of the potential dangers of delivering her baby herself, adding: “They told me I could die and that I wasn’t going to have a home birth and had to get it out of my own head.

“I just had my mum pass away in a hospital and it was very triggering to even be in a hospital on top of everything I’d learned.”

A photo of Naomi Pemberton, the co-founder of Holding Her Space
Naomi did not want to have a ‘clinical birth’ (Image: Tanya Weekes)

Naomi was well prepared to give birth to her son way before the big day in June 2018. Before falling pregnant, she had been training to become a doula.

The word doula comes from the Greek language meaning slave, but over the years the definition has changed to describe someone who provides physical and emotional assistance for an array of things like grief and most commonly, childbirth. Though doulas are not medically trained, their popularity in the country is steadily rising.

In 2021, 1,835 births were supported by doulas with 2,493 families given postnatal support by the caregivers. Naomi decided to become a doula almost a decade ago after she spent a small period of time in hospital supporting a friend who was pregnant.

“They weren’t being heard or listened to and it kind of really triggered me,” she explained.

“Their decision was being stripped away and witnessing that made me realise how uninvolved mothers are with the birth process.

“It kind of made me go down that path of really studying why the system was like that. I wasn’t aware of the statistics for black women at that point.”

Data from the Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries (MBRRACE-UK), which is a collaboration between Oxford University and the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, shows that black women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than white women. The mortality rates for mixed ethnicity women and Asian women are twice as high as white women.

Many would wince at the thought of giving birth at home with little to no pain relief, but Naomi says that the experience was aided by being a water birth and the ‘calming, peaceful’ environment of her home and the people around her.

“We had a water birth, so we hired a pool out in our front room,” she told the MEN.

“Water is amazing for pain relief and it kind of did take the edge off. But I think because I was at home, I didn’t even think about pain relief.

“It felt like what birth feels like, the ebbs and flows of birth. Because I was in a calming peaceful environment there was no added tension.”

Since then Naomi has set up a community organisation called Holding Her Space, a group that supports new and expecting mothers from black and brown communities. It provides pregnancy, birth and post natal support for the mothers and their families.

Their programme includes an accessible doula network in Manchester, yoga teachers, holistic therapy coaches, mental health support workers and more.

Next year they will be running a project which features workshops, art and a theatre production at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Resource Centre, Contact Theatre and Use Space MCR called ‘Untold Stories of the Village’. The aim of the project will be to capture and preserve the cultural practices of childbirth within African, Caribbean and South Asian communities.

Naomi Pemberton coaches a group of women at Holding Her Space
Naomi co-founded Holding Her Space to support women from black and brown communities

Naomi said: “We’ve been able to develop something quite big and it’s been evolving more through out the year. Some of the stories that we hear from the mums who have had quite traumatic experiences we have had to put them through that.

“It goes back to that space of creating a village that we’ve lost because we’ve become so detached from each other that we don’t know how to come together and talk.

“Especially as black people, we don’t speak about what’s going on, we just kind of wing it and hope everything is going okay but it’s about creating that village system again.”

The project will begin on January 1, and more information can be found here.