borne, part of The MERL’s 51 Voices, is a collaboration between Beatty Hallas and eleven women who had home births during the Covid 19 pandemic. The MERL’s collections provide fascinating insights into changes in rural healthcare in general and birth experiences in particular. Beatty, inspired by the obstetric forceps (tongs such as this are used to pull a baby from its mother) and drawing on her own family’s history of home birth, explored with women their experiences of home birth during the pandemic. These are their stories.

Beatty Hallas

My mum was born at home in a village. The midwife chatted to her dad about looking after piglets while they waited for her to be born. My grandparents had studied Agriculture and Dairy Technology at the University of Reading and an understanding of animal husbandry directly informed my mum’s thinking about childbirth. She went on to help form the Reading Birth Centre, circulating information and attending home births. In turn my second child was born at home before the midwife arrived and was caught by my mum.

The number of families choosing a home birth or free birth rose during the pandemic, as maternity units undertook social-distancing restrictions. Stories of natural birth are fundamental sources of hands-on knowledge and insights into states of being, but they are seldom heard in public.

borne includes descriptions of natural childbirth and some instances of strong language.



These conversations were punctuated with laughter. Uplifting episodes of recognition and triumphant realisation, despite being amongst complete strangers. Stepping between absolute clarity of emotion and grasping at vocabulary for sensations unexpressed. Families responded to my call out for birth stories – gathering for an hour – balanced between the needs of babies and siblings.

I am grateful to them all for sharing their resolve and joy. We send these insights on to fortify and enthuse those who wonder about home birth.

‘It is beautiful. Thank you. Such an inspiring and empowering conversation. I feel very lucky to be part of it’. Catherine

Discover more about Beatty’s work at

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Particular thanks to Reading Maternity Voices Partnership, Reading Home Birth Support Group, Aspire2, Free Birth Society, Birthrights, Mindfulness for Mums, Gently Strong Yoga and Doula Paris for promoting the project and helping connect us with those who shared their amazing stories.

Have you had a recent birthing experience in Reading? The Reading Maternity Voices Partnership is keen to gather your feedback on maternity care. Learn more at Reading Maternity Voices Partnership.

borne was made possible through the generous support of Arts Council England and the Culture Recovery Fund. Although we’ve been unable to welcome our communities in to The MERL Galleries, we’re still #HereForCulture.

Visit the 51 Voices online exhibition.