This guest post was submitted by reader Susan.
I have, quietly, been a healthy birth advocate for almost 20 years. Since my first birth that was more like a horror movie than a joyous occasion. Things were done to me that still bring tears to my eyes and a twist to my stomach. Things that I did not know I could refuse. Things that affect me physically and emotionally ever after.
It came about gradually. My second child was a hospital birth with the limitations of constant monitoring and lithotomy positioning (the two things my OB would not bend to) but no other intervention. My third was a hospital birth with a midwife who protected me like a lion. I would have said this was the ideal situation if the staff had not been horrible to me once she left. Because of this treatment my fourth and fifth were born in the peace of my home where we could curl up in bed after and receive home care for days afterward.
Having experienced this range of situations, I chose to support home birth. To me this was logical. To others I was eccentric, a radical or just plain stupid. They would listen to my reasoning and nod but always say something utterly ignorant like, “Well, squatting in the bushes is not for me. I need drugs! Midwives are not doctors!” At first I thought this was about ignorance and the unwillingness to do research. Over time I have come to realize the situation is far more complex and involves a healthy dose of fear fueled by misinformation. It involves the fact that women should be free to have choice in any direction. I now believe that the best balance would be solid collaboration between woman, midwife, doctor, home and hospital. A birth utopia, if you will. A birth utopia where no one would have to lie and information was openly shared. Truly, if you have looked at the risks and made an informed choice, then you should have the right to make that choice.
I am writing this from a dark place. Lately I have felt this birthing ennui overtake me. I am tiring of educating against the sick stereotype that midwives are uneducated or less qualified. I am ground down by the women who believe that the cesarean rate is too high and the procedure overused but still believe their own operation was a necessary emergency. (I am NOT saying that C’s do not have a place or this situation is impossible but I have NEVER personally met a woman who thought her C was unnecessary. Only online. I attribute it to a need to believe it was necessary to protect against any feeling of loss. Much like the healthy baby pacifier.) I wish to weep whenever a first time mom tells me of her grand plan to go in and sign up for an immediate epidural. When I gently ask if she has considered the risks I am met with the standard, “My doctor tells me it is completely safe.” Like defensive automated phone systems spewing catch phrases. Deaf to all else. I am sometimes shamed when I read comments from women lambasting birth advocates for not supporting their choices to have interventions because it was “the right choice for them”. I am sometimes shamed that I have wavered in being outspoken to be more “politically correct”. My heart breaks for those who have had belief in their bodies stripped from them and their bodies cut open only to be told later that they will never be allowed to birth vaginally because it is against policy. I hate the fear that women feel to go against or outside of the system in order to have a say in their own birth. The joy of birth is being lost to me because I only see despair and struggle ahead. This is dark and heavy on my shoulders these days.
Maternal care is a feminist issue. ALL women should take the time to research and question what is being offered or even forced. Women are using the “choice” banner to defend the choice to give up choice. When the chips are down, who is really going to argue with personal choice? It makes my head spin. My worry is that most women, in majority, will not stand up for their right to control what happens to their body during pregnancy and birth until we have no control. It is going there and we see it every day. Women being imprisoned in hospitals, ordered by the court to undergo surgery, refused vaginal delivery because of a policy made by strangers counting dollars. Women being confined to beds and their bodies forced into hard labor with chemicals under the threat their doctor will “drop them” or their “baby will die”. Women feeling the only choice is to labor at home without an attendant because it is illegal for a midwife or doctor to attend them at home, where they feel safest. To me this is an echo of women hiding in their bathrooms with a knitting needle. You know of what I write.
Why can’t we be proactive instead of reactionary? Why can’t we stand strong to keep what we have a right to instead of fighting for something we have lost?
I am ever thankful to the people out there loudly advocating for all women and their babies to have safe and healthy births and admire your strength to stay the course in the face of such resistance and complexity.