first published here on 18th June 2012
So, I chose to give birth at home. I engaged an independent midwife to support me to birth at home.
I am fascinated by birth. I love to read birth stories, I love watching videos of babies emerging from their Mama’s. I have been lucky enough to present at the birth of three babies apart from my own. They have been the most affirming, heart-bursting-open, awe-inspiring moments of my life. I believe women during labour and birth are something to be revered, honoured, celebrated. I would love to spend my life raising children and supporting other women in birth (maybe as a midwife).
I didn’t have a written birth plan for my birth. I did, however have a short statement prepared in case I needed to transfer to hospital during labour or birth. It said this:
“We have employed an independent midwife to support us during our pregnancy, birth and post-natal period. We understand that she does not have practicing rights in hospital but wish for her to remain with us at all times as a support person.
We want our baby to be born naturally and have invested a lot of time and energy in being informed and educated about the birth process. We acknowledge and accept that in some circumstances, intervention in the birth process is necessary.
If we require intervention, please discuss this with us. Please allow us time alone to make a decision.
Please obtain our explicit verbal consent before any interventions.
Please ask before touching me.
Please ask before touching our baby.
Please allow us to discover our baby’s sex for ourselves.
Do not cut our baby’s umbilical cord without my explicit verbal consent.
Please support us to have uninterrupted skin on skin time with our baby immediately after birth.
Please support us to have skin on skin contact even in case of caesarean. If it is not possible for our baby to have skin on skin contact with Mama [actual name], please support Dad [actual name] to have as much skin on skin contact as possible.”
Everything in that statement was considered and researched and the primary deciding factor in every single word was providing the healthiest, happiest start to life for my baby (except the sex thing – that wasn’t about safety, I just wanted me or my partner to find out for ourselves) and protecting my own health and wellbeing so I could be the best possible mother to my baby. I wrote it and shoved it in a bag somewhere, feeling pretty confident I wouldn’t need it.
I have a long history of depression and anxiety. I have been a victim/survivor of sexual assault, and have been in a relationship where I was subjected to partner violence – I have very real fears around being touched without my permission. I have a family history of mental health issues. I experienced ante-natal depression while I was pregnant, which floored me. I had desperately wanted to conceive for two years, was devastated by an early miscarriage in 2010, and yet when I hit my second trimester I had fantasies about having an abortion and running away from my life. I sought treatment, healed and went on to enjoy the rest of my pregnancy, but knew post-natal depression was a very real possibility for me. I did not want my baby’s first weeks of life to be spent with a depressed and/or suicidal mother.
I was grateful to have a care provider who I spent 7 months getting to know before my baby arrived. Our antenatal appointments were in my home and meant to go for an hour, but would more often than not go for longer. We would talk about birth physiology, my physical and emotional wellbeing, nutrition, my support networks, the risks and benefits of tests and scans on offer to pregnant women and whether I would have them, what support she would provide during the birth, when to call her, what we would do if complications started to develop, what would happen after the birth, motherhood, parenting…and then she would ask if she could listen to the baby’s heart, she would ask if she could put gel on my belly so she could use her doppler, she would ask before she measured my fundal height and she would ask before she touched my stomach and felt my baby’s position with her skilled, gentle hands. She would tell me we were growing beautifully, that my baby was clever and that I was going to be a wonderful Mama.
These small things – asking for my consent, explaining what she was doing, being kind to me – made me feel safe. I knew I could trust her to protect and support me while I was in labour – surrendered to hormones, physiology, my baby’s path. She was there for me. I knew we were on the same page and I wasn’t beholden to policies that were not in my best interests. I knew I had prepared well. I didn’t need her permission for anything and I didn’t need her to ‘deliver’ my baby, because I was going to birth him. I didn’t need to write anything down because she understood me and respected me as a person, woman, mother, decision maker.
I am so, so, fortunate that I met this incredible woman and midwife. I am also fortunate that I never feared birth. I never feared that I wouldn’t be able to bear the pain.
The birth of my child burst my heart open in a way I never could have imagined. I picked him up out of the water after roaring him into the world and brought him to my chest, speaking to him as I watched him learn to breathe without me. Exactly as I had imagined it would happen. Moments after he was born, I said to my partner, ‘let’s do that again.’ I felt like the most powerful woman that ever lived (after feeling useless and that I had achieved nothing), that my body was perfect (after 25 years of hating it) and proud that I had given my child such a gift by having a gentle start to life.
But all of that – it’s just me. Millions of women have babies. I’m just another one. Not a hero, not a martyr, not brave. Just a woman giving birth.
Staying home for birth suited me and my baby. It was the safest option for me and my baby. It was important to me to be well informed and prepared. I spent two years devouring everything I could get my hands on to weigh up the risks and benefits of the various tests, procedures, pain relief, birth places and processes that are the norm for childbearing women. Some women aren’t interested in doing that preparation and are happy to follow the lead of whichever maternity care provider they have. Some (most!) women envision births that are totally different to mine. Among my friends, there are women who birthed at home, women who birthed in hospital, women who hoped for a natural birth but experienced lots of intervention and are ok with that (and women who are deeply not ok with that), some elected for a surgical birth with an absence of medical indication for one, some women had complications that meant a surgical birth was their only safe option. They’re all women. Giving birth. I support and respect them all, however they decide to do it.
Someone wrote a column this week calling women like me ‘Birthzillas’. This person believes that women who prepare and plan for a positive birth experience are dangerous and misguided, and prioritising their own feelings at the expense of the wellbeing of their babies.
I engaged with her on twitter:
I’m not academic or intellectually sophisticated and I don’t have a big loud voice (or the PM’s ear). My feminist ideas and values are ever-evolving. I read, engage, talk, consider – always learning and growing. I usually avoid discussion about who can and can’t call themselves a feminist, but I find myself getting frustrated when people (especially prominent feminists) seek to deny women the freedom to make decisions about their own bodies. It makes me angry when people like Mia (who have influence on a very large scale) insist they are feminist while dismissing and deriding groups of women (especially when they are vulnerable women). I, and feminists I admire, support women to be self-determining in how they birth, parent (or choose not to), work, have relationships and find what is meaningful for them. I acknowledge and do what I can to try and challenge the patriarchal systems that mean our choices are not made in a vaccuum. Indigenous women who are forced away from their communities and not allowed to birth ‘on country’ don’t have much choice in how they birth. Are they ‘birthzillas’ for wanting to birth in a place that holds immense cultural significance, supported by familiar people who speak their language? Mia apparently doesn’t understand (or chooses to ignore) the way our culture pathologises womens bodies and undermines their autonomy as soon as they get a positive pregnancy test (or if they happen to be young, or old, or fat, or born into a male body, or disabled, or poor, or queer, or indigenous, or a sex worker, or a migrant). She doesn’t support women to choose how they give birth. She doesn’t even think women should have a say in what happens with their bodies.
Birth is political. Our bodies are political. Your body is YOURS. You get final say in what happens to it. Your autonomy over your body doesn’t end when you become pregnant. If how your baby comes into the world is important to you, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t give your power away. Don’t let fear of judgement or disapproval stop you from following your heart and doing what you need to do. You are not a disaster waiting to happen. You are not ‘high risk’ or ‘low risk’. You are a woman giving birth. You may have more complex needs than other women and babies – this does not mean you have any less say in what happens to your body. Regardless of what you decide is important, where you give birth, who is with you, what happens after, it’s YOUR decision and you should absolutely expect that you be treated with care, respect and dignity. It matters.
**post script: the care I received during my labour and birth will be illegal in July 2013. For more information and what you can do to help, look to www.maternitycoalition.org.au and www.homebirthaustralia.org.
If you want to see a positive, honest film about birth, feminism and choice in Australia, check out www.faceofbirth.com. You can download it for a small cost. I really think it is a must see for childbearing women.
If you experienced birth trauma, birth rape (it is real – you are not being sensationalist), or just want to debrief from your birth, I implore you to find support. You can heal and it can be better. www.birthtalk.org is a great resource.