If there is just one message that I would like to get across to anyone who is interested in childbirth, it's this:
Women, you own your birth. Not your doctor, not your midwife, not your doula. You own it. Let me explain.
I subscribe to “Unassisted Childbirth” in my email through Google Alerts. It's a wonderful way to stay up to date on all of my favorite topics.
Keeping up with the topic in this way, I can tell you, there are a lot of women interested in exploring the option of having an unassisted birth. I can also tell you, there are a lot of people vehemently against the very idea of it.
This week, I opened my email to find this headline: Unassisted Childbirth: Self Empowering or Irresponsibly Risky?
I sighed, gained my composure, and opened the link. The usual criticisms are contained within the blog post. The author claims that women are not qualified to choose unassisted birth for themselves, and that birth can be dangerous. She also claimed that unassisted birth advocates are out to tell all women that unassisted birth is the right choice for everyone. I tried to address these beliefs in my comments to the author.
Attitude Leads to Abuse of Power
My issue with this particular blog post, however, was not about the above-stated concerns.
My biggest issue was with the attitude that this blogger portrayed about midwifery and birth attendants in general. That is, that birth attendants make birth safer by their “qualifications” and that women should always default to their attendant's wishes and “medical opinion”.
This attitude is the very starting point of abuse of power during childbirth, both by doctors and midwives.
As with any life event, birth can become a medical event. But, it is not inherently dangerous. What is dangerous is to have a birth attendant who believes that their very presence makes your birth safer.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that someone trained in certain aspects of birth cannot be a very valuable resource during birth, especially during an emergency situation.
But, birth attendants are also human. They miscalculate, misjudge, and make mistakes, sometimes fatal ones.
There is one major fact about life that seems to be missed or ignored in these conversations:
We can never make birth completely safe. Our mother and infant mortality rate will never be zero. That's just not the way it works.
Choosing a birth attendant should never be an act of finding someone to “blame” if your birth goes wrong.
I feel very sorry for doctors and midwives who are put under that kind of pressure, just as I am very sorry for the mothers who chose home birth or unassisted birth and are blamed for a complication or death because of their lack of “qualifications”.
There is no way to go into birth knowing beforehand how your doctor or midwife will act in an emergency. That’s exactly why women need to be the driving force and power in their own birth, not the midwife. If a midwife (or doctor) is present, they should be the advisory committee, not the sole decision makers.
That’s how women, babies, and entire families fall into a position of being helpless and abused in their own birth scenario. And yes, MANY midwives are those abusers.
They abuse their power and knowledge and use it to make decisions FOR families instead of with them.
They use it to stick their hands in women to “diagnose” instead of listening to women first and then asking if they would like a second opinion. They use it to lord over women who choose UC and tell them that their choice is “dangerous” and “irresponsible”.
You do not own birth. You do not make birth “safer” with your presence.
Be humble, and realize that you are there to help the mother in the capacity of making informed decisions. Realize that she may be informed in ways that you are not.
Trust her to know her own body and her own baby better than you do. Give her advice, and respect her decision, even if it's not yours. Listen to mothers. Present them with ALL of their options when they are scared and unsure.
You own your own birth. Your doctor, midwife, and doula are your advisory committee.
You know your body and your baby better than anyone. If you need to, ask for your attendant's advice and intervention. Don't be afraid to say NO if their advice or intervention goes against your own choice. Expect to be respected during birth.
Do not shift blame. Ultimately, it's up to you (and your partner, if appropriate) to make the decision.