The Undermining Of the Birthing Woman

I spent the duration of my pregnancy researching birth preferences, hospital procedures that I was willing to do and others that I was not.  After very little research and conversations with other mothers I came to the conclusion that I did not want a hospital birth. The rate of C-Sections are too high, with our highest rate being 38% and our lowest is still a  staggering 19% (figure from 2011), to all be emergency situations, rather it seems many are carried out if a woman doesn’t birth a baby under a specific time, if the labor fails to progress. But when has birth ever had a time limit? Our bodies don’t recognize time, our babies certainly don’t either, so why is the maternity service expecting women to be able to follow this guideline? The number of episiotomies was also startlingly high:our National Maternity Hospital having a rate of 27% (figure from 2011). The fact that birth preferences are not adhered to when they are specifically written as consent or lack of to certain practices.  I wanted a service that would listen to my birth plan, I no longer had preferences since the very word insinuates that it’s something I would prefer when in reality they were things I was saying a blatant NO to.  I wasn’t willing to have my bodily autonomy ignored in labor so instead booked a home-birth.

Because of this decision, because of my choice to birth in a safe environment, at home with healthcare professionals that do listen to the mothers needs, I was refused pre-natal care in a hospital because the doctor didn’t agree with my choice.  I was being punished like a child for not doing what I was supposed to; for not birthing in a hospital. So for the remaining 28 weeks of my pregnancy I had no care.  I was told I wasn’t allowed to have a home-birth, when in reality, I was because it was my choice to make. What I should have been told is that he didn’t recommend it.  My case wasn’t unique. Home-births are becoming quite popular due to the trauma of hospitals births.  Many women who choose a home-birth do so after a first hospital experience that left them terrified of birth.  But home births offer more patient centered care, they are normally personal and respectful.  However public hospitals, gp’s and even midwives are using scare tactics on these women.  They use biased information, often not based on fact or research at all.

As it happened I ended up having a transfer due to a possible haemorrhage. I had spent the entire day birthing but was becoming exhausted and upset at the fact that my baby was taking his time. Up until a certain point, the labor was quite calm, I was relaxing, had my partner and sister with me. My midwives stayed close but didnt hover. In the end the possible emergency situation meant that my home birth dream was over. The calm was gone and the storm was rolling in.  The instant change was shocking, I was being asked question upon question by the paramedic while my midwife attempted to relay my birth plan to him.  I was in the height of birthing, the baby was on its way and stil the paramedic was questioning me on my date of birth, my address. My baby was born in the ambulance quite safely, with no medical help on the way to the hospital.  And instantly things became hectic and I started to wonder if there was indeed an emergency. I was being carted off, my baby taken from me, my midwife reiterating my birth plan again.  ‘She doesnt consent to cord cutting, she wants a physiological third stage…‘ Instead of being heard, he was ignored. I could see he was being ignored. I restated what he had said, while watching to see what was happening with my baby. They acknowledged me, but refused to take on board what I was saying instead telling me that they had to cut the cord, they had to give me a shot to deliver the placenta. I was upset, but too busy trying to get glimpses of my baby boy to fight it. Before they could even ready the needle the placenta was out. So as it turns out, they didn’t have to give me the needle, it was just policy that they should.  Where were my rights as a human being? Why was I not listened to and my lack of consent not taken on board? Because my reproductive ability means that I dont have the same rights as a man once I am pregnant. The baby (who cannot understand or give consent to anything) is assumed to be the most important, and what the baby needs is more important that what I, his mother needs.  Once my body became pregnant, it was no longer my body, but my babies at the mercy of the system.

My experiences at the hospital were less than pleasant.  I was, like countless other women, downright ignored.  My body was not my own. I was seen as a birthing object, rather than a woman giving birth to her baby. And like most hospitals births, once the baby is out and safe, you are left on your own, forgotten about. My partner was told to leave, I was left in a ward without any advice, with a newborn that I knew nothing about. I was no longer important.

Women have for too long been at the mercy of the patriarchal system due their reproductive ability.  They are governed, restricted, and regulated. Good, understanding maternity care and services are of the utmost importance to women the world over.  In an ideal world where women are not under the thumb of this system they would have health care providers that listen to the needs of each individual woman, a service that treats each woman with respect and the understanding that women are not objects to be controlled. These are necessary and should be consistent across the board.

This is not the case.

Instead what we have are women being given varied advice, often based on old (and since disproven) facts and biased opinions from their healthcare providers, inadequate oppressive services and are treated like their emotional and physical needs are secondary to that of their child. In hospitals women are being told their birth preferences won’t be taken into consideration. Policies and regulations have taken over the entire birthing process, placing the birthing woman on a time limit. She will often be treated like an incubator on a conveyor belt of birthing, where her individual needs will not be met, her only purpose is to labor.

She will be silenced.

She will be ignored.

She will be met with statements like “We don’t allow that”, or “It’s not in our policy…”

She will be talked down to, because she’s not a doctor/midwife.

She will be manipulated into giving consent.

She will be given inaccurate information so that informed consent is not a possibility.

This is the cross the birthing woman must bear.
And why? Why should a woman in a state of such discomfort, doing something powerful, immensely huge for her body, have to bear this cross? Because of policy, that and patriarchal systems that have been in place since hospital births caught on.  Birth preferences are a way for women to gain a bit of control over what happens to them at a time when they are most vulnerable, but many women are being told they wont be followed because it’s not policy.  A birthing woman who becomes hungry after hours of contractions, after exhausting work and effort on her part, is told she cannot eat because they don’t allow it, it’s not policy. Some women even have procedures carried out without their consent because of this too, such as the episiotomy: the cutting of a woman to allow more room for the baby to make his entrance into the world. Where is the proof that this procedure is even necessary? Where is the information that each woman should be given before this is carried out so that they can give informed consent? The many women I have spoken to about this have all had similar experiences.  They were cut without even knowing that it was happening. It’s a terrifying thought: that procedures like this one, so similar to Female Genital Mutilation, are being carried out unbeknownst to the birthing woman.

The western world needs to trust the birthing woman, but it does not.

It needs to listen to her, but it doesn’t.

It needs to give her unbiased, truthful information. But it doesn’t.

It needs to offer sympathetic advice, understand her needs, and not treat her like an object to be controlled and managed.

The reproduction of the human species is not a medical issue, its a natural course. Its not something to be managed, it needs to be understood.

Unfortunately, it seems policy and regulations are taking over the entire process and as always, women are the ones losing bodily autonomy and their voices.



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