Birth Activism or Mother celebrations?

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It is needless to say that birth in our culture, is very different to what it used to be and  also to what it was meant to be. We save more mothers and babies than we used to in poorer times, but we are now at a place where the medicalisation of birth, is continuing without additional benefits for mothers and babies and often, in my opinion, at great expense to the birthing process in general and mothers emotional health. As a doula I see women paying for our cultural choices of safety. I meet women who was treated with disrespect, I hear about the manipulation during a woman’s most vulnerable state. I see mountains of practice that has no ground in best medical practice and I talk to a lot of wounded Mums. This is not what birth is about and it is not needed to keep a good standard of safety. It is not healthy for our society and we pay so dearly in PND, disconnection, and lack of ‘mothering’ self-esteem. This is what brings out my inner birth activist.

Australia is proud to say that we are the lucky country, but in birth I am no longer so sure. Midwives are struggling to practice their trade and are bullied into doing things that they don’t believe in. We are breaking our women and letting money rule over good medical practice. And I am not just talking about the disgraceful caesarean rates, particularly in our private sector. I am talking about the missing link in birth called nurture and respect for the fact that a mother has great knowing about her body and her unborn baby and that there is a whole other side to birth than a baby coming out of a woman. Our birth culture really needs to change, but how do we go about it? So many good people are fighting and working so hard to make even just small, but important changes in a very set system. But doulas, midwives and mothers can’t fight this fight in the birth room. We need to fight that fight outside of the birthing situation and we need women and mothers to speak up and make a bit of a fuss about what they want. I believe we have some work to do here, as women as well, and we need to get all sorts of women on board, if we want to make any changes. We will have to separate what we are fighting for, and how we help and support mothers. It is so incredibly important that birth activism doesn’t become judgment on women’s choices, their birth journeys, their needs, and their emotional state etc. If we as women polarise ourselves in the ‘natural birthers’ against the big bad medicalisation, and the ones who will snot nose the hippie natural birthing, we have lost this fight already. We are going to need to stand together in our differences and unify the fight towards women being treated with decency and respect, having the right to choose where to birth and to be helped by ‘best practice – research evidence’ procedures rather than standard routines and time schedules.

As a Doula I need to leave my birth activism at the door, when I enter a birthing woman’s space. Even when I enter a pregnant woman’s space. Birth activism is fought politically for better conditions, for less un-necessary interventions, for choice in childbirth, for respect for women and their ability to birth, however their journey unfold. But this energy is not beneficial for a mother about to give birth.
This doesn’t mean that all is lost and we are helpless in the hands of caregivers, but it means that our attitude needs to be one of working with the people and birth place we have chosen. It means taking responsibility for your birth place choice, your caregiver choice, for getting the information you need to make good decisions for yourself and your birth. The separation of birth activism and birth work/preparation is a tricky but very important one. Birth is not a medical event, even when medical help is needed. This means that all women go through the transformation to motherhood and they all go through the ‘Rite of Passage’. We need to accept this statement from both sides of the fence. We need women to gather and push for maternity reform, not controlled by the AMA, but by women and evidence – best practice – care.

In birth activism we easily end up in ‘one right way’ to birth, but all births, no matter what they look like, take you to the edge and then ask you to keep going, and this is something worth celebrating. Women go the distance every day. Nobody can judge what a mothers edge looks like and what her challenge might be. It could be a woman birthing for hours, right to where she feels like she can’t go on any longer, and her quest to keep going might be that very difficult, and maybe for her, disappointing decision of having an epidural or surrendering to a caesarean that she had so hoped to avoid. Or it might be a woman, who didn’t make it to hospital and had to cope on her own, even though that was the last thing she wanted. It is her reality and if we don’t spend our energy celebrating the strength our mothers show, in whatever capacity was needed of her, we are missing the point. I strongly believe that if we emphasise an energy of being in awe of ‘birthing’ women and mothers, we can change how important this issue is, on a cultural level. And that is very important to change in maternity care.

Preparing to birth in the system of our birth culture is a difficult one. It is important to be informed and it is important to feel empowered. It is important to know that you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to anything you don’t want to and that you have the right to ask lots of questions, and get second opinions, before you make your decision.
It is also important not to go into birth thinking you can control the event, we can influence it with certain choices, but we can’t control it. We need to encourage women to make good birth place choices, a birth place that suits her specific personality and situation. And we need to help women birth empowered no matter how and where they end up birthing. We need to fight for the right to choose homebirth, and to be able to choose our midwife too, whether you are classified ‘high’ or ‘low risk’. And last but not least we need to help women stay empowered, when birth doesn’t go the way she hoped.

I wonder if women of the world started celebrating each other for the womanly strength we all exceed in birth, with no judgment, could we change the atmosphere and the general feeling of how important this issue is and would that in the end have more power than out political birth activism?

What you can do on birth activist level ?

Join the Maternity Coalition

Talk to your local politician and let them know that women deserve respect and choice and that maternity reform is important to you.

Join the Birth center group ‘Friends of the Birth Center, Sunshine Coast. Find them on Facebook:   and become a member.

And on a celebrative level:
Create a mother blessing for your friend.
Always validate a mother for all the things going well for her and for the strength she excerpted during birth.
Bring her food, massage her feet, but let her work out how she wants to mother her child. Spoil her!!!!!!!!

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Birth Connection is the online presence of Childbirth Educator, Advanced Doula, Birth Story Healer, & Birthing From Within mentor, Pernille Powell. Pernille is based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.


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