~ I hold these truths to be self-evident ~
1. The mind and the body are linked: and a woman's perceptions and needs are never more intimately exposed than in birth. Assuming an absence of risk factors, a labouring mother who is comfortable and in control has removed the most major impediments to birth: herself, and outside interference. Note that paradoxically, it is possible for a woman to be "comfortable and in control" while enduring pain, and letting birth take over.
2. Pregnancy and birth are not medical problems: but complications related to pregnancy and childbirth most certainly are and must be considered mindfully. Prenatal care is key, but need not be invasive or generic.
3. The mother's role in birth is vital: women are important individuals, not negligible vessels. Treat the mother as though her experience of birth does not matter and that illustrates exactly how much weight your experience should be given.
4. The health of the infant is vital: one need not subsume the other.
5. Regional differences vastly affect birth choices: and even terminology isn't consistent. For example, not only will one hospital's policies vary from another, the word "midwife" means very different things depending on where you are.
6. Strive to empower women, not infantalize them: no one gives birth but the mother. Not her doctor, not her husband, not capital-S Society, whether she births unassisted in a mossy field surrounded by wood nymphs, or has a section in an operating theatre. The mother should be encouraged to learn about her options, and actively participate in birth in the way that is best for her, her pregnancy, and her baby.
7. Interventions can cascade: an uncomplicated, natural birth easily becomes otherwise if it is interfered with.
8. But thank god for 21st century medicine: most of us have had our lives saved by modern medicine - I had my appendix out at the age of 12 - and there is no reason to (cough) throw the baby out with the bathwater. Careful risk and pain management is different than starting at induction and ramping up from there.
~ My first homebirth ~
Attended by midwives with decades of obstetrical nursing experience, I had a spontaneous first labour which totalled 21 hours. 9 of those were active labour, and I gave birth at home in water after about 30-45 minutes of pushing. My son was perfect and shockingly aware. I had no external injury, other than abrasions which healed within days. The birth was virtually bloodless.
I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
What I mean is: I had the most textbook birth imaginable, and still it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I can't imagine going through that pain and effort if I hadn't been totally committed to it, if I hadn't come to it on my own. I will happily describe my experience to women if prompted, or if there is discussion online, but I always include that information. I always specify that I personally had zero risk factors. I specify that I felt safest and most comfortable in my own space, because hospitals are a source of great anxiety for me, and being loose and open there would be a virtual impossibility. That I fully trusted in my midwives' experience to judge whether a hospital transfer was medically necessary. That my region's lack of support for water birth or even including showers for pain management was another major impediment to my considering them. That even at the peak of transition, when I suddenly became Catholic and called on Mother Mary, I was so grateful that there was no catheter in my spine.
But I know that to a woman who felt most comfortable in the hands of trusted doctors, my experience would have been her hell. I know that the pain I let work on me was pain I embraced, and if I had been on the run from it, it would have been torture instead of simply very difficult. I know that some women propose marriage to their anaesthetists. Who am I to stand against such a love affair!
So even though I am a homebirther, and even though I am approximately a million months pregnant and I plan to repeat the experience within weeks, I will never tell a woman that homebirth is right for her. I can simply explain how it went for me.
~ Childbirth Choices ~
Feminism isn't about Not Taking His Last Name. It is about having the choice whether or not to take his last name. Birth is a feminist issue, because the rights and voices of women in birth have been stifled by paternalistic medicalization for decades.
Yet similarly, that doesn't mean All Enlightened Women must make a full 180 on medical interventions, leaving hospitals in droves (wood nymphs for everyone!). It means choices, and a woman's role in making those choices for herself and her body.
One of the books recommended to me by my midwives was Birthing From Within, a book that discusses birth options, predominantly unmedicated ones, from the vantage of "rite of passage," not "medical event."
The most stirring thing for me, beyond the art therapy from women who had suffered traumatic births, was that the author herself... had an emergency caesarian. She writes beautifully about her experience and how to mindfully experience birth even at its most necessarily medical.
That taught me the best lesson I learned about birth: anyone who tells you there's only one right way to do it is not talking to you any more. They are using you, either to make a point or to try and recruit you to one "side."
Me? I'm nobody's soldier. Here's to living in this moment in time, in nations with this quality of care available, where we can still march to the beat of our own drum. We shouldn't take that freedom for granted.