Last weekend I attended the 'Homebirth Conference' in Sydney which is an annual event where most of Australia's independent midwife scene and high calibre speakers of the 'natural birth community' get together to place a spotlight on homebirth but also normal, non medicalised birth which usually lie close together. It felt exhilarating to be in a room full of amazing women who stand for respecting birth but also mothers and their emotional experience within the process. Birthing a baby and how women feel as they do it are intrinsically connected and yet we do not seem to connect the dots in the reality of hospital birthing today. How can the commonly referred to statement of 'At least you have a healthy baby' be upheld when it is the mother who has to care for the baby? How can we ignore or lessen the importance of her emotional health following her birth experience?
When I thought about writing today's post I initially considered writing about all those clear statistics, study after study that prove homebirth to be SAFER for low risk pregnant women than a hospital birth, or how your risk of experiencing a caesarean birth is 4.62 times higher in an obstetric led hospital than in a primary birth unit but then again you can find this information elsewhere and usually, when it comes to birth, studies fall on deaf ears as it is an emotive discussion with many interests at stake. Instead I decided to write about my experience at the conference as a woman who has had two high intervention and medicalised births herself. In a nutshell, my births were the opposite of births we discussed over the weekend, I had every drug, every intervention you can think of to mess with the process of birth.
We watched beautiful movies of women feeling safe in their own environment, labouring in the circle of
their loved ones, supported by highly experienced and professional midwives, women tapping into their intuitive birthing wisdom, experiencing their true power as they were so firmly held by everyone around and finally welcoming their baby in an ecstatic moment full of release, joy and love...and you know what? It felt RIGHT, it felt like birth was meant to be, to feel, to be experienced. A birth that makes a strong mother, one who knows she can trust her intuition and doesn't need to pick up the pieces off the floor afterwards. The many pictures you see on social media of women in a birth pool just after having given birth speak a thousand words and I'm fairly sure most women look at them as how they would like to experience birth. And you know what? In almost all of these pictures the woman would have had what can be described as a 'normal birth'. Not an induced birth, a medically managed birth, an instrumental birth, a caesarean birth...no, a birth that hasn't been messed with but a love fest of the highest oxytocin levels a woman will ever experience in her life.
As a doula I support almost all of my births at present within the hospital system and therefore, I'm used to deal with intervention of all kind and also how intervention often becomes necessary at some point once you've gone down that road of a medicalised birth. Once you have begun to 'mess with the queen oxytocin' (as so perfectly put by Rhea Dempsey at the conference) there is usually no return to 'normal birth' and one step follows the other. So what is my main message to you? Think twice, triple even before you agree to that initial intervention, leave no question unasked before you agree to an induction...and always remember that YOU matter in all this. You are the mother, yes your emotional experience of birth matters greatly and not just your healthy baby because your baby needs a strong mama.
As we talked about normal birth and looked at breathtaking birth photography I definitely experienced another moment of mourning my own births. Not so much of what had happened but I mourned the loss of my emotional experience of birth as an ecstatic, joyful and intrinsically powerful moment...something that I personally will never experience. What do you see when you look in my face? Relief yes, probably sadness, shock but also an emotional emptiness. This is not how birth is meant to feel ladies. And this is my ode to 'normal birth', one that is worth fighting for, to stand up for and to empower others in their aim to experience one. Because it matters.
Image credit: www.birthwithoutfear.com
Julia MacLeod is an experienced birth & postnatal doula who supports families across the Central Coast during their pregnancy and birth journeys. She is passionate about women and their partners feeling supported, prepared and cared for during one of the biggest transitions in life that birth is.