Free as a bird, I love that expression. Those four small words make me happy. Funny how we rarely try and control birds, yet society has had a very good go at trying to control people.
Even before our birth we are monitored and measured. When we are born, too often we are welcomed by rough towels, bright lights and a jab in the thigh.
I left clinical midwifery knowing that I could no longer treat human life this way.
I could no longer treat women or babies as if they did not feel every single thing done and said to them on maternity wards. Although a senior midwife told me “we hurt women, that’s what we have to do.” I disagree.
I have seen too much and it is time for me to speak.
I have stepped out of clinical midwifery for personal healing. I could not witness any more caesareans before breakfast or inductions at morning tea. I miss my colleagues and I miss the women and babies and fathers too.
There is no evidence to support practices such as electronic fetal monitoring, epidurals, syntocinon (drug used for inductions) and episiotomies (cutting the skin between the vagina and anus) on healthy low-risk women [Albers, 2005]. Yet these behaviours have become cult rituals, daily routines which are carried out in many hospitals. They are an obstetric convenience rather than a necessity, or for clinical indications [Pairman, Tracy, Thorogood, Pincombe, 2010].
I have sat down to write to you today to free a bird from her cage.
Working with women, listening to their birth stories, I am aware that it is mostly not the specific events of women’s births that haunt them afterwards. What concerns the women I work with is how they are left feeling about themselves.
I hear things like….
“I missed the moment of my daughters birth, they took her away. I am so sad I didn’t get to hold her. I will never get the moment of her birth back.”
“I thought I was going to die.”
“I am so jealous when other women speak about their natural births.”
“My midwife didn’t believe I was in labour, no-body believed me.”
“I thought the hospital was a safe place.”
“I knew what they were doing was wrong. I felt so alone.”
“My birth was really medicalized and I am ashamed I gave into the medical system.”
“I felt so vulnerable with my legs in the air. Nobody asked permission to watch my suturing, I felt sickened.”
“I gave all my love to the wrong man and I can’t forgive myself. Now my son is angry.”
“I had to fight to take my baby home, they reported me to Docs.”
These are the wounds we carry around inside us until one day we release them, until the day we tell someone we can trust. We can heal these wounds, these soul birds can be freed.
Too many women are left with sadness, anger, shame and guilt from childbirth.
I offer birth spirituality and healing support to women from my home and via Skype. I also refer women to counsellors and trauma therapists when required.
My hope is that my work, my listening and my writing can help many birds fly free again.
How we Birth is how we live. Birth is as deep as it gets when you think about women’s health. How women feel about their conceptions, pregnancies and births matters. How women feel post partum matters too. Greatly. If our women are not well cared for we grow a society that is sick and unwell. We have to get birth right and the only way to do that is treat women and families with the respect they truly deserve.
To treat women right, we have to understand and respect the Feminine. She is the organizing power in Nature, the intelligence that regulates seasons, moon phases, tides, menstruation, pregnancy, labour and childbirth, breastfeeding and menopause. The Feminine principle is alive in all of life, in men and women, in nature and in children.Women feel her in their body, most intensely via their menstrual, sexual, creative and reproductive cycles such as pregnancy, birth, breast feeding and menopause.
For too long birthing women have been oppressed in hospitals, which by nature are held intact by medical and military systems, policies and guidelines. These are set up to ‘protect’ women and babies for their ‘safety’, the truth is, they often do more harm than good. The carnage is palpable, visible and silent and invisible. The silence haunts me, and I am inspired to hold space for the sounds to be freed. The damage is physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological and the counterforce will span generations.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. My hope is that the force that women have tolerated will one day turn into a tide, a wild uprising, a big long wave coming in after a long time lost at sea. The FreeBirth movement is one example of this. How we birth is how we live. If we birth with fear, control and powerful drugs, how are we actually enjoying this human experience?
I will do no more harm.
It has gotten way out of hand, way out of balance in labour wards.
Birth belongs to you, dear woman, to you.
Birth belongs to you, not to your hospital, doctor and not to your midwife.
Our rites of passage are not supposed to be mechanistic cult rituals.
Our bodies are not for cutting and suturing up again.
Our babies are not for others before we bond with them.
Our births are not meant to be drive through.
Our births are private, sacred and holy.
Birth is a mighty powerful doorway.
How we open this door has much to do with how safe we feel to allow the primal, sexual and instinctual energy that lives within us to flow. For us to dance our true dance, we need to feel private and safe. We need to feel okay with being who we are, making the noise we need to make, doing the kinds of moves only we can do, in the true spirit we need to do it. Women, like any birthing animal, needs privacy and mostly to be undisturbed to tune into her birth dance, her primal knowing of birth.
Everything we have taken in or on as young girls and later as women impacts if and how we open the door to let our children be born. Our vital energy, our health, our flow, our deepest fears, our sexual experiences, our feelings, our traumas, our relationships, as well as our matrilineal birthstories are all mixed with the primal forces of Nature during Birth.
We have all this heat and sparks and hormonal chemistry going on inside us. Then we go inside a hospital and it has a whole lot going on inside it too.
It’s here that two powerful forces meet.
Too often date night becomes fright night.
It is not meant to be this way.
It is crucial that birthing females be supported and undisturbed during labour. This is nature’s way. There is often a helper in nature, dolphins have a midwife, elephants have a team of support. Predators introduce risk to the species. The birthing mother must be protected and respected, less she become extinct. Nothing must be said or done to bring fear to a birthing mother. Cortisol is released when a mother feels fear and this chemical blocks her Oxytocin, the hormone of love that helps strong contractions to get the baby out.
When a woman travels from her home to hospital in labour the intoxicating hormones and chemicals of labour, body, sex and soul are introduced to the sanitized, bright and sterile environment of the hospital. Sometimes labour slows and then a drug is given to women to ‘get things moving faster’. This then leads to electronic fetal monitoring.
It is standard for many labouring women to be hooked up to syntocinon (the drug that mimics what the body makes in undisturbed healthy birthing women) and a monitor on many labour wards. Yet there are no long term studies on the effect of this drug on labouring women and babies.
So our birthing woman is now strapped to a monitor with two belts around her belly, listening to a beeping machine which alarms every time she moves on the bed. She is intwined in cords from the monitor and the IV pole.
She now even begins to look like a patient in a hospital.
Being hooked up to a drug and a monitor means being stuck on the bed and this creates problems with delivery, which often leads to an instrumental birth, which may need an episiotomy. Perineal trauma is associated with incontinence, sexual and relationship problems. Marriages end because of this.
There is not an animal in nature that would birth given the conditions we subject pregnant women to in most hospitals.
We are led to believe that the hospital is a place of safety for birthing women.
Is being tied up during birth ‘safety’?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is no true ‘safety’ in treating birthing women this way. This is not the way to create an empowered culture of mothers. Yet there is a sure and simple way to put an end to this madness. When women take birth back as their own sacred land, their territory, their rite of passage, the predator will no longer be a threat. There will be no more lambs to the slaughter.
For this, women must rise. Women need a strong clear voice before, during and after Birth at crucial moments. For women to rise, midwives and doulas must rise too. This stops all the madness in its tracks. I have seen it work a treat when all the chips were down. I remember one birth, the woman was labouring for over 17 hours and the doctor came in and said “I think it’s time to call it a day” and the woman gently turned to him and said in a calm clear voice. “No, I can do this”. He put his tools away, and she birthed beautifully. We can’t give up on women and we cannot allow women to give up on themselves. Birth matters too much. When women have a voice, nothing can stand in their way. We can reclaim Birth and the power to give life and death once more. Nature will always have her way in the end.
Albers,L.L. (2005). Over treatment of Normal Childbirth in U.S. Hospitals.Birth,32(1), 67-68. doi:10.1111/j.0730-7659.2005.00343.x
Pairman,S. (2006).Midwifery: Preparation for practice. Sydney: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.