It was on a plane in 2015 on one of my many flights across the Tasman between New Zealand and Australia that it happened. I was watching a film called “How to Save the World” – a fascinating documentary about the founders of Greenpeace.
Greenpeace, an organization founded by activists and volunteers, has done a phenomenal job of protecting whales and seals and other wildlife since its inception by a handful of courageous eco-warriors.
Whaling has been stopped in many countries.
Greenpeace did change the world.
Watching this film I thought to myself… “Who is going to protect the mothers and the babies? Who is going to stop birth trauma?”
Unlike the slaughtering of baby seals, violence towards women and babies at birth is hidden from the world.
It is not about anger, but rather compliance and control. It is about fear and how fear is applied in a controlled way to a mysterious process that is unique to each birth.
From a midwifery perspective, birth trauma in big hospitals is predictable with poor outcomes and life long consequences for women.
To avoid it we must not be afraid, nor must we be naive and pretend it does not exist.
Violence against women and babies during labour and birth goes on in subtle and direct ways across the world.
Medicine expects compliance. It is carried out by those who don’t know any other way. They are doing the only thing they know how to do with the linear cortex, medical perspective and surgical skills they have.
It gets the baby out quickly, yes.
And it makes Birth look like drive through.
It goes like this.
As part of normal labour women experience intense pain in birth. They can feel very vulnerable and they sometimes want to go home or give up or die or all these things.
Hospitals provide a smorgasbord of options which, from a position of intense exhaustion, pain or suffering can sound like a very good idea at the time.
Vulnerability + Pain + Hospital + Fear + lack of Autonomous Midwives = Massive Intervention = Unnecessary birth trauma
This doesn’t happen in midwifery led environments, in fact maternity care from a known midwife means 50 – 80% fewer medical interventions during childbirth.
I listen to women. I hear their stories of birth. I hear how healthy women feel about their caesareans, and their forceps and their vacuum. I hear about their lost dreams. I see their tears.
And I know that so much of this pain can be prevented.
Unnecessary birth trauma will end when women and midwives reclaim their rightful place as guardians of normal childbirth.
When Midwives return to their respected and important role in society as the guardians and protectors of normal pregnancy and birth we will see Birth come home.
We can turn the tide.
We can restore our sacred rites.
We can and we are.
Women are the experts on themselves, their bodies and their baby. Midwives are the experts of normal birth. Medicine can be called upon IF, and only ever if it is truly required. Most of the time, it isn’t required but because we take a normal healthy life giving process into a medical environment much is lost, we create problems, lots of them.
The medical model sees birth as an accident waiting to happen and treats it as such. Every step of labour is charted, women are questioned, prodded and poked.
Surveillance goes against Birth and creates problems.
Unnecessary birth trauma is then created, it is a by-product of being caught in a net and hoping that something outside ourselves will help us escape it.
When we listen to our inner guidance above all else, and go with it, birth trauma can begin to end.
There are many ways to help a woman get her baby out. Instruments and surgery are one way.
Midwifery is another.
When we heal the soul of midwifery Birth will begin to come home.
The seal fur traders probably thought they were doing the best thing for their communities by supporting the baby seal fur trade back in the day. Perhaps the fur industry supported their families and communities for generations.
Not any more.
Facing our fear of death during birth is a long forgotten aspect of spiritual midwifery.
When we neglect the spiritual and shamanic dimensions of birth we have to resort to machines and instruments.
The inner doors open through an alchemical process that is a mystery. Midwives hold the space for this and support women to release whatever holds them back. When we let go and trust, our baby comes earth side. Sometimes it means we die to something internally. This is an aspect of birth that is overlooked by those who think their way through maternity care with only linear symbol processing. Much more is going on beneath the surface, and the inner workings of women contribute to the outer workings in birth.
Many maternity care providers feel they are doing the best thing when they introduce a monitor, fetal scalp electrode, an episiotomy (cutting a woman’s perineum between vagina and anus) an epidural, forceps, vacuum or caesarean section into a woman’s birth.
It’s often the only way they know how to get the baby out. Yet from a midwifery perspective, creating the right environment and honouring the woman and her process is how the babies emerge naturally.
This happens spontaneously, without force.
Too often these things are introduced because they are seen as the only option. It’s sort of like being hungry and the only thing open is McDonald’s. Just because it’s everywhere doesn’t mean it is good for you.
We can Birth in a natural and humane way. There are too many cuts, too many machines, too many drugs and too many interventions. It all can stop. It can stop with you.
Many women say they want a natural birth, yet birthing in a hospital means that pretty much everything in there goes against that outcome. For instance, driving to a hospital to give birth, bright lights, strangers, sanitized clinical environments that don’t smell familiar, operating theatres, beeping machines and throngs of medical staff peering at your body is not natural.
Far from it.
It’s a jungle in there and there are traps. Traps that you can walk into without even being aware of them.
Birth can be straightforward. Birth can be spiritual. Birth can be Wild. Birth can be empowering. Birth can be sexy. Birth can be intense. Birth can be whatever she is.
Natural birth happens when women are undisturbed in labour. If we disturb the mother, we disturb the delicate chemicals of love and safety required to expand enough, to trust enough to let the doors of life open and let babies be born. If we don’t feel safe enough to let go, the doors of life won’t open no matter how much they tell you to push.
Women aren’t made to be hooked up to machines during birth. Women are not made to birth on white sanitized sheets lying on single beds in the middle of medical rooms.
Women are not made to be told how to birth.
We’ve got this.
We know how to Birth.
If women are healthy, prepared, protected and feel safe, most can birth well.
We know. We know. We know. We just have to remember.
So many women tell me they want a natural birth, yet they walk themselves into an environment that offers the opposite.
Some have tried to capture Birth and diminish her. Women were not meant to birth in captivity. We might need to roam, we might need to rest. We might need to go quiet. We might need to get fierce.
There is no animal on earth that would agree to the kinds of intervention women agree to during childbirth.
Show your teeth if necessary.
And be sure to heal from your previous birth if you are birthing again. This is a must.
Don’t play dead. Don’t be compliant.
Get in alliance with your birthing powers.
Seek out an experienced Midwife or Doula you trust to support you.
Birth is the big work and we need Midwives, autonomous and fully supported to do the work they are so good at. Controlling women, birth and midwives in institutions is not working.
Midwives need support, they work all hours of the night and day. Women need support and both need freedom.
Since Birth went to hospitals women’s outcomes improved for many decades but between 2000 and 2013 the number of women who died of child birth related issues nearly doubled in USA and Canada. (World Health Organization, 2008)
I am making a stand for something else. For the capacity of women to birth without a whole lot of machines and equipment.
Birth in most big hospitals has become like drive through. You go in, you get your baby and you come out with some kind of cut or wound.
Women and Birth are not drive through. Something important is happening.
Our bodies and our baby belong to us, not to hospitals.
I have seen violence towards women in hospitals and every midwife who works in a hospital knows exactly how, when, where and with whom it happens.
It has to stop.
Violence towards women during childbirth is hidden because women birth in private behind closed doors where they are expected to be compliant. Grrrr …
97% of women in Australia birth in a hospital. From 2007 to 2014 I worked in these hospitals as a doula, student midwife and midwife.
Midwifery today would require me to partake in practices I believe are dangerous. Practices that have no evidence to back them up.
Surveillance in the form of continuous fetal monitoring (which has a woman tied to a bed) as well as routine vaginal examinations contribute to unnecessary birth trauma.
It’s not humane. It has to stop.
The medical model disturbs the natural birthing process. It then has to introduce instruments or operations to get the baby out.
Continuous fetal monitoring, Induction of Labour, Episiotomy, Vacuum Extraction Forceps delivery and Caesarean section are not enjoyable experiences for many women.
The accepted cultural myth is that the hospital is the safe place to have a baby, but I disagree. Personal safety is a subjective concept. I think we have gone too far into the illusion that the hospital is the safe place.
Birth today is like an endangered species.
She is being hunted.
She is being captured.
She is tied up in ropes and wires.
Too many women are birthing in captivity.
It’s time to free her.
Birth was never meant to be drive through.
Hands off the Mother.
Hands off the baby.
Hands off the process.
Hands off her womb.