When women dare to speak out and share negative experiences of maternity services, somewhere along the way there are shouts of, “but not all midwives!” – or other comments with a similar sentiment.
Here are just some of the reasons why “not all midwives” is both an insensitive and inappropriate response, and one that misses (or perhaps highlights) the point of us sharing these stories.
✨ Nobody was claiming “all midwives” in the first place
If you are a midwife who provides respectful maternity care, and you have a solid understanding of birth rights, then we aren’t talking about you. We are speaking from our own experiences and using our platform to lift up the voices of other women.
Nobody here is trying to make any sweeping claims about any particular group. Sometimes a woman’s negative experience involves doulas, obstetricians and birth partners too – all of whom may have played some part in how her story unfolded. Often though, these stories are focussed on the midwives who were present, and we shouldn’t have to shy away from these lived experiences in order to make other people feel comfortable. Disrespectful, disempowering, and harmful practice exists within maternity services whether “all midwives” contribute to it or not. Attempts to pretend otherwise just makes you part of the problem.
✨ Nobody is claiming that midwives are the enemy
It is not our aim to attack midwives. These conversations are about supporting women to critique systems and institutions that largely do not value women’s rights. If you read our posts or watch our videos, and they get your back up then I think your intuition is trying to tell you something! Our defensiveness can shed light on how we contribute to these systems and it’s good to be curious about that.
As birth workers, we have an ongoing responsibility to reflect on the role we play within the institution that many women choose to birth in. We have a duty to explore how we may be complicit in the systemic abuse that takes place, and do our own inner work to do better and improve our practise.
✨ One midwife who provides poor care is one midwife too many
It doesn’t matter if you are an individual practising midwife who provides women centred care. The point is that there are midwives who don’t. When a woman invites a midwife into her pregnancy and/or birth, she has no way of knowing which way their bread is buttered. Especially when women still don’t benefit from continuity of carer, and often see a new midwife every time they engage with the service.
Supporting women to access knowledge and wisdom from a variety of sources helps to make sure that their power remains theirs. Surely we all want that?! This offers women some level of control and a buffer from midwives who don’t listen and who don’t offer holistic care.
Trying to reassure with comments that simply aren’t true, and telling women that they shouldn’t be concerned or afraid because “not all midwives” is gaslighting. It’s the same old coercive crap we hear every week from conversation with your service users, and it completely invalidates the experiences of those women who didn’t receive individualised care.
✨ The industrial model impacts everyone
Whether you like it or not, if you are a midwife practising within an industrial model, you have likely picked up habits that do not serve the women you are trying to help. Yep, I said it! Even if you believe you are fighting the good fight – you are working within an institution that as a whole does not value women’s rights. This impacts on every woman who experiences it, not just those giving birth. Each member of our team has experienced vicarious trauma as a result of witnessing what we know to be standard practice. Midwives do not exist in a vacuum and it is naive to think that the way you work is not impacted by the environment you work within. It can only help the women you serve to take every opportunity to listen and learn from their very valid and real experiences.
✨ This isn’t about making midwives the enemy, it’s not about you!
When we hold space for these discussions, we are talking about large-scale, structural, systemic inequalities and abuse. Why wouldn’t you want women to know about this? Why wouldn’t you want women to be armed with information from a variety of sources so that they can make informed decisions at every step of their journey?
Shifting attention by jumping in with justifications and defensive comments only serves to detract from women’s stories. Shouting “not all midwives” doesn’t add to the discussion or develop it in any way. All it does is derail and dismiss the lived experiences of the very women you say you support.
When a birth worker has the opportunity to learn about women’s experiences of pregnancy and birth, we have a responsibility to hold space for their stories. Not to defend, but to listen. That is surely at the heart of what we do? If you are not listening then how can you be ‘with woman’?
If you are a woman who has been harmed by systemic practices in any way, midwives and other birth workers included, then please reach out for support. Our Holding Space support is for every woman so drop us an email to email@example.com or fill out our contact form – we would really like to hear from you.