1. Freebirth is LEGAL
This one is pretty simple so I’ll keep it short. You have the right to birth your baby wherever you like, with whomever you like. You have the right to decline maternity care altogether if it isn’t serving you. You have the right to give birth without a midwife present. It is not illegal. We often hear from women; “I was told it was illegal and that my partner could be arrested!” – this is complete rubbish. It’s a scare tactic to make us think that we HAVE to engage with maternity services and that we HAVE to have a midwife present. Can you imagine the ruckus it would cause if women realised that they didn’t need to put up with being told what to do, how to move (or not move), when to push, or being poked and prodded whilst they’re trying to listen to their body? … it might just topple the system.
2. Birth is a normal bodily function that needs very basic things to go smoothly
Birth is made out to be this really mysterious thing that, if you’ve never done it before you couldn’t possibly know how to do it without being told. But that’s just not the case. If we treated all bodily functions in that way, intervening before giving the person enough space and time to follow their own body, it would cause all sorts of issues. If we decided that it was too risky to poo on your own because you might brew a poo that’s too big to come out, so it’s much safer to cut you open and get the poo out that way instead… we’d be in a pretty big mess. And you would probably question it because… we’ve been pooing by ourselves for millions of years. But surely birth is different… oh wait. No, it isn’t. Human women have been giving birth without being told how since the beginning of humans, and before humans, the rest of the females of all species did it too. You might hear the argument “yeah but… loads of women and babies used to die from childbirth!”, and that’s not incorrect, but the technology didn’t fix that problem. We are much healthier as a species nowadays and we learnt that washing our hands can help to prevent infections, that’s all. If anything, technology has made birth more dangerous – just take a quick look at America, a very technologically advanced country – while the global maternity mortality rate has dropped by 44% worldwide between 1990 and 2015, and by 48% in developed countries, the US is one of only 13 nations who has seen its maternal death rate rise. Birth is safest when the birthing woman feels safe, supported, unobserved and undisturbed. The maternity system is based on being risk-focused and avoiding being sued. These two things do not work together.
3. You can still opt-out of things, even if they’re seen as “the norm”
It might seem obvious, given what I’ve already said in the previous points, but it’s never presented as an option. You can decline any part of what is considered the “normal” path through the maternity system. That includes booking in. The only thing you legally have to do is register your baby within 42 days of the birth with the Registrar of Births and Deaths in the area in which your baby was born. Women give birth at a wide range of gestations too, and the scope of “normal” gestation (between 37 – 42 weeks) would be a lot wider if the medical model didn’t feel the need to rush the process for no good reason. There are plenty of women who ignore their due date altogether, and they are the women who have a peaceful pregnancy because they know that their EDD is just a number, that is only 4% accurate, and will likely result in the pressure being piled on by professionals, friends and family. There’s another thing you can decline or reject.
4. Pregnancy doesn’t change the fact that you are the only person
who gets to make decisions about your body
When you conceive a child, there is suddenly a whole load of things you are expected to do, whether you like it or not. There are lists upon lists of things you can’t do or eat when you’re pregnant, things you should definitely do because you’re pregnant, things you need to buy for your baby and appointments you have to attend. But is there any other time in life where you would just accept all of these things that people are telling you, even if they didn’t sit right with you? Is there any other time in life where you would be expected to let someone touch, measure, press on your belly even if it was uncomfortable? Or let them put their fingers inside you without asking or sometimes without even warning you? No. What do we want our daughters to know? That it’s okay to say no. That our bodies are our own and nobody gets to touch it without our consent. Right? But for some reason, when we’re pregnant we’re expected to just grit our teeth and get through it because it’s “standard procedure”. That’s not okay.
5. Your human rights don’t go away just because you’re growing another human
In the UK, unborn children do not have separate legal recognition from their mothers. This means that nobody can override your human rights for the sake of your baby, unlike in some other countries. This means that there is no limit to which you are the sole decision-maker when it comes to your care, or opting out of it altogether. This actually makes things a lot simpler than in countries where the unborn baby has rights too. You and your baby are one. What you decide is right for you, is right for your baby by extension. You absolutely matter.
6. You get to decide whether or not you want to go for a scan or appointment
Although scans and appointments are considered the norm nowadays, with women booking in around 12 weeks and having a few scans along the way, this is always a choice. These appointments and scans are not without risk. The information discovered during these appointments is something that can be used to coerce you, no matter how inaccurate the information is. The language used in these appointments plants the seed of doubt, giving the message that at some point your body will fail and you’ll need help. It very rarely gives the impression that birth is normal, and something that when uninterrupted is very unlikely to end up in an emergency. The maternity service is not designed to be woman-centred, it’s designed to manage birth, which just isn’t something that you can do with a bodily function. Treating women like a big, mysterious ticking time-bomb creates fear and will ultimately create emergencies in the process.
7. Birth is not inherently dangerous, but the way women are treated in labour is
As stated in the previous point, birth is not inherently dangerous. It becomes dangerous when we interfere with it. When a woman comes to the end of her pregnancy, there is a whole dance that her body is doing that involves a delicate balance of hormones. Labour begins when the baby is ready, and it will take as long as it takes. Sometimes it starts and then stops again. Sometimes it slows down for a long while then picks back up. Sometimes there are no signs at all and then comes on hard and fast. Labour, even though it can stop and start in different places, is actually very predictable when it is left alone. When people talk about birth being unpredictable, what they have seen or heard of is birth that is interrupted and disturbed by interventions. The evidence is out there – Marjorie Tew who set out to prove that hospitals had made birth safer ended up proving the complete opposite. Michael Odent explains that there are maybe 5 types of true emergency in birth and they are very rare. The intervention and caesarean rates do not reflect that number, which means that we are making birth dangerous by treating it as an emergency and interfering with a bodily function.
8. You don’t have to compromise, in fact, you don’t HAVE TO do anything
As stated in nearly all of the other points, there is no point at which you HAVE TO do anything. This phrase, however, is used in almost every conversation I hear about birth. Women are told by friends, family, strangers and midwives that they “have to” book in by a certain date and that they “have to” go for that growth scan because “it’s for the best” (despite the fact that they’re notoriously inaccurate), without knowing the risks associated with engaging in maternity services. This language is powerful, but you don’t have to listen to it. Anyone who tells you that you “have to” do something (e.g. wait to get in the pool or push now or be monitored in some way) or they use the phrase “we just need to do this” (e.g. a vaginal examination or listening in), should be kept far away from your pregnancy and birth.
9. Nobody gets to tell you what you are or are not “allowed”, or what is safe,
and you don’t need anyone’s permission
If you drive to a doctors appointment and the doctor says; “You didn’t drive here did you?! You’ll have to walk home because driving is too dangerous!” you would probably be outraged because you are a grown-ass woman who has weighed up the risks and benefits of getting in your car today and someone is deciding for you that it is too dangerous. So why is it that, during pregnancy, when we hear the words ‘risky’ and ‘safe’ used, we accept it? Because of the emotive language used around it – this is a tactic that is used frequently and is very effective. But population-level advice and statistics are not the only things that factor in risk and safety. You are a whole woman who has emotional, physical, practical, spiritual and mammalian needs, and nobody else will have the same priorities as you. Your risks and benefits would look very different from someone else’s, so it’s impossible for someone else to judge what is safe for you. In terms of being told what you “have to” do and what you’re “not allowed” to do… you are an individual with capacity and rights, which means that you get to decide where you have your baby, who you invite into your birth space, whether or not you want to engage with maternity services and to what extent. You get to decide when to get in and out of the pool, and if and when you cut your baby’s cord, and who gets to touch your baby. Nobody has the right to allow or not allow when it comes to your body, your baby and your birth.
10. Your intuition can be trusted – it won’t lead you wrong
We often hear women saying “but what if something is wrong and I don’t know about it”. The monitors that we’ve invented are trying to mimic what our body already does, so that it can be plotted on a chart, but those machines can never replicate the instinctual responses that our bodies have. You will be the first to know if something is wrong because nobody else can feel what you’re feeling or even attempt to interpret it from the outside. We all know that when a pregnant woman is stressed, her baby will feel it because of the increased cortisol in the body, and the same is true the other way around. If you are able to listen to your intuition and follow what your body needs, it will not lead you wrong. We hear women saying “I knew that I needed to push but they kept telling me not to”, or the other way around “I knew that I didn’t need to push yet but they kept telling me to” and it’s those women who come away from birth feeling traumatised, it’s those moments where the people around her were speaking louder than her intuition that she feels out of control and it’s in those moments where birth becomes dangerous. Our intuition is what has kept the human race alive and thriving for such a long time, so don’t doubt it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our contact form – we would really like to hear from you.
There is an abundance of misinformation given to women about the infamous ‘stretch and sweep’. This misinformation leads women to believe that a sweep is completely harmless, and in some cases necessary! The feeling that comes from these kinds of ideas is that labour needs help to start and that it would be dangerous to do nothing, undermining the fact that labour is a perfect system that involves lots of hormonal changes before any obvious signs of labour can be detected.
Misinformation Exhibit A:
A poster that was displayed in the waiting room of a maternity clinic
Where do I begin?
Maybe from the top and work our way down.
1.Let’s start with due dates. Due dates are calculated on the assumption that all women have the same length menstrual cycle. This is simply not the case, they can differ hugely from woman to woman, month to month. The “normal” range of being full term is between 37 – 42 weeks, so that is already a wide window but it doesn’t take into account how many women are induced due to the fear of going “overdue” (like a library book). So in reality, if we were all left to our own devices this window of normality would probably stretch much further. Whilst we’re on the topic of being left to our own devices – have you ever heard of a woman being pregnant forever? I haven’t. I have heard so many times “I’ve never gone into labour before so I don’t even know if I can” or “I wasn’t going into labour so I had to be induced”. There is no reason to think that your body wouldn’t go into labour naturally given enough time and patience, it is the healthcare system’s incessant need to interfere that undermines women’s confidence in this.
2. The next point of focus on this awful poster is the second line; “want to start labour naturally?” … WHAT?! The only natural way for labour to start is to leave well alone because anything that you try to bring labour on before it naturally would, isn’t labour ‘starting naturally’. The other important thing to ask here is why would we want to start labour early? The only reason women feel pressure to “kick things off” is because of the information they are being given about due dates and going past them. That pressure is coming from the maternity service, so they are offering a “solution”. Sweeps are often offered as a way to “avoid induction” but a sweep IS part of induction.
3. So you’ve so far been told that approaching your due date means that you must want to get labour going, and that having someone put their fingers inside you to “sweep” around your cervix is a “natural way to induce labour”, and that you should talk to your community midwife about it. I’m not sure about you but the information they’ve given so far isn’t exactly filling me with confidence that talking to them about it would benefit anybody. It is easy to tell from this poster that birth is not seen as a normal bodily function because there is a continuous want to DO something or measure something or fix it. Midwives have to follow the policies of their hospital, and clearly, this hospital (like many others) see birth as something to be managed, which includes inducing labour at all costs. Offering a more “natural method” of a sweep (rather than a chemical method) seems like a compromise, and women are expected to take this compromise to avoid being pressured into further induction techniques. The idea that you can only avoid a formal induction by having a sweep suggests that saying no isn’t enough and won’t be respected. But here’s the thing… you don’t have to compromise. If you don’t want an induction, you don’t have to have one. You can tell your midwife that you will not have an induction and therefore don’t want to discuss it any further, and if they do bring it up against your wishes then you can tell them that they are harassing you. There are many, many ways to avoid the pressure to be induced, but having a sweep isn’t one of them because it is a form of induction, and once you have said yes to one form of induction, it becomes much harder to say no to the rest.
4. ‘Available at your local clinic from 40 weeks pregnant’ despite the fact that most women who are 40 weeks pregnant have already been offered multiple sweeps. The main purpose of a sweep is to avoid going post-term (two weeks past your only 5% accurate due date), and the reason for that is based on the increased still-birth rate associated with post-term pregnancy. The research for this is varied, but there are 10 years worth of CEMACH, CMACE and MBRRACE reports that actually show a lower percentage of stillbirths in women who gestate for 42+ weeks, compared to women who gestate for between 37 – 41 weeks.
5. ‘Successful for 8 out of 10 women’… I’m not sure where they have found this stat or what they consider to be “successful”. The most recent Cochrane review on the topic, done in February 2020, states “Membrane sweeping appears to be effective in promoting labour but current evidence suggests this did not, overall, follow on to unassisted vaginal births.” So it might be the case that a sweep can trick the body into contracting, but is that really a success if it just leads to a longer, more exhausting labour with more interventions?
A stretch and sweep can only be performed if the cervix is “favourable”, meaning your body is already preparing for labour (so it’s probably imminent anyway), which means that for women who do go into labour following a sweep it might be that their body was already ready to go into labour and would have done so regardless of whether they had the intervention or not. There is no way to know this, but if you ask around I’m sure the majority of women who went into labour after a sweep has had more than one sweep previous to that one and did not go into labour, so it could have just been a coincidence.
The review also found that women who had a sweep were “less likely to have a formal induction”, but this only perpetuates the notion that a formal induction is inevitable and non-negotiable. What actually makes any form of induction less likely is giving women all of the information and breaking the cycle of thinking that women’s bodies are incapable of going into labour on their own.
6. ‘No known side effects’ … this is a blatant and dangerous lie.
Stretch and sweeps can cause;
- Pain during and after the procedure
- Vaginal bleeding
- Painful contractions for the following 24 hours without leading to labour
- Longer labours
- An increased risk of infection
- An increased risk of rupturing the membranes
And for what purpose?
The Cochrane review found that it did not generally lead to labour within 24 hours, and it did not reduce the incidences of further intervention such as the use of synthetic oxytocin and instrumental births. The very fact that a sweep can cause contractions that aren’t effective will lengthen labour, and there is often a lot of pressure put of women who have been contracting for 24 hours, makes you wonder whether there are actually any known benefits.
7. ‘Unlike curry!!’
This is clearly meant to mock the more “natural methods” of induction, but as I said at the beginning, anything that you do to try to bring on labour is a form of induction, whether it is chemical or otherwise so they fall under the same umbrella, except eating a curry doesn’t involve someone putting their fingers inside your vagina. The theory behind the curry method is the irritation spicy food can cause to your bowel, which could potentially trick the body into contracting. But, unlike sweeps, eating curry (if you like curry) has many benefits and not just to pregnant women! These include;
- Satisfying hunger
- Spicy foods tend to release endorphins which can give you a bit of a buzz
- Cooking curry can be really fun
- It tastes great
- If you don’t like it or it is causing you discomfort/pain, you can stop eating it instantly without having to tell anyone (unlike having a sweep where, if you wanted it to stop, you would have to rely on the midwife performing the procedure to listen to and respect your decision, which isn’t always the case)
In conclusion, this poster is a load of shit and is a perfect representation of how frequently women are misinformed in pregnancy and how flippantly this is done. It shows how easily things become routine without really being based on any solid evidence. It also says a lot about the systemic mistrust in women’s bodies and the belief that they need help to perform the most natural of bodily functions.
If you find yourself being offered or pressured into a “quick sweep to get things started” or any other kind of induction, take whatever time you need to go through the BRAIN acronym and consider the benefits, risks and alternatives to what is being offered, check in with your intuition and ask yourself (and your midwife if you want) what happens next if you accept the intervention and what happens if you decide to do nothing. All of this information will help you to make the decision that is right for you.
If you want to chat about any of these decisions or navigating the maternity system, feel free to get in touch with us and book a ‘holding space’ session by emailing email@example.com
Today is the 2nd anniversary of the wild home birth of baby Seren. I know we’re not meant to have favourites… but I loved supporting Naomi and having the privilege to witness her give birth in her wild power. What better way to celebrate than by sharing her story.
Naomi got in touch with us in her third trimester after she found herself feeling unsupported by her midwives. She is the perfect example of a women who recognised what she needed and responded to those needs, in both her pregnancy and in her birth. She centred herself completely in her birth and it resulted in a powerful experience, completely on her own terms. A wonderful, wild home birth. You rock Naomi!! Happy birthing day 🥳
“I went to bed after feeling restless and uncomfortable, and had a fairly restless sleep. In the morning I felt dull, mild, period type cramps. I told my partner and asked him to keep his phone on as he left for work.
I then paid little attention to this as I focused on my toddler. We went to playgroup, where I kept moving position as I couldn’t get comfortable; choosing to kneel rather than sit, and continued to have mild cramping.
We left around 11.30am. While pushing the buggy I had to keep stopping due to the increased intensity of these feelings. I got us home and made lunch and had the urge to sort, so I quickly tidied and cleaned while thinking, “I need my toddler to nap.” I lay down with him and nursed him to sleep. During this time I concentrated on noticing the cramping, and realised they were every 10 mins now, and getting stronger, but still extremely manageable.
I thought maybe I’ll meet my baby tomorrow.
I decided to call my partner around 12.45pm just to let him know I thought I may be in very early labour, but not to bother coming home, as with our first baby I’d had two episodes that fizzled out at 38 and 40 weeks, with him finally being born at 41+1. He decided he would come home anyway.
I also called my neighbour to ask that if things continued could she take my toddler on the school run, before my friend came for him after work at 5pm.
My partner arrived home around 1.30pm, and I asked him to pick up some things from the shop while our toddler was still asleep. At this stage my attention was on organising for “if I go into labour” and not really on “I am in labour”.
When our boy woke up I would take myself just out of sight for a contraction as I was now having to give attention to them. I leaned on the kitchen surface, furniture and doorways. In between contractions I just carried on caring for and interacting with my toddler. I told him he was going with our neighbour to do the school run, and he was excited about that.
He left at 3pm. I had a shower, listening to music and leaning into the walls during the two surges I had there. I washed and dried my hair, and shortly after that my partner started timing my contractions.
They were five mins apart. I was leaning on surfaces, doorways and him for these now, and although requiring my concentration they felt good. I was relaxed and talking between them. We sat down to eat some soup around 4pm. When I could feel a surge coming I’d get off the chair, lean into birth ball, and then return to the meal.
My partner asked if I wanted the pool filling, to call the midwife, and Lori our doula. I initially said no to all but then asked him to get Lori to come in half an hour. This was when my toddler would be collected by our friend and I thought things might move along once I knew he was with her. I wasn’t “in the zone” and therefore couldn’t believe I’d be meeting my baby soon!
When Lori arrived she’d had a busy day and I told her to have a lay down, as, “I’m only very early on…”
Things quickly felt more intense, and I took myself upstairs without saying anything. It was dark, and I put on some fairy lights and carried on listening to music. I went into the small spare room where I had set up the pool, and I enjoyed being alone, having several surges there and feeling very calm and fuzzy.
My partner came up to see how I was and I held onto him. He showed me a photo of our son having a good time with the neighbour’s kid but I couldn’t focus on it. I called for Lori to come upstairs and she sat in the room with me crocheting in the corner.
Around 4.30pm I agreed to him calling the midwives but I didn’t want them to come yet. As it was we didn’t get through for a while and when he did they said the team would call back. My contractions were building and becoming more intense. We got a call back around 5pm and I was told to come into hospital due to staffing. I was speaking between contractions but another one was coming so I said “speak to my partner” and handed the phone over. He said I was not going to come in. They agreed to check availability again.
I then felt a shift in gear, my water broke, and I pulled at my trousers to see – I had the mucous plug/show and my inco pants had held the gush of waters. Then around 5.20pm I said to my partner that the baby was coming and to call the mw back. They decided to send an ambulance.
My body was on automatic, I felt intense pressure in my pelvis, I could feel my sacrum making space and I felt like I was going to poo myself, the feeling of bearing down made me cry out loud low sounds, I felt as if I was singing. I was stood on the sofa at one point- my body moving about where it needed to go. I looked at the pool and asked if I could get in… No chance! It was under minimum.
Lori was calmly topping it up with buckets of water. In the next couple of contractions I could feel my baby’s head nudging down, and I felt SO much pressure and intensity. I was told the pool was on minimum, so I got my partner to check she was just crowning and her head wasn’t out. As soon as he said, “Yep, just crowning”, I jumped in the pool.
The relief was instantaneous. I was leaning over the edge on all fours holding my partner tight. I felt suddenly overwhelmed as my body was taking over, then one more massive surge, and I knew my baby’s head was out. I said, “Her head her head is out oh my god oh my god”, then I flipped onto my back, and back to back contractions, she slipped into the water. I said “get the baby!!” to my partner. He passed her straight to me, I held her on my chest and she did the loudest cry! I rubbed her with a towel vigorously, and kissed her head.
I’d thought I’d want to stay in the pool to deliver the placenta but I was too hot and not comfy, so I climbed out and sat on the sofa, where we were wrapped up together. I wanted her to feed to encourage the placenta to be delivered, so my ideas of breast crawl etc went out the window. She fed a little and would pop on and off, taking me in and crying.
Just as the control room said the paramedics were nearly with us I felt a contraction coming so I stood up holding my baby and asked my partner to put a bowl on the floor under me. I felt a slippery movement, and then a bigger fuller feeling and plop! Out came the placenta into the bowl. Less than half an hour after she was born.
I got two hours skin to skin just with my daughter – no one took her to be weighed, and all checks were done with her on me. We declined transfer in to hospital and a mw came to see us in the early hours. It was an amazing way to meet my baby earthside.”
Dear well meaning midwife,
I’m sure you found your way to this role through good intentions. I imagine you became a midwife through a passion for women, or a call to contribute towards positive change within the birth world. Somehow though you seem to have lost your way. Can you see? Can you recognise that in your attempt to change a patriarchal system, you have become part of the problem – but you don’t have to be.
You can stop reporting women to social services for believing in their bodies and their ability to birth their babies without your help. It is a woman’s human right to choose a wild pregnancy and/or freebirth. Maternity services are not compulsory.
You can stop infantilising the women who ask for your support during their pregnancies, and those who invite you into their sacred birth spaces. They don’t belong to you and they are not little girls you can judge to be good or bad. They are whole women who deserve to be treated as such.
You can stop acting as the gatekeeper. Stop “allowing” or “not allowing” women to make choices that they know to be in their best interests. And what is best for a woman is best for her baby – because nobody cares more about the wellbeing of a baby than its mother. It’s not your job to ensure women are making informed decisions. It’s your job to offer balanced information and above all trust women. They are the gatekeepers, not you.
On that note, you can stop lying to women about the options that are available to them or giving them false information. I’m tired of hearing women tell me, “I didn’t know”. They didn’t know that they could say “no”, or that they didn’t have to go for that scan, or accept that vaginal examination. They didn’t know that your policies aren’t always evidence-based or in their best interests. Do you see how coercive this is?
You can take the time to recognise and examine your personal bias. There is a reason why black women are five times more likely to die in pregnancy and birth than white women, and it is not because their bodies are broken. Acknowledge the systemic racism in maternity services and do the work to change it.
You can brush up your knowledge on what constitutes informed consent before going back into work again. When you carry out intervention without informed consent, it is assault. This might help…
“For consent to be valid, it must be voluntary and informed, and the person consenting must have the capacity to make the decision.
The meaning of these terms are:
Voluntary – the decision to either consent or not to consent to treatment must be made by the person, and must not be influenced by pressure from medical staff, friends or family.
Informed – the person must be given all of the information about what the treatment involves, including the benefits and risks, whether there are reasonable alternative treatments, and what will happen if treatment does not go ahead.
Capacity – the person must be capable of giving consent, which means they understand the information given to them and can use it to make an informed decision.
If an adult has the capacity to make a voluntary and informed decision to consent to or refuse a particular treatment, their decision must be respected.
This is still the case even if refusing treatment would result in their death, or the death of their unborn child.”
This isn’t about bashing midwives. I know that wonderful women-centred practice happens. But it doesn’t happen enough. I see midwives fighting for change, but I also see midwives who prop up a system that thrives on hurting women. If you are not fighting against the abuse of women in maternity services, then you are part of the problem.
What can you do instead? Offer women all the information, not just part of the puzzle. Respect women’s bodily autonomy above everything and call out anyone who doesn’t. Trust and believe in women, their bodies and their instincts. Support women who are finding creative and intuitive ways to birth safely in a world that does not care about them. That is what being with women is all about.
As we hear more and more about doulas, it’s easy to get the impression that having a doula will somehow magically lead to having a better birth experience. It often feels like one of the things on the ‘positive birth’ checklist; hire a doula, do a hypnobirthing class, read a birth book etc. and it’s true that having a doula can significantly reduce the risk of interventions and birth trauma, but that is largely due to the work that a woman does with her doula, and by herself, during pregnancy.
What we have learnt from women
Through our years of working as doulas in Greater Manchester, we have come to realise that birthing within the maternity system can and often will come with complications, barriers and difficulties. One of the best ways to combat these hurdles is to know what’s coming. Knowing how the maternity service works and knowing their policies gives you a head-start and also shows you that there are other options, such as birthing outside of the system. Knowing your rights and your options are the first steps to having a positive birth. A doula can support you in learning all of this, provide you with information and books on the subject, they can give you information about how the system works and how you can navigate it, and tell you all about the birth process, but it takes you to make the difference.
Women who have had a traumatic birth in the past often come to us believing that their body failed them and that they need to do something different this time. Hiring a doula is a great start because it gives them the space to talk openly about what happened last time, a place to wonder whether those things were necessary or completely unacceptable, a place to cry and ask questions. Once women learn and start to believe that the process of birth is not inherently dangerous, and is not a medical event, it leads to an awakening that is incomparable. Getting to this point though takes a whole load of courage and openness from that woman, and when that woman is heard, she can find the answers she’s been looking for. So many of the women we listen to were having a perfectly normal, healthy pregnancy and labour until it was interfered with by medical staff, and realising that sometimes complications in birth are caused by the interference is key to protecting themselves against it. Their body did not fail them, the system did.
We have been programmed to think that authority means safety, but in so many instances we have been proven that in fact, the opposite is the case. When we trust someone else’s word over our own feelings of discomfort, we are left feeling violated. When we look to someone else for the answers, especially in birth, we are handing over our control and ignoring our intuition. We often hear in women’s stories that the parts that felt the most traumatic are when they went against what their body was telling them, and just did what they were told – so far I haven’t met a woman who regretted following her body. Our intuition is what has kept us alive and safe for so long, and birth is such a private and personal event that it makes very little sense to look for external approval or guidance. When we trust women, birth is safe. A doula is often the only person in the birth room who is solely focused on you, as the birthing woman, and having someone who completely believes and trusts in your body at that moment can make a huge difference to the energy. Questioning the authority of medical staff is necessary to get the birth you want, because going with someone else’s flow will inevitably lead you down a path that makes you uncomfortable or feels wrong. You ARE the authority, and you DO know best, even if you have never birthed before. Birth is a hormonal event and a normal bodily function – if you were monitored, observed and examined whilst trying to have an orgasm it probably wouldn’t go very well, would it?
Birth is led by the hormone oxytocin – as are orgasms – and for oxytocin to be released it needs the right environment. For women to release oxytocin they need to feel safe, warm, unobserved and undisturbed, so when you put a labouring woman in a brightly lit hospital with a bunch of strangers, unfamiliar loud noises and smells, and continue disturbing her with monitoring and examinations, it’s no surprise that birth takes longer or is more difficult. When birth is undisturbed, endorphins are released to match the intensity of labour as it builds – this is what makes labour pain manageable. When we interfere with the body’s natural pain killers, we cause more harm than good. Understanding what birth needs is a great foundation for planning where you want to give birth, and who you want to be there. Doulas can be really helpful in supporting you to navigate the maternity system when you are “going against medical advice” or just declining what you are being told is “how they do things”.
What we wish women knew before giving birth
We wish that all women knew that they were in charge of their body and their birth, that they didn’t have to agree to anything that feels uncomfortable or compromise with medical staff. We wish that women knew that birth doesn’t need to be fixed or monitored or sped-up and that they have the right to say no or to seek the care they are not being offered. We wish that women who have had traumatic experiences knew that they were not alone and that what happened to them was not okay. We wish that women weren’t expected to be “good girls” and do what they are told even when it feels wrong and that it’s okay to be “difficult” or “bossy” – in fact, that shows a belief in yourself, and the ability to assert your boundaries!
The work we do is to create the space for women to ask questions, to speak up and use their voice, to take what they need and to take back their power. We listen to women’s traumatic birth stories, we help them to write birth plans, we share information and experiences, we are behind them when they are navigating the system, or choosing to birth outside of it, and we have that unwavering trust in the birth process and in the woman in front of us.
We support their choices, we hear their voices and we are privileged enough to witness their power.
But ultimately, what makes a positive birth is a woman who is ready to go deeper, to question what she is being told, and is fully supported in her decisions.
So we know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from us! It’s been too long and we’ve missed you! As more restrictions were brought in, we found ourselves inundated which meant we were working in survival mode – just trying to meet the needs of our incredible community. We’re finally starting to find our feet again and are looking forward to keeping you updated once again.
What we’ve been working on
What haven’t we been working on?! As you may remember, in May we received funding from The National Lottery Community Fund to support our COVID-19 response. This has looked like: lots of powerful holding space sessions, supporting wise women through our birth doula support, creating a new offering of virtual birth doula support, birth trauma recovery sessions, and lots (and LOTS) of community groups – all over zoom (for the time being).
What we’ve been up to
Lori: I’ve been channeling my stress into rearranging our flat – a coping mechanism that started in my teens that’s never left! Creating a “me only” space where I can work, read, meditate, play my piano, hide from the children… Theo and Felix are loving our new family bedroom but single handedly taking down and rebuilding their bunk bed left me very sore for a few days. Oh and we got kittens!!
Elle: I’ve been playing Watch Dogs 2 on PS4, specifically to beat Az from the Ice Shack to get all the trophies first. But the writing is very small, and I don’t make a good criminal so I may concede this win.
Amy: I moved into a new flat with my sister, Katy, and drove my van on the real roads in the process which was sooo much fun! I’ve been adjusting to life with a very energetic kitten (the kitten came free with the sister) – I’m not adjusted yet.
If you’re local and missing Ice Shack as much as we are, you can still get deliveries by messaging through their facebook page! Berry vanilla cake anyone?
Quickfire questions for the doulas
What has been your favourite thing about lockdown?
L: Being able to work in my pjs!
A: The quiet roads! I’ve still been driving to work at the studio the whole time so I got to enjoy the peaceful traffic-free roads for a while.
E: Finding my health and strength
Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words.
A: Angry but quiet (you wouldn’t have known I was angry, which is definitely not a good thing – this is why I’m enjoying Rage Becomes Her so much!)
E: Emo. Masculine. Insular.
L: Vulnerable, sensitive and shy.
What are you most looking forward to doing as restrictions ease?
E: Going on holiday.
L: Celebrating my birthday 🎉 I normally shy away from anything where I’m the focus. But I’ve been through hell over the last few years and I’m turning 30 so I’m hoping to do something special for a change.
A: Getting the materials I need for my van conversion so I can go on some trips. And getting to hang out with you two again!
What’s coming up?
Have you heard about our Wild Women Rising Circle with Dance Like a Mother? We’ll be gathering this Friday at 7.45pm so be sure to get your tickets.
We’ll be gathering together to share experiences and hold space for one another. There will be the opportunity to ask us, and each other, any questions you may have surrounding birth and motherhood, and the option of joining us for a relaxing meditation to close the circle. Come as you are, there’s no expectation from us for you to share if you don’t want to, you’re more than welcome to just be present.
We hope you are hanging in there and we can’t wait to start seeing you all in person again soon.
Lori, Elle & Amy x
We are so excited to announce that we have received funding from Magic Little Grants for Virtual Walks and Talks.
We know exercise is important for good mental health, so we want to combine an emotional support service with walking, for even more benefits to women. We want to offer our unique support via ‘Virtual Walk and Talks’, where you can explore their hopes and fears about childbirth, or debrief a previous experience, with experienced staff who will listen and understand without judgement.
These will be very much like our Holding Space sessions, with the added benefit of being able to walk and connect with nature at the same time. All you need is a phone that can access zoom, headphones and perhaps a warm drink!
If you would like to book in one of these sessions please get in touch. We can’t wait to hear from you.