Birth, Human Rights

10 Things We Wish All Women Knew

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.

 

Related Links:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/freebirthnorthwest/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/manchesterbirthsupport

https://www.bellybelly.com.au/birth/fetal-ejection-reflex-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-happen/

but not all midwives greater manchester doualas
Human Rights, Uncategorized

5 reasons to stop saying, “But not all midwives!”

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

but not all midwives greater manchester doulasIf 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!

it's not all about you judge judy

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 hello@greatermanchesterdoulas.com or fill out our contact form – we would really like to hear from you. 

women marching with flags
Birth, Human Rights

A letter to midwives who have lost their way

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… 

informed consent definition

“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.