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.