As I sat watching a recorded part of the BBC documentary The Midwives last night a tear sprang to my eyes. They had just shown a baby being born, shown this most miraculous moment of life… and then the baby is floppy and needed assistance to start breathing: The midwife cuts the cord (a life support) and takes the baby away; with her back to the mother, she rubs baby and administers oxgyen. In the meantime, the mother is getting more and more distressed, asking what’s happening, craning her neck to see from the bed where she is sat.
I contrast this with my third labour: my son was born pale and floppy and didn’t want to start breathing spontaneously. The midwife got me to sit on the bed ( which I had been standing beside to deliver him), she gave him puffs of air right there in front of me. The cord, that final back up line, was still attached and pulsating, giving him much needed oxygen. Those around me seemed in control and doing what made sense, no one panicked hence I also remained calm as all this was happening. I had the opportunity to help rub him vigorously- which is what was needed to get him to perk up, for him to realise that they are born and there’s no going back to that lovely, warm, dark bubble inside mummy’s tummy .
What a difference! The woman on TV will likely remember her panic, I will remember the courageousness and control of my midwives.
My case is not protocol though, the one portrayed in the documentary is. I had to fight all through pregnancy (and even when I went into labour) to get the birth that I wanted, the way I wanted. I wanted minimal intervention at home… instead I got minimal intervention at the midwifery led unit. However, this is a compromise I’m happy with.
I am lucky I live in the UK and despite the pressures on midwives and on the NHS, my wishes were accommodated… but what if I lived elsewhere?
In the US would I have risked having my baby being taken into custody by Child services because of not signing a blanket consent form for interventions? (If you haven’t heard of the case, don’t believe me, goto this document by Harvard Law)
If I was back in my native Hungary, there is little chance I would’ve been consulted on any of the issues: I would’ve been given an IV line the moment I went into labour (I dread needles!!!) as I had a 20% of having a serious bleed after delivery, possibly given an episiotomy (that’s when they cut between your lady bits and your bottom bit) because I was having a big baby; all this because the doctor knows best. Home birth? Ha!!! Don’t even entertain the thought! …at least in the UK I was allowed to believe I could possibly, maybe, just a tiny maybe, have this baby at home.
How can a woman in The Netherlands (a country with very progressive policies in so many areas of life) be taken into hospital against her will by the police to give birth?
The documentary Freedom for Birth highlights these alarming developments around child birth: women are loosing control of this very intimate process all in the name of medicine (and money, of course) and the situation is perpetuated by instilling a sense of fear, making giving birth out to be an illness, instead of the most natural thing in the world.
Freedom for Birth shows how someone, a midwife, who supports women in their choice for an intervention free homebirth can be jailed and then still be in house arrest years later in an EU country, Hungary.
How can we change the situation and reverse the culture developing around birth?
In the Western world we need to step beyond this fear factor. We are not like the developing countries of the world, where childbirth is still a major, often life-threatening “illness”, because of the lack of facilities available to mothers and babies. We had overcome those factors when we medicalised birth. Now our challenge is to do a 360 to where we started- natural, minimal interventions, where women know and trust their bodies-, but on a different plane, taking all the learning from the medical field.
There are some immediate actions we can tak,e such as supporting improvements to midwifery care which is facilitated by signing an e-petition, writing to your MP…pop over to the AIMS site for links and templates.