If you are a member of the birth community, you will probably have seen two sides of birth: the one that is full of wonderfully empowering stories and the other which is soul-destroyingly dire. You will probably sit with women who cry with guilt-filled grief for the birth they had hoped for. You will probably witness women noticeably bristling with anger when they recall certain things which were done and said to them during labour and birth. You might meet mothers who are paralysed in life by birth experiences which they can’t absorb (and shouldn’t) because they don’t yet know it is possible and okay to feel disappointed about birth (even when it produces a ‘healthy’ mother and baby). You, like me, might even be able to complete the sentences of women who have had failed inductions ending in Caearean, or unsuccessful VBAC attempts because, sadly, these stories often read like scripts (and yet are *still* not heard by The System!). You probably also already know that birth leaves too many mothers in our community asking Why did this happen to me? and secretly battling thoughts of Am I a bad mother?
… And you know that none of this is okay.
It is not acceptable that women on the cusp of being mothers are set up to feel like the world’s biggest failures, whether it’s to do with how long they laboured, how they laboured, how their babies came out or how they fed them. Breaking women into quantifiable components over nine months and then pointing a postnatal finger of blame at them when they fail to be anything but b r o k e n is one of the biggest crimes of these times. Positive bonds between mothers and babies, and other mothers and babies, are the weft and warp of human existence, and without good mother-mother and mother-baby bonds, the fabric of society becomes quickly threadbare.
What can we do?
No single person can fix it all (as much as we wish we could!). But, our generation of birthing women is the first to be armed with the internet – what better way could we possibly reclaim some of the power which has been taken away? We are better placed than ever before to build positive lines of communication with other women in which we exchange useful information and constructive ideas and messages… Imagine how different the world would look if all had a chance to enter motherhood as empowered and confident women!
So, through this very power of social media, I would like to share a few ideas about how we can all be the change and make birth better:
- Quietly share an Ina May Gaskin book with a friend trying to get pregnant.
- Create an opportunity in which women can gather to specifically talk about birth – this discussion is often censored in the community.
- Approach online discussions about pregnancy and birth with respect. Passionate birth advocates (I include myself here!) need to be mindful that online interactions do not inadvertently turn enthusiasm and conviction into perceived judgement and/or evangelism. Every mother wishing to become better informed is on a journey – we all start somewhere.
- Give the gift of a postnatal doula at the next baby shower you attend – this ‘hired help’ is likely far more useful than one thousand size 0000 singlets.
- Look for opportunities to make changes within the system: talk to midwives and obstetricians about how important it is for women to have a space in which they can talk about their birth experiences postnatally, or write a letter to your local hospital or care provider and give them feedback about how well they met your needs as a birthing woman.
- Tell the next new mother you visit that, “If/when you would like to talk about your birth with someone, I’m happy to listen – even if it’s 12 months or years from now!” By doing so you will plant a seed that is extremely valuable for a woman’s transition to motherhood or mother-to-more-dom.
- If a friend has had an unexpected birth experience, offer to sit and listen to her story. Beyond listening ears and a cup of tea, you don’t need to provide anything else (unless you want to fold her laundry while she talks!).
- Remind mothers who are struggling to cope with traumatic birth experiences that they are not crazy, and they are not alone. Have the cards of local psychologists and integrated therapists handy just in case.
If we each resolve to do just one of these things this year, we ensure that there is a growing number of women for whom birth might be a vastly more positive experience… And eventually we might reach critical mass!
I pre-emptively and sincerely thank each and every one of you for fighting the good fight. x