The Grey Zone of Empowered Birth

<< Greetings! You are now entering The Grey Zone of Empowered Birth. We hope you enjoy your stay!! >>

Hi, I’m Tessa. I’ll be your tour guide today. I have had one unplanned Caesarean, and two planned VBACs. I run VBAC workshops and am passionate about consumers having access to balanced information.

You may be here because you’re making choices about repeat Caesarean versus VBAC. Perhaps you’re here because you’re supporting someone to make this decision. I hope everyone is here because our shared destination is personal empowerment.

The trip I’m about to take you on will freak you out – it will sound like I’m not advocating for VBAC at all. But, please bear with me – it all makes sense in the end! Here we go…

First Stop: Making Assumptions about What Empowerment Is

Making external judgements about birth choices and their effect on inner empowerment is fraught with danger. If you intend to seek/provide woman-centred, individualised care, it is important to reserve such judgement, whether you are the woman planning a VBAC or a birth professional attending her, because:

Sometimes, women who elect for repeat Caesareans do not want to own their own births. However, it is also possible that someone who elects for a repeat Caearean may, in fact, be taking responsibility for their own birth. Don’t declare they have been coerced, bullied or duped into this decision by default.
Sometimes, women who choose to VBAC want to own their own births. However, it is also possible that someone who chooses to plan a VBAC is not making a conscious, active and informed decision. 

Let’s talk about the two possibilities which do not fit the stereotypes found in some parts of the birth community.

It is dangerous to believe that all elective repeat Caesareans are disempowering and a sign of an ill-informed consumer. One must not assume that, because this mother lies prostrate and ‘inactive’ to birth her baby, she must also be disempowered. (An aside: A Caesarean birth does not have to be a passive experience, either – care practitioners who perform woman-centred Caesareans can make a huge difference here.)

Whilst some women birthing by Caesarean may indeed be victims of a system which prefers ‘controllable risk’ to chance, there are also other women who do access good quality, balanced information about their birth options after Caesarean, and – of these women – some will make a conscious, well-considered decision (which is not influenced by the agenda of a care provider or system) to have a repeat Caesarean. It must also be said that opting for a repeat Caesarean does not mean a woman is opting out of personal responsibility for the safe delivery of her baby – consciously handing over control of your birth to another human being is one of the bravest choices a mother can make.

On the other hand, though the choice to VBAC is a deviation from the norm (‘previous Caesarean’ is the leading reason for all Caesareans performed both in South Australia and nationally), it is not intrinsically an enlightened one.

While the VBAC choice is more likely to be made by someone who naturally questions the status quo, if a care provider or centre systematically pushes a VBAC agenda (whether out of personal bias or an external system ‘push’), it is also quite possible that some women might go along with this unquestioningly, never being suitably informed of this choice (and thus of the support she may actually need). Furthermore, whilst it appears to observers that the birthing woman in this case assumes responsibility for this birth (because she has chosen to physically birth her own baby), this is deceptive – if she is not well-informed and an active decision maker, this woman has possibly invested all of her power in her care provider (or the system). This is obviously counterproductive to the ‘empowerment cause’ (even if you think that VBACing is by nature an ‘empowered’ or ‘empowering’ choice), because empowerment lies within.


Personal empowerment is highly individual. Many women I work with through VBAC workshops decide that their route to ‘birth after Caesarean’ empowerment comes in the form of planning a VBAC. My point with this post is to highlight the fact that empowerment is not ‘one size fits all’ – as long as you are making active, informed decisions you’re doing a great job of working towards empowerment. And, if you decide that planning a VBAC is an empowering process for you, I do hope I might see you at one of my upcoming VBAC workshops! 🙂


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