I feel excited whenever a new study on birth is published because it is a step toward transparency. Whether it’s a study on planned homebirth or birth center births or hospital births, women deserve access to evidence-based information.
All studies will be imperfect; all studies will have flaws. No study can accurately or precisely predict something as unpredictable as birth. So it’s good to look at any study with a critical eye. Not just the ones that reveal statistical outcomes that challenge our position, but also the ones that affirm it.
It always becomes an interesting debate, though. And it continues to have the same predictable players in the overly dramatic conversation. It’s a debate that misses the mark, entirely. It strays quickly from centering around the statistical information to supposed safety or lack thereof and is shortly followed by shaming, blaming and a sinister discussion about women’s rights to choose.
Why do we continue to be so invested in the ways women use their uteri, cervixes and vaginas?
If a woman uses birth control she’s selfish and also a slut. If a woman has an abortion, she’s selfish and also heartless. If a woman chooses a scheduled cesarean, she’s selfish and also vain. If a woman births her baby at home she’s selfish and also stupid.
Notice a pattern?
These conversations - about homebirth studies, about home vs. hospital – they’re never really about safety.
They are about control.
They are about keeping women in their place.
They are about restricting access to choice.
They assert that the issue needs to be continually “dumbed-down” so that pretty little women can understand the repercussions of their actions, and again, make the “right choice.” In other words, the choice that the authority-of-the-moment has deemed best for all women.
What if I told you that women ARE the authority? What if I suggested that the reason these conversations miss the mark is because we’ve replaced what should be the central figure in the conversation – the pregnant person – with another “authority” and his or her beliefs about women’s bodies and women’s rights to make choices about their bodies?
Each position is obnoxious – not because they are extreme, but because they deface a woman’s humanity. They draw firm lines and straight boxes and insist that women stay within the confines where they belong.
It’s time to start erasing the lines and smashing the boxes. It’s time to insist that they just don’t need to exist. It’s time to start believing in and honoring a woman’s deep investment in her health and the outcome of her birth.
Until we fix this fundamental flaw in this ongoing discussion, pregnant and birthing women will continue to be placed at risk by systems that place rhetoric, routine, convenience and cost over the best interests of women and babies.
It’s time to change the focus of this tired conversation from imposed, biased and angry judgement to what should be the central focus – a woman’s fundamental right to choose her own birth circumstances and how care providers, legal systems, and society can best support those choices.