I just wrapped up an incredible weekend of awareness raising in my community about the maternity care crisis in the U.S. I organized Karen Brody’s play, “Birth,” at a local theater, which ran for four shows, and hosted a Rally to Improve Birth on Labor Day, which made our local paper’s front page news! More than 50 people came out to rally with us, and the media spread a positive message about our efforts. I feel excited and proud.
You’ve probably read or heard, or maybe even participated in, the rallies that took place over the weekend. The movement received overwhelming support from a broad base of people. Our rally was attended by not only families, but also an L&D nurse from a local hospital, a prenatal water aerobics instructor (who previously had no idea about the crisis), newly pregnant mamas, midwives, and doulas. Our message was clear, consistent and uncompromising:
Women deserve access to evidence-based care
Women deserve to be the autonomous decision-makers during their pregnancy and birth.
Yet, in the weeks leading up to the big weekend, there were some who vocalized opposition. And what made this perplexing is that these opposing narratives came from those within the birth community. One person described the efforts – both of the movement, itself, and of me, in particular – as “angry” and “polarizing.” And then there were others who had trouble with the idea of advocating for “evidence-based care.”
I think it’s important to recognize a coupe of things.
1. We each approach activism with our own unique voices.
And that’s okay. Good, in fact.
We don’t all NEED the same voice to come together on an issue. My voice certainly has a sharper edge to it than others. But, that’s my voice; that is how I most effectively convey truth. I won’t change my voice; and I hope you won’t either. However it sounds – your voice will reach certain people, and likewise, mine will reach others. And the beauty is, we’re all capable of grooming our voices when we need to. We all have the ability to carry a solid, strong message with positivity.
2. We each hold our own investment as to why this conversation is so important to us.
Some of us have had a traumatic birth experience. Some of us are birth workers who routinely see women’s and families’ rights violated. Some of us have had ourselves and our babies put at risk because of unnecessary interventions and procedures. Others are invested in maintaining their rights to freebirth or birth at home with a midwife. The list could go on and on….
The beauty is that we can hold all of those investments – all of those values – while simultaneously working toward better care for all women.
Because you’re not sure that you would choose “evidence-based care” does not mean that the 98% of women who birth in hospital shouldn’t have access to that level of care as a baseline offering. Advocating for evidence-based care does not mean that women must consent to that care. It means that presently, most women are offered care that is based on profit, convenience and liability concerns rather than what is proven to be best and safest for moms and babies. Wouldn’t it be great if no one was routinely offered to have their bag of waters ruptured? Or if women were not routinely hooked up to IV’s or continuous EFM? Or if 4 out of 10 women were not induced, and 1 out of 3 did not give birth by cesarean? THAT would be evidence-based care.
Because you have chosen to take responsibility for obtaining all of your own information and the subsequent choices that you make in your pregnancy and birth, does not negate the need for dignified informed consent and refusal practices. Let’s face it, the majority of women do not choose that level of investment in their knowledge and understanding of birth. We need to be okay with that. And we need to advocate for a level of care for all women that can be trusted to offer accurate information and respect.
And let’s clarify something.
This is not a homebirth movement. This is not a natural childbirth movement.
This is a movement to improve birth for all women regardless of where they choose to give birth and what kind of (if any) attendant they choose. Women’s level of care and respect should not be determined by birth place or birth attendant. When it is, a good majority of the population does not have access to healthy birth. When we hyper-focus on a specific kind of birth, or what choices WE believe to be best, we stand in judgement from a place of privilege.
It’s time to step down. To evaluate the common goal that we can all get behind. This movement is an incredibly organized effort comprised of highly intelligent, passionate people, who know we can do better. It is not a mob of bitchy women whining about, as one recent article put it, “that what mom wants, likes, or doesn’t want to stop doing just because she is pregnant, has somehow trumped anything else- even the safety of her child.” How on earth has the message of the importance of not policing pregnant women, and a woman’s rights to informed consent and refusal and respect in birth become this level of distortion?
Stories are really powerful. They open us up to the ability to really listen to each other. To hear each other. To become less invested in personal agendas and beliefs about the kind of birth that was best for us and our families, and to become interested and invested in each woman’s individual right to make choices about her own care.
Let’s celebrate our diversity. Let’s hear one another’s experiences in an effort to join together in solidarity.
What’s your story? Why do you want to improve birth?