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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

There's no such thing as freebirth: Birth is birth is birth

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Birth seems to have so many labels at the moment: homebirth, freebirth, vaginal birth, natural birth, caesarean birth, unassisted birth, and a new one I heard a few days ago, self-directed birth.

It's like a buffet.

One might surmise, with all these labels, that perhaps women have an abundance of choice when it comes to the birth of their children. Unfortunately, that's not the case. These labels seem to apply primarily within the birth advocacy community, and they are finite, and squabbled over.

While I understand the compulsion to label things, to dissect out certain prerequisites and establish categories in order to make us feel safe, and to belong, I think that as long as we label birth, we remain divided.

And right now, birth is dividing women. It is incredibly sad.

Not only do women face ridicule for their birth choices – any choice – for example, the homebirther labelled selfish, or the women choosing a c-section labelled 'too posh to push', but within the homebirth community, I'm seeing an insidious, subterranean divide whereby homebirth advocates seem to have forgotten one important fact:

We all want the same thing.

All women want respect, autonomy, and unconditional support when it comes to their birth choices. Is that really so hard to understand?

Furthermore, we continue to see the perpetuation of myths that do nothing other than widen the divide, drive the cracks deeper, and keep true autonomy off the table for women:
"Consequently, shrill radical-birthers are chipping away at 'choice' from the other direction by demonising the medical profession and representing every intervention as 'medical rape'. I have encountered this in an Australian homebirth Facebook group where extremist attitudes seem to be the norm." – Katie Atwell
I just want to clear something up right now. I know plenty of women who choose to 'freebirth', or whatever you want to call it. They don't sit around "demonising" the medical profession, and cutting fast and loose accusations of "rape." Actually, if this falsehood wasn't so saddening, it would be incredibly offensive. I don't know anyone who would insist that someone else's experience was rape, unless the woman felt so herself. Women's experiences are their own. Their feelings, their trauma, are their own. Rape denial is prevalent, cruel, and oppressive. To hear it coming from people who claim to be advocating for women, and women's choice in birth, turns my stomach.

So repeat after me: freebirthing women acknowledge that medical assistance is sometimes necessary, life-saving, and a blessing. 

Women wanting true autonomy in birth are not demonising necessary medicine in birth. Women advocating for women's rights in birth often express empathy, sympathetic outrage, or compassion for another woman's trauma or pain. This does not mean that some birth advocates think all medicine is a huge crock of shit. Moreover, expressing outrage over often unnecessary medical intervention does not imply a kind of bigoted belief that all women should birth alone in their kitchens. It simply means a desire for something better. For autonomy, for respect.

Every woman has different levels of what makes her feel comfortable, or safe.

Whether a woman feels safest birthing in hospital, surrounded by white coats and machines that ping, or at home, with a registered midwife present, or upside down in a tree with only the kookaburras for company, who is anyone, other than the woman, to place labels or judgements or policy on her choices?

I understand, sometimes labels have their place. They give us a simple way to explain to friends and family how things happened; they even, at times, allow us to be proud of something we feel accomplished about. For many women, to be able to say "I had a vaginal/natural/unassisted birth" can be incredibly empowering, liberating, a cause to celebrate – and that is a wonderful thing!

But I'd love to see birth called just what it is: birth. Because that would mean that there was no categories, no pre-dictated goal posts - just women, trusted, giving birth, under the broad, sweeping umbrella of normal.

You either stand with women, or you don't. Support doesn't begin with "I support xyz, but..."

I hope we can do this together. I hope we can remember, that we're all on the same side. You know, united we stand.

Peace and love to you. xo