I believe that every woman should give birth where and with whom she chooses. But why do so many women make decisions based on misinformation and lies? It can be hard to believe that so much of obstetrical practice is wrong, but according to the research that I have done, and the experiences I have had, I believe this to be the case. The medical system pays lip service to the idea of “evidence-based practice” and “informed consent”, and yet so many of the standard procedures carried out run *contrary* to the most current evidence. Perhaps most disturbingly, informed consent is frequently violated during a typical hospital birth. Why do women put up with this?
Despite the fact that the media portrays childbirth as an illness, despite the fact that birth, in film & television, is depicted as horrifying and grotesque, despite the fact that our economy is based on disconnection and perceived lack, despite the fact that misogyny is alive and well…despite all of this, I still don’t understand why there aren’t more women who refuse to participate in the birth experience offered by their local hospital.
In the past two weeks, I have been witness to the private testimony of three women who experienced hospital birth with doulas, and who spoke of the sadness and anger and frustration they felt, when their babies’ umbilical cords were cut immediately after birth, despite their specific instructions that the cord be left to pulse after the baby’s emergence. The immediate cutting of the cord was, of course, but ONE of the many transgressions these women experienced during the birth process, but the issue of cord severance illustrates the utter and complete lack of respect that is so fundamental to the process of standard birth. Of course the *evidence* shows that delayed cord clamping is safer and healthier than the immediate cutting of the cord, and that delayed cord clamping offers protection and immunity to baby, as well as increased bonding opportunities for the baby and mother. Nonetheless, doctors and nurses in New Brunswick hospitals (and throughout North America) continue to insist on severing the cord within seconds of the baby being born. When the cord is cut directly *against* the specific wishes of the mother, this constitutes a grave violation of the rights of both mother and child, and yet this issue is rarely, if ever, brought up in official critiques of hospital protocol. Where were the doulas, and why weren’t they advocating for their clients’ rights? Because they know damned well that if they spoke up, they’d be kicked out of that birth room so fast, their heads would spin.
I hate to say that the rise in popularity of doulas has done absolutely nothing to alter the status quo of hospital birth, but this seems to me to be true. In the past 10 or so years, the popularity of doulas has risen dramatically. And so has the rate of C-section and interventions in general. Am I suggesting correlation or causation? Absolutely not. Do I think that doulas are well-meaning, amazingly hard-working women who are truly passionate about women and birth and are trying to make a positive difference? Yes yes yes. But sadly, I don’t think they’re going to get anywhere. Because hospital birth is the collision of female power and patriarchy, and we aren’t going to change anything by behaving ourselves or adopting the approach of our oppressors. (No, this isn’t hyperbole. I really believe it).
The doula can however, be held up as a saviour if the woman escapes a c-section. (“Thank goodness I had a doula! She made the stress-testing, pit-drip, epidural, and coached pushing a breeze!”). The doula can also be effectively scapegoated if the woman does end up being cut–blame the doula. But let’s face it: it is almost enshrined in the constitution of doula-hood, that doulas aren’t actually supposed to “do” anything, or to take on any responsibility, or to argue with the professionals, etc. Doulas are there to provide calm, steady support. To speak softly. I have heard it suggested that some women do hire doulas in lieu of educating themselves on the subject of pregnancy and birth. Maybe they do. I suppose we are all missing mothers and grandmothers who can reassure us that birth is easy, normal, real. Nonetheless, I increasingly view the doula phenomenon as a sideshow to the circus of hospital birth. I know so many many women who have dutifully paid their $800 for the privilege of having a doula hold her hand as she is wheeled into OR after “failing to progress” after 10 hours of “labour” while wearing the green gown in a sterile hospital room with electronic foetal monitors strapped to her abdomen under fluorescent lights. Cyborg birth.
Women are smart. Women are granted equal rights under the law in North America. Why then, whenever I am witness to a conversation about a woman’s hospital birth experience, do I inevitably–without exception, in my experience–hear the language of powerlessness, servitude, dependency, and subordination. “My doctor ‘allowed’ me to ‘go to’ 42 weeks.” “The OB ‘let’ me push for another hour.” “I wanted a homebirth, but my husband wouldn’t ‘allow’ it.”
When I talk about birth, I am conscious, always, of how my language frames me in my experience. I give birth. No one delivers me. I don’t need deliverance. I am never in “labour”. I experience the birth process. I have never had a contraction in my life. I move through sensations. There are no stages. There is me, and my baby, and our experience that I own, 100%. No one will ever grant me permission to live in my body, or to bring my children into the world. I will not allow my body to be colonized or occupied by the institution, especially not at the height of my power. Why do so many women allow this? Why.
I know that different women have different needs, and desires. I understand and appreciate that options are important. But there is so much wrong with the state of birth these days, and I just wish there was more honesty and integrity, overall. Sigh. Sorry if I sound so militant.