Earlier this week, I published a blog post which contained the text of an article I wrote several years ago on unassisted birth. A day or so later, although I hadn’t realised before I posted my article, two other related studies were published, and these and my article led to some really interesting conversations. Rather than let this important topic slip back into the darkness, I want to write my second blog post this week on the same subject, to share these studies for anybody who wants to look at this more deeply and to continue the debate which has occurred since I first published my article.
The first of the studies that I spotted is titled, Women’s motivations for having unassisted childbirth or high-risk homebirth: An exploration of the literature on ‘birthing outside the system’. In their review of the literature, Holten and de Miranda (2016) find that, “Concerns over consent, intervention and loss of the birthing experience may be driving women away from formal healthcare. There is a lack of fit between the health needs of pregnant women and the current system of maternity care. Biomedical and alternative ‘outside the system’ discourses on authoritative knowledge, risk, autonomy and responsibility must be negotiated to find a common ground wherein a dialogue can take place between client and health professional.”
The second article was published in BMC and is entitled Why do some women choose to freebirth in the UK? An interpretative phenomenological study. This qualitative (and freely available) study by Feeley and Thomson (2016) explores what influenced women’s decision to freebirth in the UK. The authors concluded that, “The UK based midwifery philosophy of woman-centred care that tailors care to individual needs is not always carried out, leaving women to feel disillusioned, unsafe and opting out of any form of professionalised care for their births. Maternity services need to provide support for women who have experienced a previous traumatic birth. Midwives also need to help restore relationships with women, and co-create birth plans that enable women to be active agents in their birthing decisions even if they challenge normative practices. The fact that women choose to freebirth in order to create a calm, quiet birthing space that is free from clinical interruptions and that enhances the physiology of labour, should be a key consideration.”
As one of my lovely facebook page-friends commented, “It’s a popular criticism to think that freebirthers exist as an isolated phenomena and are acting in a way that disregards safety and responsible parenting. They have come into existence as a response to the disjunctive relationship between authoritarian medical practice and individual client autonomy.”
Another wrote, “In my last pregnancy I felt on the edge of free birth because I felt I had no other choice. I had no support and received bullying tactics from my obstetrician, I wondered whether I’d be safer at home with my husband and an ambulance outside than in the hospital. I’m not a “difficult woman”, I was terrified and alone and being harassed with appointments, phone calls and letters drove me away from the hospital and to another that offered me choice and support. If they hadn’t helped me I would probably have had no alternative than to free birth.”
I know that some people would like to put freebirthers in a metaphorical box along with other groups of people who they see as extreme and ‘out there’, but there’s nothing particularly extreme about many of the freebirthing women that I have met. In fact, some of them remind me of something Caitlin Moran wrote in The Times magazine a few months ago about how, in reality, feminists aren’t radical, bra-burning man haters; they are normal women going about their normal business muttering tiredly, “I’m so tired of this sh*t”.
Same goes, in my humble experience, for quite a few of the women who decide to freebirth. They aren’t poster girls for taking risks with your baby. They’re not hippy, chanting, granola-eaters who don’t care whether their babies live or die. Far from it. These women – and their families – often feel that their babies will be safer away from mainstream medicine and its drugs, interruptions and interventions. They are normal (inasmuch as any of us want to be called that), caring and deeply committed women who are sick of being told how, when and where they have to give birth, worn down from being told their bodies aren’t up to the job and fed up with being told that professional perceptions of risk are more valid than their own worldview. And yes, tired from living in a world where, the minute you become pregnant, the media has the right to tell you what you can and can’t eat, drink and smoke, total strangers seem to feel they are allowed to touch your belly and anyone who has the right bit of paper and a white coat or a blue tunic feels they can put their fingers inside you anytime they deem it necessary.
It’s not OK.
Let’s not stop talking about this.
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