http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4313252.htmlAustralia's home-birth community advocates for a woman's choice to give birth how she wishes. But radical birthers who condemn all medical intervention give safe home-birthers a bad name, writes Katie Attwell.
As a home-birther, I feel compelled to speak out against free-birthing (unassisted birth) and other dangerous home-birth practices (such as twin births).
The home-birth community is being dragged into supporting a culture of reckless birth which is no better than the culture of over-medicalisation we seek to subvert. Sections of our community - predominantly mothers but also some midwives - are demonising hospitals to the extent that any intervention is depicted as 'medical rape'. This contributes to the trauma of women whose home or natural births end in necessary emergency intervention.
Birth is a natural part of life, but humans do not birth easily - unlike our fellow mammals, who birth alone and unassisted as a matter of course. As the brainiest of primates, the human head is too large to be easily birthed. That is why history is littered with the deaths of women and children in childbirth, even with the most skilled midwives on hand. We Western birthing mothers are indeed fortunate to live in times and places where we have access to medical attention. In our society, for a mother or child to die in birth seems a rare tragedy.
However, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Babies are routinely born by caesarean; I've met babies born by caesarean so as not to clash with siblings' birthdays or holidays. Even in the public system, where vaginal births are preferred because they are more cost-effective, "emergency" caesareans are still carried out when arguably unnecessary. My own homebirth - long and difficult but with no foetal distress - would have ended in caesarean in hospital because of strict time and dilation rules.
The medicalisation of birth has made nature grubby and relegated her from the process of bringing life into the world. No wonder many women feel angry and alienated by 'the system' and want to birth with the support of skilled midwives who are 'hands-off' unless required.
Midwives, mothers and mothers-to-be have fought to have choice, to question the set of tick-boxes that hospitals use to regulate birth, to birth in birthing centres or at home, with a local hospital on stand-by. This has enabled many women like me to have safe and natural home-births.
Unfortunately these systems are not broad and well-resourced enough; not every state in Australia has a home-birth scheme and some are very restrictive. Natural and homebirth activists do well to advocate for the maintenance and expansion of these programs to give women in the public health system real birth choices.
But perhaps the lack of support for these programs is influenced by the shrill chorus from the radical fringe of the homebirth movement. Women who believe that they should have the 'right' to have high-risk births at home either alone or with a skilled or lay midwife are bringing death and controversy into what should be a logical option for low-risk birthing mothers. These radical-birthing women are terrified of the medical profession and place such a high premium on 'choice' that the mother's individual choice is the only thing that matters.
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. Most women I know whose planned homebirths ended in hospital transfer and caesarean have experienced trauma, and some have also experienced stigma within the homebirth community. They feel like failures or frauds, and yet a kernel within them knows that this was the right outcome.
Yet when every intervention represents the patriarchy with a sharp knife, how are we to find safety and comfort in procedures that save the lives of mothers and babies? This culture of fear is contributing to the practice of free-birthing and an irrational fear of the hospitals which end up being the right place for some home birthing mothers.
I don't want to see women legally punished for choosing dangerous birth practices. This is a slippery slope that can lead to the targeting of underprivileged women for their own poor 'choices'. I also think that the death of a baby is enough of a punishment for anyone. But as a supporter of safe home-births who fears the taint - and the damage - of extremism, I refuse to stand alongside women who choose dangerous births.
Mother Nature is not just beautiful, she is cruel; she giveth and she taketh away. Look to history and the developing world if that isn't crystal clear to you. If you're high risk, go to hospital. Your homebirth sisters have a role to play there in advocating for more humane treatment, more choices and more rights for birthing mothers. We should be asking questions like why are vaginal births after caesareans the norm in the UK and only attainable after a bitter fight in Australia? When it comes to high-risk births, our energy is better spent on these matters than on supporting 'choices' that can end in tragedy.
Katie Attwell is a mother of two and a PhD candidate in Politics at the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University. View her full profile here.
Gave me a bit of a chuckle..