“Birth is life’s central mystery. No one can predict how a birth may manifest…Our dominant culture is anything but ‘natural’ so it is no surprise that childbirth, even with the most natural lifestyle lived by an individual family, sometimes needs intervention and medical assistance. This is not to say that any one mother’s efforts to have a natural childbirth are futile. Just that birth is bigger than one’s personal desires.” –Jeannine Parvati Baker (in The Goddess Celebrates: An Anthology of Women’s Rituals, p. 215)
It’s Labor Day and it is also the start of Empowered Birth Awareness Week! A blog carnival is in full swing at The Guggie Daily and I’ve been having some thoughts about birth as a consumer issue. Very often, it appears to me that responsibility for birth outcomes is placed on the mother—if only she’d “gotten educated” she would have made “better choices.” Many people have a tendency or overlook or minimize the impact of the context in which she makes her choices. In that way, I appreciate Baker’s observation about that birth is bigger than one’s personal desires. That doesn’t mean that we can’t take vital steps to alter the larger culture of birth in which we make our choices, however, and one of those ways is to remember to think about birth as a consumer issue.
Though it may not often seem so, birth is a consumer issue. When speaking about their experiences with labor and birth, it is very common to hear women say, “they won’t let you do that here” (such as regarding active birth–moving during labor). They seem to have forgotten that they are customers receiving a service, hiring a service provider not a “boss.” If you went to a grocery store and were told at the entrance that you couldn’t bring your list in with you, that the expert shopping professional would choose your items for you, would you continue to shop in that store? No! If you hired a plumber to fix your toilet and he refused and said he was just going to work on your shower instead, would you pay him, or hire him to work for you again? No! In birth as in the rest of life, YOU are the expert on your own life. In this case, the expert on your body, your labor, your birth, and your baby. The rest are “paid consultants,” not experts whose opinions, ideas, and preferences override your own.
There are several helpful ways to become an informed birth consumer:
- Read great books such as Henci Goer and Amy Romano’s new book Optimal Care in Childbirth or Pushed by Jennifer Block.
- Hire an Independent Childbirth Educator (someone who works independently and is hired by you, not by a hospital). Some organizations that certify childbirth educators are Childbirth and Postpartum Professionals Association (CAPPA), BirthWorks, Birthing From Within, Lamaze, and Childbirth International. Regardless of the certifying organization, it is important to take classes from an independent educator who does not teach in a hospital. (I’m sure there are lots of great educators who work in hospitals, but in order to make sure you are not getting a “co-opted” class that is based on “hospital obedience training” rather than informed choice, an independent educator is a good bet.)
- Consider hiring a doula—a doula is an experienced non-medical labor support provider who offers her continuous emotional and physical presence during your labor and birth. Organizations that train doulas include CAPPA, DONA, and Birth Arts.
- Join birth organizations specifically for consumers such as Citizens for Midwifery or Birth Network National or International Cesarean Awareness Network.
- Check to see if you have a local birth network in your own community or even start your own (I recently co-founded one in my town!)
- Talk to other women in your community. Ask them what they liked about their births and about their care providers. Ask them what they wish had been different. Pay attention to their experiences and how they feel about their births. If they are dissatisfied, scarred, unhappy, and disappointed, don’t do what they did.
- Ask your provider questions. Ask lots of questions. Make sure your philosophies align. If it isn’t a match, switch care providers. This is not the time for misplaced loyalty. Your baby will only be born once, don’t dismiss concerns your may have over the care you receive or decide that you can make different choices “next time.”
- Find a care provider that supports Lamaze’s Six Healthy Birth Practices and is willing to speak with you seriously about them:
- Let labor begin on its own
- Walk, move around and change positions throughout labor
- Bring a loved one, friend or doula for continuous support
- Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary
- Avoid giving birth on your back and follow your body’s urges to push
- Keep mother and baby together – It’s best for mother, baby and breastfeeding
These care practices are evidence-based and form an excellent backbone for a solid, mother and baby friendly birth plan.
Why “evidence-based care” though?
Because maternity care that is based on research and evidence for best practice is not just a nice idea or a bonus. It isn’t just about having a “good birth.” Evidence-based care is what mothers and babies deserve and what all birthing mothers should be able to expect! Here is a great summary of pregnancy and birthing practices that the evidence backs up:
Remember that birth is YOURS—it is not the exclusive territory of the doctor, the hospital, the nurse, the midwife, the doula, or the childbirth educator. These people are all paid consultants—hired by you to help you (and what helps you, helps your baby!).
“As long as birth- metaphorically or literally-remains an experience of passively handing over our minds and our bodies to male authority and technology, other kinds of social change can only minimally change our relationship to ourselves, to power, and to the world outside our bodies” – Adrienne Rich (Of Woman Born p185)
This post is updated from a previous edition.