DISCLAIMER: This is a personal essay. It is not a factual article. It is my thoughts and this is how my brain works in this instance (at this time).
So - if you are just going to complain that I obviously don't understand how statistics and risk analysis work let me assure you that I have a reasonable understanding of statistics and I am aware that my analysis of the stats is not accurate or completely factual. That's not the point. Because it's not a factual article but a personal essay and some of us don't just jump to a high level statistical analysis as the first point of thought.
Yes, I am being a little dramatic. But it is, literally speaking, true.
I drove up the Gillies Range Road.
Quite mundane, sorry! It’s a regular old road that hundreds, maybe thousands, of people drive on every single day. It’s a very winding road up the side of a mountain, but it’s actually considered to be a pretty major highway up here.
Oh. I see you all sitting there all deflated. Sorry – this isn’t a story of some amazing adventure, but one of facing fear, assessing risk, hypocrisy, freebirth and how to define a “seatbelt”. I might also add in a little bit about the risk of using analogies…
I’m terrified of driving. Always have been. I put off learning to drive and getting my licence as long as I could without having to admit to anyone that I was just simply terrified. Why am I scared of driving? Because driving is fucking dangerous! People die every single day while driving. I’m not keen on doing something that kills people every day. However – on the rare occasions that I have shared my fear I have been mocked relentlessly. Because “Why on earth would you be scared of driving? That’s just weird!” and “It doesn’t kill that many people.”
This is where we move the analogy across to freebirth. Sorry – it’s a big leap!
When I tell people I plan to birth my next baby unassisted at home I get a range of responses from: “Oh that’s brave!” And “Aren’t you scared?” to “OMG you could die!!!!” Do you see where I’m going with this?
View from the Gillies Range. Author's own photo.
I tried to look up the stats on how many people have died on the Gillies Range over the last 20 years. Google wasn’t playing nice and wouldn’t give a straight answer to my question. But there has been two so far this year. And how many women have died while homebirthing in the last 20 years? Again I turned to google who tells me that it was one. Twice as many people have died on the Gillies Range this year as women have died homebirthing in the last 20 years.
Yet when I mentioned I might drive up the Gillies, with the kids in the car and all!, no-one yelled at me: OMG how can you risk your life like that?
This is where we explore the definition of a seatbelt. Because I can hear everyone saying…well, when you drive you do things to make it safer. Like wear a seatbelt. And then they say: Having a midwife is the same as wearing a seatbelt. You do it to make homebirth safer.
Brief tangent: Even if I am engaging in very risky driving my car must have a seatbelt installed. It’s the law – every driver (and passenger) must have access to a seatbelt. So many women are driving cars that don’t have seatbelts installed. And we are told that we just have to suck it up and accept that we don’t deserve a seatbelt. Because we’re engaging in risky driving. (In this brief point the seatbelt is the midwife and driving is birth…just in case things are starting to get confusing.)
But what if that’s not how I define a seatbelt? What if I consider my instincts to be my seatbelt? Maybe I consider birthing in my dark, warm, private cave where I feel safe to be my seatbelt? Maybe I consider a midwife to be like a paramedic – someone I call if I have an accident or need medical attention? I certainly don’t keep a paramedic in my car for just in case I crash on the Gillies. And maybe, just because this analogy isn’t screwy enough yet, I consider my previous midwives to be like the car that was sitting on my arse and scared me into pulling over where it wasn’t really safe to do so thereby increasing the level of risk for me and my passengers. And maybe that’s left me a little shaken and wondering if a midwife is going to rear end me and send me tumbling off the side of the mountain.
What if I consider just having someone there to catch as my seatbelt? Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
And then there is the fact that risk is exceptionally individual. Do you drive in the dark or do you consider that “too risky”? What about in the rain? Does it depend on what you have planned or what roads you will be driving on? Do you ever exceed the speed limit or break other road rules designed to “keep us safe”? And how often do you hear someone complain that the rules don’t keep us safe…they are just there to raise revenue?
If you have made it to the end and think that maybe you understand what I was saying – well done. I don’t know if anyone actually got my message here. But basically it’s this:
Risk assessment and fears and what makes us feel safe are unique. Driving scares me more than birth. Maybe birth scares you more than giant man eating spiders. Maybe you feel safe driving at 200kms per hour with your seatbelt off. With your pet man eating spider in the passenger seat. It’s all individual.
Does birth scare you more than this spider? Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Before you criticize me for risking my life and my baby’s life remember – you risk your life and your children’s lives every time you put them in the car. We all do things every day that have a potential risk of death. Glass houses and stones don’t mix.
So there you have it. This little essay popped into my head as I arrived at the top of the range and pondered the fact that I had just done something that I was terrified of. I thought that maybe I really am just a wuss. Then I remembered that other people think I’m terribly brave for contemplating a freebirth.