So I was initially going to write this article when a Mamamia piece was shared in the vbac group I run. It was an article about the “myths” women are told about caesareans and was basically a piece suggesting that they’re “not that bad”. Then yet another Mamamia article was shared – this time in the birthing revolutions group that I run. And there you have it…I felt that compelling pull to write. You see, as far as I am concerned, it is NOT okay to tell women how, where and with whom they should birth their babies. Women need access to GREATER choice, GREATER autonomy and GREATER respect. Yet this article was telling everyone that freebirth, and the freebirth community, is dangerous.
I have so many issues with this article that I’m not quite sure where to begin. So I’ll start at the beginning and see how we go. In the very first paragraph the writer ridicules women for using placenta to stop post partum bleeding. Apparently suggesting this, in a closed freebirthing group, is a “gee-up to get the birthing wars brewing”. Yet ridiculing this practise, in a public forum, is certainly not contributing to the mummy wars, is it?! It’s very respectful to publicly ridicule a practise that many homebirth midwives and homebirthing women have been using for a very very long time. I asked a few friends about this practise and had several say that they used it with varying levels of success. Several women advised that it worked great and there was no need for further treatment. But those it didn’t work for didn’t sit around and wait to bleed to death…they utilised the synthetic oxytocin option which is available. And this isn’t just the domain of freebirthers – women who birth in hospital regularly put in their birth plans to have a physiological third stage and will use natural methods to reduce bleeding before resorting to an injection of a synthetic hormone. Sounds perfectly reasonable doesn’t it – use natural methods then if they don’t work access the medical methods available. People employ this tactic in MANY health scenarios – how many people pop vitamin c and Echinacea for a cold and then, if they don’t work, they head to the doctor to get checked for infection etc. This is a pretty common and, dare I say it, normal, philosophy to hold.
Placentas are exceptionally cool organs! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Then we get to the screen grab from the woman who had her waters leak, re-seal and then leak again and stayed home. Here we are ridiculing the woman’s use of high dose vitamin c and alkaline diet in preventing infection. Firstly I have absolutely no idea whether an alkaline diet prevents infection…something in my brain seems to recall a bunch a people promoting it recently because it prevents inflammation and is all round good for the body. I didn't pay too much attention because, after checking out what foods I wouldn't be able to eat, I decided that an alkaline diet isn't for me. The author says that this woman is using vitamin c to ward off “E-coli and Group B Streptococcus, bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia, trichomona, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV.” Erm…there’s nothing in the screen grab to suggest that the woman actually has any of these infections present in her body. Are we just assuming that because she’s freebirthing she must be HIV positive or have an STD? That’s a pretty big leap. Also, current evidence suggests that by heading into hospital after your waters break you actually increase your risk of infection due to exposure to the “foreign” bacteria and germs found in hospital. Staying home, eating well, keeping hydrated and monitoring yourself seems like a sensible course of action.
I have another issue with these screen grabs that she has used. Where did they come from? How did she acquire them? Why have the women in question not been given an opportunity to respond to her accusations and ridicule? Where’s the context? What were the outcomes for the mum and bub? I have a rule in the groups that I run: NO SCREENSHOTS. For the above reasons. Quite simply it is rude to take another person’s words, put them into your own context and then ridicule them. THAT is fuel for the mummy wars.
The freebirth community is a private community for good reason. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The author then adds that the freebirthing community is pretty much a closed community. Which begs the question – how does she have quotes from several freebirthers, she claims to have taken from freebirth support groups, to add into her article? One of the reasons the freebirth community is closed is because of women like this author taking our words, our hopes, our fears, our experiences and throwing them to the public with a whole heap of ridicule and condemnation. Every woman who chooses freebirth is very well aware of the public opinion in regards to that (legal) option. Is it really too much to ask for a private forum in which to talk with other like minded women? Another reason freebirth groups keep as private as possible is due to the fact that there have been instances where the private details of members (such as home addresses) have been shared with members of another well known blog with instructions to send hate mail to these women. The freebirth community remains as private as possible due to a very real security issue…Thanks for fuelling that one!
The next paragraph involves a screen grab from a woman who experienced complications during her previous homebirth. The point here was to let everyone know that this woman may consider an unassisted birth in future and how dangerous that is – that if your previous birth involved complications you should be in hospital. Well…what if your previous births involved complications caused by the hospital? What if your midwife broke your waters without consent and you suffered a cord prolapse as a result? Or if your baby suffered from a lack of oxygen as a result of the use of synthetic oxytocin? Or your uterus ruptured as a result of an unnecessary induction? Or you died as a result of a caesarean you were bullied into? These complications have a name: “Iatrogenic complications” are those resulting from the activity of physicians; said of any adverse condition in a patient resulting from treatment by a physician or surgeon. And, by the same reasoning that the author used, I would then be well advised to consider a different birth location, right? After all my baby, or I, could have died as a result of being in that hospital! Why on earth would I go back again?!
The author also “lays her cards out” to tell us that she had “3 hospital births…surrounded by medical professionals because that was my choice”. One of them was an elective caesarean for breech presentation. So it’s okay for her to be able to access surgery (and recent studies have shown that surgical birth is NOT always better for breech presentation) by her own choice, but it’s not okay for others to access freebirth by their own choice. By stating that she had a caesarean for breech she could be considered to be promoting surgical birth as a “better” option for breech presentation. Surgical births involve a 3 times higher mortality rate for women. But it’s okay for this author, who is not a medical professional, to encourage that? Interesting…
She says that these groups are “advocating for unassisted births”. Which they actually are not. What these groups are doing is providing support and information to women who are wanting to plan an unassisted birth. These groups aren’t out there promoting unassisted birth as a “better” way for all women to birth (unlike those who are out there promoting hospital birth as the best way for all women to birth…) and they aren’t out there secretly infiltrating other groups so that they can screen shot other women's stories and share them with the world. As the author mentioned, these groups are secret and very closed. You don’t generally just stumble across these groups – you have to actively seek and join them. Many of these women are unable to joyfully share their birth stories with other women due to just the types of attitudes that this author has shown.
Many women who plan a freebirth are unable to share their joy with others. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
In her closing statement the author asks “Are you shocked by reading the advice in these forums?” and I have to say that no I am not. No more shocked than I am when reading the advice in mainstream birth forums which suggest that a woman should just do as the doctor says or that being subject to obstetric violence is okay. Or that electing to endanger your own life with an unnecessary caesarean is totally cool. Or that electing to risk your own baby’s well being with an unnecessary induction is fine. Every single birth option involves risk. I am NEVER shocked when a woman says: I have assessed the benefits, risks and alternatives of my options and this is my decision. Whatever her decision may be. I am more shocked when people abuse her for making an informed decision that isn’t what they think they would make in her situation.
I did not freebirth either of my children. But due to the circumstances of their births I will likely be required to choose between a freebirth or being subjected to obstetric violence in our local hospital. Freebirthing is not my first choice. But the choice in maternity care here in Australia is all an illusion – unless you are rich, live in a major metropolitan area and are considered low risk by your hospital board (how you perceive the risk, to you, is irrelevant) your choices are usually “standard care” or freebirth. And unfortunately standard care often (but not always…yes I know that there are good and indeed great care providers out there!) involves a good dose of trying to override a woman’s legal rights to make decisions for herself and her baby.
The author tries to make points throughout the article that she supports women’s rights to choose where and how to birth. But what she seems to mean is that she supports women’s rights to choose socially acceptable methods and locations of birth. Remember the quote: “I disagree with what you say but I will fight unto the death your right to say it”? This author will fight for your right to birth your baby how you choose…But only if she agrees with your choice.
Mamamia has really taken “click bait” blogging to a new level. For someone who claims to want an end to the mummy wars she sure has a habit of publishing extremely divisive and disempowering articles. But I guess writing about how it is okay to birth however you want based on your own informed decision doesn’t get ratings. Neither does suggesting that we support each other’s choices even if they are not what we would choose for ourselves. Or even that we simply be kind to one another as you never know the other person’s story. A friend of mine suggested that I write an article about the respect revolution that we need. Blogs like Mamamia are the reason that we need it.
Respect - it's not just for people we agree with. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
**As an added comment: the author quoted “Helen Dahlen”. Unless I’m very much mistaken I believe she meant Hannah Dahlen.