Last Friday I was a panelist on the Human Rights in Childbirth Conference, a big international conference with a lot of birth experts and specialists. This was my speech:
I have been asked to speak here on behalf of the Dutch mothers. That’s a big responsibility, but I'll give it a try, because I think it’s very necessary that we are being listened to. I’ll talk from myself, and from my experiences.
A year ago my book was published, vrije geboorte: freedom of birth. It is not only a handbook for a conscious birth, it’s also a incentive to become autonomous during your pregnancy and birth. To remember that a happy birth experience has very much to do with what you want and how you want it, not with what others tell you to do. It encourages mothers and fathers to really act from the freedom of choice, and make decisions they really support. I started to write this book, triggered by the birth experience of my second child. I planned a homebirth just like my first one, and ended up in the hospital with a pitocin iv (een infuus met weeënversterkers) because of a medical indication. I was traumatised by this experience and didn’t want it to be repeated. So when I was pregnant for the third time I started an extensive research about the way birth functions best, and the ways to support this, to arrange the conditions under which birth works best. The first thing I found out was that there had been other choices during my second birth. I didn’t have to go to the hospital, as it was presented, but there would also have been possibilities to stay at home, safely. This kind of information wasn’t available in Dutch, because in almost all pregnancy books and magazines, the procedures are explained, the protocols, as if there are no healthy, safe alternatives. So it really took some effort and free thinking to look beyond the the facts as they were presented to us.
In the past year I have received a lot of letters of women who thanked me for my book, because they refound their trust in birth. There is so much fear surrounding birth, and a lot of fear comes from ignorance about the beautiful way birth works if you don’t disturb it.
And a lot of women I met had made the same journey as I did. Because of a traumatic birth experience, they started to do their own research to understand what went wrong. And what went wrong almost always had to do with disturbance of their birth process and with caregivers who seemed to be ignorant about the external conditions that are needed for birth to work. The conditions that give oxytocin, the birth hormone, free space – the key for a healthy and easy birth. Disturbance varied from talking loud on the telephone, to presenting a pair of scissors at the moment the baby is born, to being pursuaded to have the contractions augmented by a pitocin drip, to being told to lie down in the bed instead of walking around and so on. Often there was the indication of so called ‘failure to progress’, that wasn’t a real failure to progress, but a failure to give the mother all the necessary space, peace and time to birth in her own rhythm.
So after some research those women found out that their bodies didn’t fail. That they weren’t flawed. They understood that the birthing process had been disturbed from outside and that this disturbance has had serious consequences: a medicalised and traumatising birth.
A big group of women realizes that birth isn’t a medical event, it is a human event – deeply profound, the passing on of life itself… We know that our bodies and our babies are made for birth. And we know that it is and should be a joyful experience in essence.
And we understand that we give birth best if the oxytocins flow – so we need peaceful, loving, gentle conditions to give birth in. From that knowledge we start to communicate with our caregivers. We talk from our trust in birth and we ask questions. These questions are very often answered with resistance. Autonomous pregnant women are at best seen as naive and at worst as a danger to their child. Very ironic, because they are doing so much research because they want the best for their child. I regularly receive emails of conscious mothers who are desperate because they just can’t find a caregiver who wants to listen to them and who wants to answer their questions. Sad stories of women who don’t want a standard pitocin injection after birth, who don’t want the cord to be cut only 3 minutes after birth, who want to have a homebirth after a caesarean, who don’t want to be induced because they are 41 weeks pregnant or because there might be too little amniotic fluid and so on and so on.
These women are confronted with a lot of stress because their caregiver refuses to support her wishes. It’s very difficult to find a caregiver who will let you birth at home, when you have some kind of medical indication, even when having a doubtful one. So the paradox is that these women who trust birth deeply (or who are starting to trust birth again) are being answered with a lot of fear. They have to get into politics and stand up and fight fort their right, while their pragnancey demands the opposite, it demands to let go of everything, to open up, to really be anchored in the body and to relax. They have to make effort to stay with their trust in birth, while it is the trust, and relaxation that will make their birth so much easier… Strange paradox, isn’t it?
I am not afraid of the pain of contractions, it is pain but it doesn’t hurt, like Elena Tonetti says so truly in Birth As We Know It. What hurts is that things are being done to my baby and me, without my agreement and without knowing the true consequences: needles in my body, my baby being taken away from me directly after birth, being cut in my most intimate parts, being surrounded by strangers during the most special moment of my life. I trust birth like I trust life and I’m deeply alarmed by the disturbance of it.
I’m not sitting here to rebel against something. I’m here to stand up for my birth right. We are the next generation of mothers. Yes, our mothers and grandmothers gave birth at home. But (generally speaking) there were a lot of things that were done automatically without reflection just because they were the normal thing to do: The cord was cut soon or directly after birth, they often gave birth on their back, no long skin to skin contact after birth (the baby was cleaned, weighed and dressed etc), the baby was slapped on the back to breath and so on.... We, the new mothers, we are thinking for ourselves. We take birth very seriously.
The way my baby is born, makes the imprint for the rest of his life, and for my life as a mother, and for our life as a family. So let’s look seriously at the way birth works best, instead of spending our energy on where it goes wrong. A calm and peaceful birth should be the number one goal in this whole discussion. So – please – do listen to us, respect us, even encourage us when we are moving towards that goal with all our love, confidence and power.