Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Reaction to the Reaction

Recently, my husband posted our son's birth story, and what ensued was an ugly debate around the fact that we had planned an unassisted birth in the first place. One woman was very upset by the fact that we shared our story. It was repeated over and over, the opinion that unassisted birth with no prenatal care is dangerous, risky, irresponsible, and ignorant. She told us that we put our unborn children in danger, and just happened to get lucky five times. We beat the odds that mother or baby, or both, would die because of our choice to forgo conventional prenatal care and an OB-attended labor and delivery. And because we shared our story, we were encouraging other families to take those same risks.

Even though I am far past the point in my life when I feel I owe those who are not willing to have an open dialogue any explanation, I did reach down deep and found a peaceful place to respond to this woman. She claimed that she was not hurting, but clearly, she was coming from a place of some kind of pain. Vitriol does not come from peace and contentment, but seeing past the offensiveness of her insensitivity was trying.

I did not, and do not, need to defend my choices, but in the interest of supporting other mothers in their journeys, I will make no secret of my opinions and my experiences.

It is difficult to live in a plural society, where there are many different ways to approach something as fundamental as the physiological process of birth and the social and biological necessity of caring for our children. The difficulty lies in being confronted with different paradigms, worldviews that are so different than our own that something in us rises up and declares it not only wrong, but damaging and dangerous. Because it is so very individual, women will make different choices. Allowing women choice means sometimes they make choices you would not. They may make choices that even frighten you. Or me. Or the lady down the street. And the more disparate the idea from your own, the stronger the urge to enforce compliance with what we feel is right can feel.

I have my own paradigm, of course, from which I view the world I live in. It is my deeply held belief  that it is never dangerous for women to make educated, informed decisions about what kind of prenatal care to receive, where and how to give birth, and whom to invite into their pregnancy and birth. It is that simple. 

It is my belief that the health and safety of the motherbaby dyad is paramount, and are inherently a concern when discussing childbirth and considering birth options. Also, that the comfort and positive emotional state of the mother during labor and delivery is not just a nice luxury or pie-in-the-sky daydream, but an important factor for her and her baby's physical, psychological, and emotional well-being.

It is not my opinion that every woman should have an unassisted homebirth. It is, however, that UC is a valid, valuable, and viable option for many women. All women should have the right and freedom to investigate and consider all possibilities. Women do not need to be controlled, condescended to, patronized, deceived, or manipulated. Not for anyone's convenience, and not "for their own good." Whatever the intent of such patriarchal attitudes in childbirth, that approach does not ultimately make women or babies safer. 

My paradigm does not include an acceptance of the right of anyone to infringe on the autonomy of another.  I believe that taking away the right, responsibility, ability, and privilege for women to make informed and educated choices for themselves is violence. 

I do not accept the necessity for this violence in birth. Regardless of what kind of birth a woman feels comfortable with, where or how she chooses to bring her child into the world, and whom she chooses to invite into that pinnacle experience, I do not believe that any woman should be subject to denial of her personhood and right to self-determination. And this is true certainly  during a time that is paradoxically the most powerful and the most vulnerable. During childbirth, one of the most important roles for those around a birthing mother are to recognize her right to self-direction as sacrosanct, and to act accordingly in everything that is done. 

As I said, it's very simple. It's not at all revolutionary on paper; most people assume that they can take it for granted. However, one situation in which a woman can not be reasonably assured of her right to govern herself is in childbearing. Many reasons are given, which are a topic for another day; but the premise is always that during pregnancy and birth, women forfeit some of their autonomy and should do what they are told. A compliance with convention, whether based in research or good practice or not, is expected. The problem is, the only thing that is made safer by this are society's ideas of what a "good mother" does... babies are not made safer. Mothers are not made safer. What is protected is the paradigm that says a pregnant and birthing mother can and should be stripped of her power. 

And in my paradigm, this is fundamentally wrong. This is not how we make mothers and babies healthier. This is not how we make childbirth "work." This is not how we grow strong families. This is not how we engender basic human rights. This is not how we create a just, peaceful world. 

I unashamedly do encourage women to question the idea that obedience makes for a safer entry to the world for their baby. I declare that women are fully responsible for themselves and their unborn child, and that they have the right to full access to any and all information they need to make carefully considered choices based on the nuances of their unique, individual, personal circumstances. 

The risks of continuing with the current conventional treatment of women in childbirth far outweigh the risks of allowing women the right to choose for themselves.

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