Sunday, 31 July 2011

Birth Story Special: Every Woman Deserves a Positive Birth

This past week on the blog has been a Birth Story Special, and I've been thrilled to introduce five wonderful birth stories in five days.  We've heard about an emergency caesarian, a freebirth, a home birth with a doula, and two very different stories of induction, one that felt unnecessary, and one that saved a baby's life.  First and foremost I'd like to say a big thank you to the women who shared these stories, not just for the time they took to write them so beautifully, but also for allowing us to look in on moments in their lives that were intimate, special, or even difficult and traumatic.

My aim in all of this was to build a picture of birth in the UK today, of what is being got right, and what might need to change.  From reading these powerful stories, and your comments on each post and on the facebook page for this blog, I have really enjoyed the chance to chew over this very difficult question, and although this has only lead me to further questions as opposed to any answers or solutions, I feel that if we keep thinking and talking and feeling about this issue, then positive change will surely follow.

I'd just like to make a couple of brief points.  The first is about Choice.  Certainly as a woman and as a feminist I would argue that every woman should be able to choose where and how she gives birth.  However, we need to very carefully make the distinction between 'perceived choice' and 'informed choice'.  If a woman, for example, decides even before her labour starts that she will choose to have an epidural, then whilst it may seem to her that she is making a free choice, her decision is actually based on the perceptions of others, and even total misinformation, that she may have gleaned from family, friends, or even the television.  Rather than backing the woman who makes such a 'perceived choice', I feel upset on her behalf, that she has received such negative messages about childbirth, and is approaching birth expecting it to be unbearably awful. Somehow I would like to fight for a woman's right to make truly informed choices.

Secondly, whilst we realise that there are some situations in which we are extremely grateful for medical help, it is wrong to assume that the level of intervention in UK births today is necessary.  If you look at some of the statistics published by BirthChoiceUK you can see just how much of what happens to us while we are having our babies is at the mercy of both where we live and of current trends in obstetrics, rather than changes in our own bodies abilities to labour and birth.  Compare these statistics to those of world renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin, who in over 2000 births over 30 years has maintained a rate of over 95% normal vaginal birth at home.  Birth can be natural, birth can be normal, birth can be drug free, birth can be positive, birth can be empowering.

Somewhere, at the moment, this is not being got right.  There is too much intervention, and too much fear, and often, one begets the other.  No wonder women go into birth afraid and determined to be numbed from the waist down, when there are so many horrible stories of trauma to be told.  I'm not sure it is helpful to get angry and blame 'the system', which after all is full of doctors who wish to be helpful and who are sometimes life savers.  Perhaps as women we need to take more responsibility and change the way we approach birth, take back ownership of it, and prepare ourselves better, intellectually, emotionally, psychologically.

I don't have all the answers, but I hope that by asking the questions we can move things forward in a better direction.  I do think it matters, and that having a positive birth experience is a hugely important part of being a woman and becoming a mother.  This week I have not told the story of my own second birth, and for now I will save it for another day.  But I would like to leave you with an image which I think says so much more about why birth is important than I will ever be able to, taken just a minute or two after I delivered our second baby girl.  Every woman deserves a moment like this.  Every woman deserves a positive birth.

Apologies this photo has been temporarily removed.


  1. You really have hit the nail on the head here with the fact that choice is only choice if we have all the information at hand.

    So many first time Mums to be look to anyone who has a child in belief that they "know about childbirth" when infact you could talk to someone who had 10 children and they may be totally clueless as to what their bodies actually do in labour and how to help your body get on with it :)

    I am pro-birth education all the way, well body education too! And from a young age. x

  2. Oh I love love love this picture. definitely a home water birth for me next time round (with everyone jumping in the pool afterwards!) x

  3. it was amazing. one minute it was just me in the pool, struggling; then suddenly, a party of 4, celebrating! an unforgettable moment and i'm so glad i have the pictures xxx