For a long time on this blog I have tried to cover the subject of a woman's right to a positive birth. One of my first ever posts was an attempt to address the politics of power in the birth room: "They Let Me" Go Overdue. Later, I wrote about how Every Woman Deserves a Positive Birth, the impact of what I called The Wallpaper of Fear on the birthing woman, the importance of giving our daughters positive messages about birth, and most recently, the global Birth Revolution and the Freedom for Birth screenings.
The thread between all of these posts has been, I think, the desire to question the status quo, to spread a message of positivity about childbirth, and to empower women to reclaim birth and make truly informed decisions. One of the many subjects we were asked to consider in our Doula training was our own personal 'blueprint' for birth - something that particularly interests me given my background in the world of therapy. What messages have we been given throughout our lives about childbirth? What images have we seen, what sentences have we heard that have stuck in our minds? For many of us, the messages have been mostly negative. Our expectations of birth are pretty low, and we approach it with fear.
Thinking about my own personal blueprint, I was reminded initially of how my mother always told me that, "when you give birth, you lose all your dignity", and get used to, "everybody and their uncle," looking at you, "down there". Of course, I now realise that although this was her experience, it didn't have to be mine, but so often, especially when we are given this information from a young age, we simply do not think to challenge it. However, if we don't challenge it, it becomes increasingly likely that it will happen to us, and that we will be telling the same story to our own daughters. Self-fulfilling prophecy becomes self-perpetuating myth: misinformation becomes reality, rumour evolves into fact.
Even if we are well-armed and determined to read a few books and break a few cycles, the negative messages can still drip into our mind and take hold when we are least expecting it. When planning a home birth, I so clearly remember the Health Visitor's comment, who had come to visit and look around our narrow three-story house. When I told her I was planning to give birth in the top floor bedroom, she said, "I'm sure it will be fine, the only concern they sometimes have is whether they can get a stretcher down the stairs." Immediately I got an image of myself, strapped to a white board like a casualty from the trenches, moaning and blood-stained, whilst two paramedics strained in a staircase corner under my full-term weight.
How does a birthing woman wriggle free from such imagery and a life-time of negative input? In many cases, including my own, she doesn't - it's an almost impossible task. She might have a well informed neo-cortex, but there are so many layers of crappy misinformation in between this and the ancient mammalian limbic system she needs to engage to give birth easily, that she simply doesn't stand a chance. Add to this the fact that she's giving birth in a system that has it's own hugely negative 'blueprint' and is often stretched to it's limits, and it's even clearer to see why so many natural birth plans end up on the cutting room floor.
I don't think that women can expect 'the system' to change - I think that we need to change how we are when we enter the system and that in this way the system will have no option but to change to accommodate us. Reading and informing ourselves in an intellectual way is an excellent start, but I think we also need to go deeper, and explore and challenge the very roots of our feelings and fears about childbirth. We need to 'redecorate': to gleefully tear down the wallpaper of fear and replace it with much more positive surroundings. And to do all this, we need to communicate.
To this end, I've decided to play my own small part by setting up a The Positive Birth Movement, and I've organised our first discussion group with an open invitation to pregnant women, fellow Doula's, birth workers and anyone with an interest in positive birth. Our first meeting is on November 6th - HERE is the Facebook event page for it - and what I've been wondering is - would you like to join us?! If you are local to me in Somerset UK you would be most welcome, but of course, many of you are further afield, and anyway, my house is not quite big enough all of you! But could we possibly set up a system whereby women all came together in small groups on a regular basis to share information, ideas, experiences, thoughts and feelings about birth, and then fed back to each other on a larger scale using social media?
The advantages to this would be both the solidarity and extended expertise provided by a wider group than it would be possible to gather in 'real life'. For example, one group may have a question that they are unable to answer that they could put to a wider audience, or they may even encounter a human rights issue that they feel should be raised and discussed amongst a larger group. There would be power and 'clout' in our numbers. I would hope that it would also simply create a 'buzz', a feeling of warmth and shared purpose, and a sense that, in the face of dark times for birthing women, we are 'doing something'.
If you would like to join up with the meeting on November 6th, here's what to do:
- Organise a discussion group yourself, or hold a meeting of an existing group, on or as near to November 6th as possible.
- Let me know about it, by email, or my Facebook page for The Mule, or twitter.
- Join up with The Positive Birth Movement on Facebook.
- Follow loosely this month's theme: Planning a Positive Birth
- Tweet about it with the hashtag #positivebirth
- Share your stories, questions, issues or positivity with me via email, Facebook or twitter.
- Blog about it and let me know.
- Watch this space for news!
You don't have to be a midwife, doula or birth professional to take part. The Positive Birth Movement is about ALL women coming together to share their experiences and help each other. For example, three pregnant women could all get together and brain storm their birth plans. Think how much they might learn from each other's choices! This is a chance, not to teach each other, not to judge each other, but just to listen to each other.
If the first Positive Birth link up is successful, I will try to arrange another meeting in the first week of December.
As always, let me know your thoughts!
For more information on Doula Training with Conscious Birthing please visit www.doulatraining.co.uk
For more information about my own work as a Dramatherapist and trainee Doula please visit www.birthinsight.co.uk