I’m sorry. Once again I’ve left you all shivering in antici…
… but for so long I haven’t felt like writing. My birth didn’t go as planned. I was supposed to have a homebirth. It was supposed to be drug free. I was supposed to be in a familiar space surrounded by my family, with my birth beads hanging above the birthing pool and my mum’s famous quiche warming in the oven. I had spent the whole pregnancy planning the big event, but in the end none of it happened according to plan. In fact, none of it even happened at all. I am no longer pregnant. There is a baby. It is healthy. But how it got here is (once again) a complicated story.
To start with, I was running late. Day by day went past until there I was, two weeks overdue, in the middle of a stinking hot summer. Already in this story, if I had been birthing in hospital I would have been pretty much bullied into having an induction. An insanely high rate of first babies come at around 9/10 days overdue. Way more than come on their due date. Why then are pregnant people pushed to induce at 11 days? This deadline is an arbitrary line in the sand which changes from hospital to hospital. In The Netherlands they don’t even discuss induction until you are two weeks over. Yes, there is a small increase in the risk of stillbirth in overdue pregnancies. But not taken into account in these stats is the birthing person’s age, weight, and other health factors. Just because a baby is overdue does not automatically mean they are at risk. My homebirth midwife was satisfied that I was healthy and the baby was doing fine. So I was happy to wait.
At two weeks overdue my waters broke, but 24 hours later I still hadn’t gone into labour. (Once again, in a hospital I would have by now been pressured into having an induction.) This meant there was now a risk of infection to the baby. A very small risk, mind you. Possibly smaller than the risk of the baby’s heartrate dropping if exposed to the induction drugs. I went to the hospital to get the baby monitored, and everything seemed to be just hunky dory. I also felt fine. Over it, but fine. Every day my homebirth midwife informed me of the risks associated with my various options, and each day I weighed them up and then called the shots, choosing to wait a little longer. No one told me what to do with my body, and no one used fear to get me to adhere to hospital policies. My body, my choice. Sound familiar? That’s the feminist mantra when we talk about abortion rights or body autonomy, and yet when it comes to birth so many of my fellow feminists hand their bodies over to the doctors, who are governed by hospital policy, which is driven by insurance companies. I believe this is partly because of a lack of knowledge and access to unbiased information, and partly because we are taught to be so scared of birth that we have lost the confidence in ourselves and our bodies. We trust blindly, and that blindness makes us vulnerable.
I copped plenty of negativity when I told people I was homebirthing. Even from the stalwart feminists. There were the usual paternalistic comments: “but what if something goes wrong?” “are you sure that’s safe? you’d be so much safer in a hospital”. Do a bit of googling and you’ll discover that’s not exactly true. I don’t have time to tell you the stats, coz I’ve got a baby wriggling round impatiently in my lap. Suffice to say, hospital births have a way higher induction, intervention, and caesarian transfer rate than homebirths, and contrary to popular belief inductions, interventions, and caesarians aren’t exactly “safe”. There’s plenty that can go wrong, not to mention the increase in allergies we’re seeing as a result of caesar babies missing out on all the healthy bacteria they’d have absorbed if they’d been squeezed out of a vagina. I would never judge a person’s choice to birth in a hospital or to have pain relief or a caesarean. But I am critical of the patriarchal over-medicalisation of pregnant bodies, and the subsequent disempowerment this creates. So many people I know say they felt pressured into agreeing to birth interventions, to the point that they forgot they had any choice in the matter. Unfortunately hospitals operate on a risk assessment basis where they will default to medical intervention in order to avoid the potential (and possibly less quantifiable) risk of a birth with no interference. But what they fail to mention when scaring you into agreeing to an induction/intervention/caesarean is the subsequent risk involved. Don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely a time and a place for modern medicine in births. I am living proof. Living being the operative word. I suspect that, had I been birthing a century or two ago, I would most likely have been one of the 15% who would not have survived the process. However it is precisely because of this that I so firmly believe in homebirth. The reason homebirths are a perfectly safe option is because if something isn’t right, THEN you go to hospital. Which is exactly what I did.
Five days after my waters breaking, there was still no movement at the station. I was starting to suspect that I needed some help, so I chose to be induced. I was now 2.5 weeks overdue. Ten hours later, when we realised the contractions were not making me dilate, I made the decision to have a caesarian. My baby was eventually “born” in a sterile white room, delivered by a surgeon wearing blue gloves and a hipster headscarf. The baby was perfectly fine, though I was more than a little worse for wear. I didn’t get the birth I wanted. But even though I was too weak to hold my own baby, I felt strong. I felt sad, I felt depressed, but I felt strong. I felt empowered and in control every step of the way, because thanks to my homebirth midwife I was kept informed without any bias. It was my body, my rights, my decisions. And that is what a feminist birth looks like.
So there you go. I am the perfect example of why birthing at home, with a trained and insured midwife, is not an irresponsible choice to make. However the freedom to birth safely wherever you choose is now under threat. At the end of this year in Australia midwives will be facing the possibility of no longer being able to access professional indemnity insurance. Furthermore, recent changes to the laws in Australia have now made it illegal for a homebirth midwife to attend a birth without another midwife present. This makes practicing homebirth economically unviable, and many midwives are now choosing to leave the profession. These midwives have decades of experience behind them. They are medically trained to a very high level, and many have worked extensively in hospitals as well as at home. The changes to the laws are unfounded, paternalistic, and will only serve to push homebirthing underground, limiting our birthing choices to either using lay midwives or freebirthing. Any public health worker will tell you that making something illegal doesn’t stop it happening—it just means it stops it from being able to happen safely. When abortions were illegal women died in backyard clinics. Where drugs are illegal drug abuse is high, and drug related incarceration even higher. In countries where sex work is illegal, workers are at a greater risk of violence and have higher rates of STIs. People have the right to homebirth and they have the right to do it safely, with the support of trained and insured professionals.
[Image is of me during labour. It fucking hurt. I’m not going to lie.]