Birth rape and the need for more resources in midwifery

I’m surprised at Mia Freedman’s apparent naivety around distrust of the medical establishment. For someone who calls herself a feminist, she seems to accept the dominant discourse of this patriarchal profession rather too blindly for my liking.

I wish people would remember that gentle, natural birth (when possible and safe) has benefits for the baby as well as the mother. Wanting to achieve this kind of birth is not selfish or narcissistic! The problem is the bio-medical establishment (and evidently, wider society, even other women) does not provide enough support, to labouring women and to midwives. Someone who writes wonderfully about the benefits to both mother and baby of natural birth is Sarah Buckley, a doctor and a woman who has had four natural homebirths. It is a reflection of the patriarchal nature of the biomedical model, and the privileging of it over other perspectives, that there are not more women like her.

I find it offensive that people find the term ‘birth rape’ offensive! When we are talking about something going in or out of a woman’s vagina, a woman labels her own experience, not someone else. Anyone else notice how we all seem to assume that a woman who labels her birth experience ‘birth rape’ has never experienced ‘real’ rape? In fact with the rates of sexual assault as they are it’s more likely that she has, and she is perfectly qualified to compare the two.

When I had my child I was aiming for a natural birth. Like many privileged middle class couples we traipsed to Bowral for Calmbirth, but due to ‘slow progress’, posterior position and lack of dilation I had an unplanned caesarean. The doctors and midwives of the city hospital were all very respectful and gained my consent at every point (because this was possible and it was not an emergency) but I still feel a sense of loss and a level of trauma, so I can’t imagine what it must be like for a woman when things are taken out of her hands in a disrespectful way.

It must also be remembered how vulnerable a woman is during labour. Though I gave my consent for the caesarean, what other choice did I really have? I was just one woman up against the whole medical profession. Even in a post-birth debrief with the doctor the power imbalance is huge. It is this power imbalance that forces some women to undertake possibly dangerous births at home, and to make other strategic choices to avoid that other patriarchal institution, statutory child protection services.

This issue is not about individual women making selfish choices, it’s about our patriarchal society not respecting women and not giving enough time, effort, funding and thought to the business of birthing. Although my unplanned caesarean may have been unavoidable (and thank goodness I could have it and have a beautiful, healthy child), I do wonder if extra resources put into midwifery might go some way towards addressing the high rates of induction and caesareans in Australia. In a post birth debrief with Peter Jackson of Calmbirth, he noted how sometimes a woman is able to move through a slow labour to achieve a natural birth (where safe for the baby) if she has available to her the skills and abilities of a certain type of midwife who can help her overcome certain fears. Unfortunately, most women, including me, do not get this assistance as it is not highly valued in our bio-medical model of midwifery.

For the record I am not a freebirther but I support more resources for homebirths.


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