Why We Need More Birth Advocates Who Aren’t Birth Professionals
Our maternity care is in crisis! Everyone who has ever tried to exercise true Informed Choice in our system knows this is the case. Families who deviate from the standards of care, such as those choosing home birth, VBAC, Breech Vaginal Birth, Twin Vaginal Birth, or who just want to refuse certain tests are often stigmatized or treated poorly in this system. We are vilified as caring more about our “experience” than the safety of our children. For already marginalized groups, this can even lead to involvement of the Ministry of Children and Families; whether that involvement is actually necessary is highly debatable and steeped in biases and, often, systemic racism.
Because Our Hands Aren’t Tied by the System
If you are friends with a doula or a midwife, and they trust you enough to let you into their world, then you are likely aware of the hidden trauma in these professions. This trauma often stems NOT from the individual health of the mother-baby pairing or even what the outcome was for the birth, but in the way the laboring person was treated. Moms are being lied to while they are in labor, and doulas, midwives, and even the few obstetricians are witnessing the coercion in the hospitals and even at home, but they can’t really talk about it to their clients or warn them away from choosing a certain hospital for their birth.
Birth professionals have strict regulations on what they are allowed to do in terms of how they practice and what options they present to their clients. They may even be reprimanded for the choices their CLIENT makes, and in the worst case scenarios the client can even be punished for making a decision while the midwife or doula watches and is powerless to stop it.
Put simply, their hands are tied. They’re expected to play nice and toe the line, and those who don’t are called out and vilified. Welcome to the Witch Hunt of the 21st Century.
Because WE Are the Ones Suffering Under the System
I have watched on the outside of this system for six years. I hear the stories from the mothers during birthday parties, play groups, and many other social gatherings when I mention what it is I do. They tell me these stories because I am one of the few who doesn’t tell them a “healthy baby is all that matters”.
I have had women approach me during various rallies over the years, drawn by our colourful “VBAC IS An Option” and “Question Your Induction” signs. Most lead their request with “are you midwives?” I tell them that I am neither a midwife nor a doula, but that I can connect them with women in those professions. I also tell them that I have done extensive research, verified by these birth professionals, on a variety of birth-related topics. They tell me “I’ve gone to so many OBs and nobody will let me have a VBA2C/3C etc.” Sometimes, they’re even told a VBAC is more dangerous than a repeat cesarean, and not even given the OPTION of a vaginal birth. I help them.
I have women who message my page or even contact me directly, and I help them.
I have women who are on parenting forums who reach out for help from the larger internet community only to be told to just do what they’re told by their doctor to do, and I help THEM.
I get torn into for helping these strangers, but I do it anyway. Why? Because it’s necessary to get the word out to as many people as possible. We cannot change this broken system from the inside. We cannot ONLY have doulas and midwives and OBs in on this fight to fix the system and remove the paternalism in maternity care.
Because WE Need to Ruffle the Feathers Now
Nothing has been made more clear to me that we need non-birth professionals in this fight than what I have heard when speaking to these birth professionals. Your doulas are tired, and not just because they stayed up with you for 48 hours. They’re tired because they see the abuse and coercion in the system and they are powerless to actually stop it. They’re there to support you in your decisions, but they can’t actually FIGHT for you. They can’t stand up too often or shout too loud, because they risk being thrown out of the room. Midwives, OBs and nurses can’t speak too loudly against the system, because they risk losing their hospital privileges.
You might have noticed a certain popular post was pulled. I wish to state that the midwife I spoke with and wrote the post about did NOT write that post; I did. She gave me permission to post it; there wasn’t anything inherently negative about it and it promoted her services so why not? There’s nothing “negative” about women being made aware of their options and understanding that certain policies in the system could affect their birth outcomes. Nonetheless, I have had to pull it because it got the attention of certain Powers That Be who would rather I hadn’t said anything at all.
This is why, when people ask me if I want to be a doula or midwife, I tell them I couldn’t do it. It’s not that I’m not smart enough or that I wouldn’t be great at it, but I’m needed HERE. Most of the blogs out there on birth are written by birth professionals. They have to be careful how they ruffle feathers because it can negatively impact their careers. I don’t have to be careful. I can ruffle all the feathers I like.
I don’t sensationalize, lie, or misrepresent my information. I don’t have to; the stories I hear, the women I speak with, the stats I read, the information I gather, THEY ARE ALL FACTUAL. If the hospitals and OBs out here are getting fewer consumers willing to put their births in the system, then that’s on them, not me and not the doulas, OBs and midwives who have been fighting for change for decades now. If women are wising up and telling them that they won’t be talked into a cesarean they don’t want, then that’s because today’s generations are sick of being told what to do with our bodies.
So yes, for now I have pulled a post that was positively geared to families who didn’t WANT to be in the hospital. I pulled a post geared to families who may have been TRAUMATIZED by the hospital as I was; families who refuse to set foot through those hospital doors anyway. These are NOT their customers! They are running away from the system ANYWAY. The rise in unassisted births and “oops” home births isn’t a coincidence. Yes, some women DO prefer to just birth unassisted, but that’s a very small percentage compared to the women, like myself, who felt pushed into that decision either to protect themselves, their midwives, or both. I have said this so many times; I would rather birth under a tree in my own backyard than put myself at the mercy of the system again. Let me make this plain: WE SHOULD NOT HAVE TO BIRTH ALONE JUST BECAUSE THE SYSTEM TOOK AWAY EVERY ALTERNATIVE OPTION FOR US TO BIRTH AS WE WISH.
Because WE Have Nothing to Lose and EVERYTHING to Gain
The blog post I wrote was intended to let the families who don’t want to birth in the system, know that there was a safe alternative to unassisted birth where all their decisions would be respected. But apparently that’s unacceptable to our oh so lovely Health Authority. On the brighter side of things though, this little incident has confirmed what I already suspected: It will be the CONSUMERS who drive change in our maternity care, and there’s strength in our numbers. They can try to silence our birth professionals who advocate for us, but if WE all stand up and speak out our truths then eventually they will have no choice but to listen.
Who am I, really? I’m a mom who got fed up with the paternalism in maternity care. I’m a former consumer of the maternity care system who has rejected that paternalism and done my own thing in birth. I’m a woman who, when I put my mind to something, there’s no shutting me up. I follow the birth activist midwives, doulas, nurses, and OBs and I echo what they are saying. I let the consumers of maternity care know their options and help them navigate the system for THEIR comfort, not for the convenience of the system. I will eventually teach classes on how to birth in that system or outside of it, NOT classes meant to churn out compliant little patients who believe a healthy baby is ALL that matters. I will do podcasts that speak out the truths of the consumers and the anonymous birth professionals who wish to talk with me. The only thing stopping me right now is money and a lack of technical know-how, but I’ll get there. The article might have been pulled, but my voice just got louder.
~Carly, Founder of Empowering Moms Canada
Just a quick reminder:
September 14th is the official date I have chosen to launch our first rally as Empowering Moms Canada. In the past we held the rallies at the water park in Mill Lake, but this year it will be at the Train Park. Local moms in Abbotsford and the surrounding area, I invite you all to come out and join us. Dads too! I recognize, from my own husband’s experience, that birth trauma affects fathers just as much as it does mothers, so come out and speak your truths. I’m giving EVERYONE a platform to share their experiences in the maternity care system here in Fraser Health, so now is your chance to speak out. I will also have handouts and the usual promotional materials from local birth professionals that have been at rallies in the past. Please see our Facebook Event Page for more details.
Please consider making a small donation here to help aid in the costs for future online courses, podcasts, and promotion of this blog on various platforms. $5 goes toward the cost of paper and poster boards. $25 buys one cartridge of ink and $50 covers both black AND colour ink for all the handouts we have at our events. $100 or more would help cover the cost of renting a booth or purchasing tickets to events where I could network with other birth professionals, in turn passing those connections on to consumers who may need their services.