Why I Stopped Being A Birth Activist

hellen kellerI’ve been reflecting lately on why the “birth activist” in me has been publicly quiet lately, at least relatively speaking. A year or two ago, I was blog-posting with feistiness on the regular, attending regular birth rallies, and was part of youtube videos talking about why change in birth needs to happen. That participation was fulfilling, productive, and created a LOT of important conversation in our community that needs to keep happening. Birth work still takes up the majority of my life, but my public change-makin’ voice hasn’t been quite as loud.

I chalked it up to busy-ness. I haven’t really stopped being a birth-activist; I’m as active as ever in the birth world, even if it hasn’t been in the form of attending informed-choice rallies. I’ve been attending 4-5 births a month for the last year or so both inside and outside the medical system, co-developed and began teaching an entire prenatal class for home-birthing families, and teaching doula training. With all of that, there is not a lot of spare time in the day!

On top of that I finally met a guy who it turned out I could tolerate for more than 35 seconds and I learned it’s actually healthy not to work 24/7. Which is too bad because for a while I thought my path was to Save The Birth World One Tormenting Relationship At A Time. Spending so much time with this one guy is slowing down my educational tactics.

But the truth is, it’s more than all that.

Partly, it is that I’m contributing to change in a different way. By focusing less on raising awareness of the importance of informed choice, I have more time to focus on supporting families directly, both prenatally and during their births. I also have more time to focus on educating doulas and other birth workers on how to do the same.

Don’t get me wrong; this is important work too and I know it! The more GOOD birth stories there are out there, the more normal having powerful, respected births becomes and the more other women and families will insist on getting the same.

But that’s still not all of it. There’s a side effect that comes with me spending so much time educating families and attending births in the context that I have been: I get to spend all of my time in an amazing birth world. A world that doesn’t leave me riled up and angry and hell bent on making change, but rather content and satisfied and thrilled that I get to do the work that I do.

The vast majority of my clients make careful choices that apply to them uniquely, end up birthing with amazing attendants for support, and they end up mostly birthing at home and un-interfered with except in rare circumstances. So I live in a world of patience, support and sparse intervention. One where women and their partners catching their own babies, beautiful, health-giving umbilical cords are left to pulse for long after the birth of the baby, and families feel respected and powerful. When you live in this world, there is no reason to protest. There is nothing making me write my next “oh my god the birth world needs to change!” blog post in my head on my drive home from a birth in the middle of the night. Instead I can go home and sleep peacefully with a smile on my face.

I used to be thrilled when I would witness a “hands-off” style birth: one with no uncomfortable vaginal exams, that was long but progressed naturally, where the umbilical cord was left completely intact and the birth of the placenta wasn’t rushed, where the family caught their own baby, a birth where start to finished the woman was left primarily undisturbed and supported only in a reassuring way. Those births were a welcome reprieve from the standard managed births that are the norm: ones that involve high medication, augmentation, instrumental births and cesarean rates *even among healthy women planning to avoid those things*.

I was amazed by those hands-off births.  I still am, but instead of being a novelty, they have become my norm. Nowadays, if I attend a birth where that kind of hands-off, normal birth DOESN’T happen, it’s an anomaly. Don’t get me wrong, I still get frustrated with our birth system from time to time, but MOST of the time, in the birth world I’m immersed in, interventions are used extremely sparingly and only in very specific circumstances, and when they are offered it’s with an attitude that is mindful of client choice.

But just because *I* get to attend births in such a respectful, gentle, normal context, doesn’t mean that the same things that got me so worked up a few years ago have stopped happening. They haven’t. When there are still stories of clients planning unmedicated births being aggressively offered fentanyl by hospital staff like unmedicated birth is a ridiculous plan, of OBs laughing at women who say they want to wait longer to clamp the umbilical cord, when a woman has to repeatedly refuse to lie down while a nurse tries to “gently” push her down on the the bed to give birth instead of being given hassel-free space to birth standing up, of women feeling powerless to make their own choices and not listened to when they try to… these are all serious problems happening in the same city as the respectful births I just described above and they need to stop.

I feel like every normal-birth blog post ever written needs to come with the caveat of “Of course, if medical intervention becomes necessary, we are glad we have it.” So there it is, I’m including it. I agree. Yes, of course. That really should go without saying. But I have seen first-hand a birth world that is much different than the one most women are exposed to or offered. My world is one where the percentage of women who have medical intervention seems somehow to be much less than the local average. I live in a world where the biology of birth is left to work, women are respected and the family’s experience matters. On a regular basis.

How do we make THIS our culture’s normal, instead of a world that only a few of us in the physiological-birth subculture are privy to? How do we get more women access to attendants who *truly* understand normal birth and the right to choice? Do I need to go back to rallying? Cuz it’s so much more fun hangin’ out at home births with amazing families and their chosen attendants witnessing awesome births than it is to be standing outside hospitals with protest signs (though that sure was fun, too!).

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  1 comment for “Why I Stopped Being A Birth Activist

  1. Amy Beck
    June 20, 2015 at 6:10 am

    Thanks for this! Supporting women and families at birth is a powerful way to impact our communities.

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