Monday, November 12, 2007

Home Birth in Australia

I felt very privileged to attend the 25th Home Birth Australia conference in Sydney last weekend where I provided a couple of 'interesting interludes' between the wonderful presentations.

It was a powerful and inspiring weekend but I was seriously disturbed to discover how persistently women's birth choices are being eroded by legislators and the medical profession.

The opening presentation was from British author and social anthropologist, Sheila Kitzinger. Described by the UK newspaper The Independent as ‘High priestess of the childbirth movement’, Sheila is a vigorous campaigner for rights of women in matters of birth and sex.

Sheila’s message about birth is clear:

Birth can be ecstatic. It can be thrilling, dramatic, and overwhelming. It need not be traumatic and despite what the medical profession would have us believe birth is not a medical event.

Sheila maintains that women should have access to the information that will enable them to make their own decisions, to prepare themselves for an experience in which they participate fully and in which they, not the doctors, are in control. And most women will agree that this is much easier to do on their own ground, in a place to which the doctors and midwives who are their caregivers come as guests, either in their own home, or in a birth centre in which the rhythms of a labouring woman's body are honoured and waited on, where birth is non-interventionist and centered on people rather than mechanical processes.

Sheila’s talk was just the beginning of a wonderful and varied program of presentations. We heard from a number of midwifes and mothers about their home birth experiences with images and video footage of several glorious arrivals. I’m not sure what it is about birth that evokes such a primal rush of emotion. But I was certainly not alone in finding myself in awed, but joyful tears at several points during the day.

We heard about the beautiful home births of a number of supposedly 'high risk' women: a 45 year old woman, a breach birth and a woman whose pregnancy had lasted only 35 weeks. We heard about 10lb 9oz babies and we even met a home birthed baby who weighed in on arrival at a magnificent 12lb 9oz. He suckled happily at mum’s breast as she gave her presentation.

We also heard from one awesome mother who birthed her first baby still born. In a wonderfully down to earth way she shared how important it was for her and her partner that they were able to do this at home as this enabled them to process and grieve their loss in a natural, uninterrupted and instinctual way.

Throughout the day the message was clear. Women feel better birthing at home with the continuous care of a midwife that they have chosen and whom they trust. Not only do they feel better, the research shows quite clearly that their births are less inclined to problems, the babies are healthier and happier and the subsequent relationship between the baby and its family is considerable enhanced.

Why then we have to ask are midwives being witch-hunted, suspended and deregistered and birthing centres being closed through lack of funding and medical backup?

Hmmm - let me think now. Could it be for the same reason that women have been forced to give birth lying down with legs raised on hospital tables in a position that makes no sense in her body and allows her no support from gravity? Could it be for the same reason that babies are induced before their due date, but just before a long weekend and caesareans are suggested when labour progresses beyond a few hours? Could it be that all these things are happening at the expense of the mothers and babies well-being but for the doctors convenience and to allow the medical profession to maintain control over this natural, miraculous and essentially feminine process of birth?

If you have the opportunity please see Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake's documentary "The Business of Being Born" which was premiered at the conference. Or make the opportunity by holding your own show. See the website for more details. Also check out the Homebirth Australia website for more information and resources on homebirth.