Thursday, August 31, 2006


The subject of freebirthing (unassisted child birth), has recently come up on AB, and I've found myself revisiting the subject, reading sites and blogs on it that I'd previously checked out. I had another look at the Autonomous Birth blog...

Ok, one assumption behind free birthing is that birth is part of the sexual continuum, and hold the same level of intimacy between the woman and her child, or the woman, her child and her partner, as the act which created the child.

On an entry I just read there was a description of the blogger's first understanding of this sacred intimacy when she attended a friend's birth and witnessed the friend labouring in the embrace of her partner, and the blogger realised the feeling that she should not be there, that this was an intimate time. Now, the blogger isn't naive enough to assume the reader would take that feeling alone as the legitimation of freebirthing as the ultimate birth process, so she shows that that, indeed, the labouring woman had also be uncomfortable with the presence of others at her labour and birth. This consensus between these women acts at the legitimation of freebirth.

A few things occurred to me when reading this...

Firstly, I was reminded of a birth I attended where I also witnessed the intimacy of the relationship between the birthing woman and her partner, and I also felt that sense of "I shouldn't be here", that I was silently (in a darken room), witnessing something so intimate and sacred, that I was acting as a voyeur. I don't know that this woman or her partner felt the same, it has never come up in conversation. What I do know is that this experience, as much as I was concerned with my own feelings, had very little, if anything, to do with me. What I felt and thought was irrelevant. This woman's birth was not about me and my feelings.

The other thing that occurred to me. Even though I have also felt the sting of having my "birth bubble" burst by the well-meaning, but intrusive presence of my midwife and my Dh, I would not assume that my feelings on this translate to the entirety of womanhood, even if there are other women who feel the same way I felt. I also feel completely unselfconscious in my nakedness during labour and birth, despite birthing in front of complete strangers, but would presume to tell other women they should feel the same way I do about being naked in front of strangers during their labours.

Finally, and I realise that this could be something particular to me, but for me, at least, birth has never felt like and intimate sexual act continuum. I had one orgasmic birth (my most intervened birth), but my Dh and I have never connected during a labour or birth. This could be, most possibly is, because he withdraws in fear, but then again, I don't know that we have ever connected in conception either. We love each other deeply, but our children were never conceived as a result of our love making, but rather as a result of optimally timed conception sex.

Perhaps this is where we "went wrong"?

I don't know :).

What I do know is that because some women (and theirpartners) feel the very understandable, to me, need for privacy in birth (I do totally understand this because I've felt the same in the wake of all my births, my own ideal would be to having a circle of friends at my birth, but them moment my baby was born, they all left the room, and left me with my baby until I called them back), for those women who don't feel this need, for those women who DO want the presence of a midwife, or Dr or friends, or whatever, that's all good too.

There IS no one way to feel. There is no "right" way to birth. If you don't feel what another woman feels, it doesn't mean you've missed the point, or not had the ultimate experience, and if you did you'd understand. Feelings that are particular to individuals and even groups cannot be translated to the whole population. That would be like saying, if I tried base jumping I'd experience the exhilaration and the freedom that other base jumpers feeling, and if I didn't it would be because I was holding on to imfect fears, and if only I could release those fears I'd be free to experience the "rightness" of base jumping. Well, sure, IF I could become a base jumper, feel what they felt, then yes, of course I'd feel that exhilartion and freedom because I'D BE THEM!

As much as we all want others to feel what we feel, to experience our feelings on any situation imagineable (wouldn't I LOVE for other to feel the incredible sadness and rage I feel over babies being left to cry themselves to sleep - if everyone felt what I felt they'd UNDERSTAND how cruel that practice is, and they'd IMMEDIATELY cease and disist, and the world would be more perfect and ideal), as much as that would be wonderful, unless they can become us, with our life experiences and understanding of the world, it ain't gonna happen...

It's just a tad Narcissistic to assume you own feelings on a matter are the only right way, even if you can find a bunch of people who agree with you. Hey, a huge number of people seem to agree that birth is dangerous and must be overseen by trained medical staff, and surely if we felt and understood what *they* feel and understand, we'd agree... A growing number of people don't agree, and in the circles I travel in NOT feeling and understanding what those medical staff feel and understand is a good thing...

So, yeah, Congratulations to everyone who has found and experienced their birth ideal, whatever that may be, don't let anyone tell you that if you could just experience *their* birth ideal, you'd understand, you'd be a BELIEVER too, because you can be darn sure they have no interest whatsoever in feeling and understanding what YOU feel and understand... No matter how perfect you feel your birth experience was (or how awful you feel it was, and want to prevent others from experiencing the same)...


Leah said...

third try :) i have a lot to say on this subject, maybe I need my own blog post? :)

I do not like it when people claim their ideal as "pure" or the "truth", especially for something as intimate and personal as birth! The arrogance! What a way to spoil some wonderful information.

I totally agree birth is on the sexual spectrum. As is masturbation, dancing, talking about sex with your friends, fantasies, grooming behaviour, breastfeeding, flirting, observing sexualised images in media and lots of other human behaviours. Birth is a lot closer to the act of sex in our vulnerability and how we may be disturbed causing us to experience more pain, both physical and emotional. But I don't completely buy the line that birth needs the same aspects present or absent that sex needs to "work", although I can understand why many says it helps.

Hell, everyone has something different that floats their boat sexually :) Is birth different? Those turn ons are a product of our experiences and attitudes and to believe that birth is different, that an unassisted birth with your sexual partner, or without a professional care provider is *the* direct line to a blissful birth, is misguided IMO.

I think that other people must differ in their perceptions of how culture shapes us. It doesn't only shape us in ultimately identifiable, negative ways we can root out and replace with more "evolved" thoughts and beliefs. We are seeped in culture in every breath - literally - apparently by 6 months of age babies have learnt to breath in the way of their culture, from their parents. It's not all negative.

Much of it is beautiful and is about how we love each other. The romantic and sexual love between a man and woman who have sex is not invested into in many cultures. But obviously many women have found bliss in birth through focusing on the event as a major part of that aspect of their lives. It would be wrong for someone with a different cultural perspective to discount her experience. To deny that her feelings were "natural". To suggest that had she birthed in a circle of women, or with an obstetrician, or alone, she would have obtained something more precious - sisterhood, safety, or personal strength perhaps?

The crunch to me is that we can view our relationships, our need for others, and who we can be intimate with, with very different lenses, none of which are the sole truth. So seeing a midwife and birthing woman as another way a woman hands over her power, in a patriarchal fashion, is only one true, or maybe one false way, to view any two individuals in an experience. To see a woman preferring a trained professional at her birth as someone who has not rooted out her fears is the same. I am sure many blanket statements have been made about the motivations of UC'ers that are equally as distasteful.

I can't love something about someone else's partner, or their birth, I love about my own with the same intensity, because he is not my partner, it is not my birth. I am not there with my gut. Strangely, I can feel more passion for things I find negative - feel stronger about my friend's mate when he lets her down, the bad stuff in her birth. I think this is because when we are awoken to being critical (in the sense of assessing, investigating) our culture, birth, we can hold our hard won judgements pretty close to our hearts.

I read comments from someone claiming to be a radical feminist who sees outside the patriarchal prism, who feels quite comfortable in another breath investing in themselves the power to "approve" of a woman's birth plans, based on their orthodoxy, which is autonomous and woman centred - the irony will make you weep. It may not be male but it feels pretty hierarchical to me! Or is it just the maleness we are meant to despise? One begins to wonder. And then one is accused of being antifeminism and not getting it. When maybe you are just witnessing an individual who covets power! The power to influence, the power of being the "one who gets it!". To sing the praises of autonomy but then interact in a way which does more than hint at their disdain for people not in their camp/cult. To use emotional scare tactics (albeit with more accurate data!) to woman choosing differently is abusive to women whether it is from an obstetrician or UC proponent. The very idea of a right or wrong choice, needs to be smashed down! It's far less straightforward.

We need to be holistic about birth. An end does not justify the means. A healthy baby does not justify unnecessary and pre-emptive management or intervention. The goal to educate does not justify disrespect to those who have not encountered wider information. To improve the quality of lives, we need to improve not only how we care for each other in birth but in LIFE. It is our disconnection that causes these problems. Not only from each other, but disconnecting birth from life.

I also worry about the underlying assumption that anything less than an ideal birth is a catastrophe, that we are due an orgasmic birth. That life is forever poorer for the lack of this specific event. That's cultural conditioning at it's best - the western navelgazing-introspective-pop psychology-nothing bad should happen to me-kinda attitude. Not criticising because that's mostly where I am at :) Most of us experience little discomfort in life BAR the emotional hurts we encounter in our relationships with others, and the odd malfunction by the time we do our childbearing. We don't starve, we don't suffer physically just to survive, we don't even ride out headaches unmedicated. That's not necessarily a bad thing either! Birth is one time when the majority of us experience physical strain, often with a fairly large negative emotional response to that! You don't have to love it. It doesn't have to be framed as spiritual, a life pinnacle, in order to wrestle it back from factory obstetrics. Many women who experience hospital birth don't miss that aspect because they would not experience elsewhere anyway - their satisfaction is not false or based on their patriarchal conditioning. We don't have to dangle orgasmic birth, goddess imagery, or suggest that choice will prove spiritual, intellectual or emotional evolution if you do it at home, alone or with a midwife. There are many paths to enlightenment and ecstasy. Aim for it always, and accept we are imperfect. And learn on the way!

Anyway these are the thoughts that consume me as I ponder a next birth. Reading UC stuff, I have been contemplating how I would feel to birth without a medical provider at home. I know when I first decided I'd chose HB for another birth, in Audrey's first year, I felt relieved there would be a CP I could just trust. Now I am disabused of that notion too, knowing I will need to ask a lot of questions and perhaps even compromise on some aspects of care even with a homebirth midwife. It occurs to me that part of that journey will be learning to give my trust, what I assume will be well placed trust, to a care provider again. I am at this point at a place where I am more comfortable in accepting the risks of having a well chosen care provider, with all their human fallibilities, than accepting the risks of a UC. I'm not ready to give up on what they may have to offer. I'm still confident in my ability to trust enough to make the relationship worthwhile. Since I already go "unassisted" in the vaccine choice, I know how this choice appears to both ends of the spectrum :) But it is my TRUTH, my honest emotional and intellectual truth, what fits right. If that ain't autonomy, I don't know what is :)

Leah said...

Oh and the whole point of my ramble was to say I agree with much of what you've said! It got left behind in the first or second try lol

Sif Dal said...

Amen to all of that, Leah!!!

I especially liked this,

"We don't have to dangle orgasmic birth, goddess imagery, or suggest that choice will prove spiritual, intellectual or emotional evolution if you do it at home, alone or with a midwife. There are many paths to enlightenment and ecstasy. Aim for it always, and accept we are imperfect. And learn on the way!"

and this!

"the western navelgazing-introspective-pop psychology-nothing bad should happen to me-kinda attitude. Not criticising because that's mostly where I am at :) Most of us experience little discomfort in life BAR the emotional hurts we encounter in our relationships with others, and the odd malfunction by the time we do our childbearing. We don't starve, we don't suffer physically just to survive, we don't even ride out headaches unmedicated."

SO TRUE! This is a biggie for me, why can't we accept the balance that is necessary in life, pain is necessary, heart ache is necessary, they're important, they're NOT a sign of shortcoming or failure!

and another big YES! to the irony of rejecting patriarchy but not acknowledging setting up a hierarchy in personal relationships!!!

You're a wise woman!

Anonymous said...

Leah - you should blog that over at your place. Amen.

Rae said...

I really do agree with you that the experience and perception of birth should be as individual as 'the individual' birthing.

I felt pressure from both sides. I was worried my body would fail me and I would need help because this is what I kept being told at the hospital. And when it all went wrong I felt kinda annoyed by tales of birth that were soooo far removed from my own. I personally could never feel that birth is a spiritual experience for me. I do agree with you Sif that pain is cathartic but for me pain and my body are so associated with bad experiences like past sexual assault that although I understand the idea that birth is different and admire women like yourself that feel unselfconscious and beautiful in the power of their body I just can't "feel" it. Although I love and agree it is achievable. I think you can guess how I feel about birth being on a sexual spectrum. :) Way too uncomfortable an idea for me.

I don't think women should be telling other women how their birth should be experienced but at the same time I don't feel the same kind of pressure from them. My mum wanted me to have only women at my birth and I told her to piss off! LOL :) She gave me her reasons why and I said "no its not right for me" and she was fine with it. Being told how my birth should be by medical 'professionals' and institutions who may turn around and call DOCS on me when I say no to something happening to my body intimidates me. I feel like there is a difference between the two. I just feel like a feminist site is more up for debate than the stubborn narrow minded doctor who's profession doesn't leave much room for alternative ideas. And who has my body in their hands.

The difference is feeling annoyed with someone's view or statement and genuinely feeling intimidated into stifling your own feelings.

No one should dictate to women what the ideal birth is for them if that is what is being done. As an individual you should debate and sort out for yourself what you want. If your ideas for your birth fall apart because of other opinions I think that in itself may say something about how right the ideas were in the first place. And perhaps indicate a need to rethink.

Interesting topic Sif. Hope your comments page can handle all these replies! ;)

Bin said...

Mainly just want to say thanks for posting this... My thoughts on this stuff are so uncoordinated at the moment that I'm not sure I could do justice to what I want or need to say here so just wanted to say I really like what you've written and it ticks me off no end that it is so hard to know what the best thing to do is but what you've written is the most sense I've read on the topic for a while (possibly ever ;) )

Good Job!