I have long mused over my reasons for freebirthing, some even I was not aware of at the time. There was a sense that I wanted to prove to myself – birth is safe, women’s bodies work. My choice to freebirth was my own personal desire to live everything that I believed to be true.
I have heard it said before that home birth is a political statement, something I completely agree with. Women taking agency over their bodies and rejecting the norm and what is expected of them. Not being processed in a hospital setting. But freebirth as a feminist statement?
When I did my interview for the BBC I tried not to read the comment thread. I knew that the people commenting were so far and away from the type of people whose opinions I valued and respected, so knowing them was not necessary. But I did manage to glance at one which said something along the lines of…
“All she keeps saying is MY birth, MY birth, she doesn’t talk about the baby at all, so selfish”
Perhaps that comment was intended to hurt, but I was actually thrilled that somebody had picked up on something I wasn’t even consciously doing. I was thrilled that anybody watching or listening was receiving this message that yes, their birth DOES belong to them! It is a message I completely stand by.
I am a feminist. I would say I am a matricentric/radical feminist who believes that women’s sexed bodies are the reason for our oppression, and that mothers are most forgotten about and maligned by the feminist movement. I choose to be a mother and a homemaker but that does not make my voice and my opinions less valid than a woman who dons a suit and works in a corporate office. I prioritise mothers in my feminism as we are the ones who are changing things from behind the scenes, raising children with our values.
Freebirth, in a way that home birth cannot be, is a feminist statement because it is the radical notion that the woman takes priority over the baby.
Does that make you feel uncomfortable to read?
It should. The overwhelming message in our culture is that birthing women should be selfless. I speak to women who are considering induction, or other methods of intervention, and they tell me that they are willing to sacrifice themselves for their baby, that they are not important as long as the baby is okay. This is seen as admirable.
Nobody really cares what happens to women. As long as the baby is okay. They are then gaslit postnatally and told to be grateful. Traumatised women take longer to rise up and speak up, especially when they are shamed into silence by other women.
And even midwives, with the best intentions, will prioritise the baby over the mother, as I have seen with my own eyes as they override her refusals and bring in consultants to bully and coerce, becoming agents of the patriarchy over the women they are supposed to serve. Midwives are victims of the patriarchy, much like the Marthas in The Handmaids Tale. I feel greatly for them.
And the shame. If they speak out and something happens they will be blamed. Women know this, and the shame keeps them compliant.
Freebirthing women are not stupid. They are not blindly optimistic. They are philosophical about the risks of their decision and make their peace with the fact that sometimes the outcome of birth is death.
Is this also uncomfortable?
There is a myth in our culture that all our interventions save babies. What isn’t made apparent is that although these babies can be saved in “the moment”, there are no studies on long term outcomes and how many of those babies later pass from SIDS or other problems. There was a breech study that followed long-term outcomes and found that those babies who were “saved” often passed before age two. In those circumstances, birth intervention was only able to prolong the inevitable.
Nobody is asking "Is this long-term crippling birth trauma suffered by thousands of women worth possibly saving one life?"
There is the sense that if we create a problem and we save the baby from a problem we have created, it’s a miracle, thank God for modern healthcare, etc. etc.
Just to be clear, I respect the wishes of any woman to birth in a way that makes her feel safe. That could be hooked up to every monitor going or scheduling a caesarean. I have supported these kinds of births and will continue to do so. What is right for me is not right for everybody, I would never be so arrogant as to push my choices on to others.
What I reject is the idea that this is fundamentally more safe, or that freebirthing is less safe.
What I reject is freebirthing women being called selfish and irresponsible, when we KNOW adverse birth outcomes happen when we use things like syntocinon and forceps and yet if you are seen as choosing these things for the right reasons, “doing it for your baby”, then the level of medicalisation is not attributed the same moral value as having nothing at all.
It's only dangerous when women are in charge, right?
Freebirth is a feminist statement because it is the mother declaring that she is the expert, she is the authority, and that her need to birth trauma-free is the most important thing to her. They know their baby needs them to be well. Empowering births create confident and whole mothers, who are able to raise their children to rebel. Mothers who are energised to challenge systems and create fighters and topple patriarchy. Freebirthing women are declaring that they are not merely a vessel.
And we can't be having any of that.
Freebirth doesn't say life at all costs. It says women at all costs.