Nearly forty years later, that baby - me - is pregnant for the third time, and wondering - am I free? Do I have full freedom of choice to have the birth I really want and need? Can I feel assured that anything that is 'done to me' in the name of medical science will be absolutely necessary and helpful? And are there restrictions that none of us are even able to see, and that will only become apparent when the baby inside me is fully grown and making their choices against a new and different backdrop?
Already I have met resistance to my plans to birth at home. At my first appointment with the midwife, the flag was automatically raised because my last baby was born weighing ten pounds four. This is me just after I birthed her. You can see just from my face what a life or death struggle it was:
She was born in the water after a second stage that lasted about ten minutes, without a whiff of gas and air, without a single vaginal exam, without any instructions on when or how to push, without a hand laid on me except in love, and without a stitch.
But because she was 'so big', 'they' want me to do things differently this time. They want me to have consultant led care, a hospital birth, and an induction at 38 weeks. (That's a whole month before either of my other babies have been born - I'm a ten month mama!)
The size of my baby might have been a 'flag' for them, but let me tell you, I have 'flags' too, and I know how to wave them. They might not trust my body - but I don't really trust them - there are things that make ME lose faith in THEIR abilities. I don't want to list in detail all of my reasons here - I never want this blog to single people out or publicly criticise individuals - but let's just say that a few incidents and some inside information has led me to feel a lack of confidence in my local maternity unit, and a strong suspicion that they don't trust birth and don't have much faith or understanding of it as a completely natural process.
This local feeling would seem to reflect a national and international picture. In her latest book, 'Birth and Sex', Sheila Kitzinger describes a climate in which 'choice' is a buzz-word that is meaningless when applied to women's actual realities: "The rhetoric of 'choice' ignores the pressure exerted on women to have a particular birth place - hospital - and kind of care - obstetric management, and the power of the medical system, so that discussions about choice often amount to emotional blackmail."
Worse still, it seems that even those midwives who wish to support real choices have their hands tied. Kitzinger writes, "Midwives who support women in their own free choices are more at risk of being reported to the Nursing and Midwifery Council and losing their registration."
The prosecution and persecution of midwives who refuse to, as Kitzinger puts it, "guide women to 'correct' choices", is epitomised currently by the case of Becky Reed, held in the highest regard by leading members of her profession, a member of the legendary Albany midwives, and up before the NMC on the 11th March. Her campaigners state, "For Becky, one of the UK’s most respected midwives, to be treated in this way constitutes an attack on midwifery autonomy. If she is ultimately sanctioned, it will make it more difficult in the future for midwives to confidently support women’s birth choices."
They might well have written, 'make it EVEN MORE difficult' for it seems like this is already very much the case. As a trainee midwife recently said to me, "I'm already learning that it's best to keep any strong views or opinions to myself, otherwise I'll risk not getting the job at the end of training.", and a qualified midwife confirmed, "At the end of the day, it's a job and you have to feed your family. If you make too many waves you put yourself at risk."
In this climate of fear and mistrust, how can any of us be truly free?
For me, too many flags and a search for true freedom have led me, as I did in my second pregnancy, to book an Independent Midwife. I just don't want to give birth in a system that has no trust in me or my body, that sees birth as medical not emotional or spiritual, and that is so intent on following protocol that it can't see the woman behind the clipboard.
We had our first visit from Tara on Valentine's Day, and she brought red paper and silver string for my daughters to make heart decorations. And this summed up her visit. It was all about hearts. She wanted to get to the heart of my previous birth experiences, she wanted to understand the fears and hopes in my heart for this new baby and birth, she wanted to share the joy in the hearts of my whole family, and she wanted to connect with me, the birthing woman, at heart level. Instead of being left, as I was by the NHS, with worries and fears about my possible malfunctions, Tara stayed for six hours, and left us all with a feeling of great excitement about the months ahead and the wonderful birth experience we will all share.
I've exercised my freedom, I've raided my savings, and I've made my free choice - to have a midwife at my birth who I already know, who truly believes in the wonder of my body and who understands how to behave in order to make birth a beautiful and empowering experience for me and my family. But it's lucky I didn't wait any longer to get pregnant, because from September 2013, Independent Midwives are likely to be unable to practice as they currently do, due to an EU Directive that requires all health care practitioners to have indemnity. If nothing is done to save IM's, it seems likely that the free choice I just made to opt out of the NHS system for birth will no longer be one that is available to pregnant women in the UK.
I'll be writing more about Tara, Independent Midwifery and the campaign to save it, as my pregnancy progresses. In the meantime, please sign this petition to help their campaign:
Finding a workable and affordable solution for Independent Self Employed Midwives
We need to take action now to help preserve, improve and extend freedom of choice for all birthing women. Every woman should have the right to be attended by a midwife who is able to practice safely whilst remaining in touch with her heart. Every midwife should have the right to think, feel and work openly without her hands being tied by protocol and fear.
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To find out more about Becky Reed, please visit the Facebook page: Justice for Midwife Becky Reed
To find your nearest Independent Midwife, please visit www.independentmidwives.org.uk
To find out more about our midwife Tara, please visit www.mindfulmidwifery.co.uk