The word that allows yes, the word that makes no possible.
The word that puts free in freedom and takes the obligation out of love.
The word that throws open a window after the final door is closed.
The word upon which all adventure, all exhilaration, all meaning, all honor depends.
The word that fires evolution’s motor of mud.
The word that the cocoon whispers to the caterpillar.
The word that molecules recite before bonding.
The word that separates that which is dead from that which is living.
The word no mirror can turn around.
In the beginning was the word and the word was CHOICE.
– Tom Robbins
Thirty years ago I met a group of incredible women who chose to birth at home. We were part of a religious community with a firm health message and lots of physicians in the congregation. These women maintained their religious connections even as they decided for themselves when and how they would bring their children into the world (and educate them). It was my first introduction to midwives - lay midwives. That means they were trained through apprenticeship and worked in partnership with one another.
While pregnant with my first child I read every book I could find. It was an intense experience. I threw up everyday, even as I delivered. I read about women so sick they couldn't bare to go on. I understood. When I voiced my consideration to home birth I was met with disgust, sarcasm and criticism. Then there were those other women.
I joined Le Leche League - the breastfeeding support group. There I met different women who birthed at home. It was there that I found a doula. A doula devotes her time and energy to supporting another woman through pregnancy, birth, and transition into motherhood. She serves separate from the midwife offering physical support, emotional assistance, and advocacy. A doula supports a family. My doula recommended Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskins. And then there's The Farm. They have an "organic" approach to birth.
While listening to the radio I heard Dr. Robert Mendelsohn speaking about childbirth in hospitals. If I wasn't apprehensive before I was then. I bought his book, Male Practice. It made an incredible difference. I had worked in the medical records department filing notes and protocol forms. I had seen the documentation for the "events" described in his book. I also bare the scares of a forceps delivery after my mother was anesthetized. Dr. Mendelsohn speaks about the mistreatment of women because they are women. The procedures we endure that men are not even offered for the same or similar symptoms.
My physician and I could not come to a workable understanding so she dismissed me with the recommendation that I was obstinate and strong willed. Thankfully, I took that referral to a doctor who was impressed with it. I was thirty-eight weeks when I joined the new family practice run by an MD and EMT/Midwife. The hospital where he had privileges knew to expect his "assistants" and honored our birthing plan without question. (Midwives were free to practice in 1984. Just five years later and I had to hide my home birth plans from the hospital. And by 1992 midwives were being harassed and arrested regularly.)
Women have lost more choice regarding their bodies and health care over the years. We consider birthing rooms as an upgrade when actually they are competing with birthing centers and home births. I repeatedly watched nurses prepare for their induced labors at thirty-seven weeks as that is long enough. Do I care too much? No. If our medical personnel are looking for shortcuts and control for their births, how can they be present for a natural process.
The issue is choice - the freedom to birth at home without legal/social interference goaded on by the fear of loss of control by the medical community. Women deserve to birth in hospitals with knowledgeable support - not of medical procedure, but the natural process of giving birth. Women deserve advocates to inform, encourage, support, defend, and stand as allies when needed. But where will they come from?
Just thirty years ago I belonged to a community which educated and prepared advocates. With the loss of lay midwives we sought to be experts amongst ourselves. We studied and attended each other. When it was time, we went to the hospital and birthed those babies in minutes. We hung out together until the uterus clamped down and as soon as possible we returned to our homes and lived together for those first days/weeks. We cooked, cleaned, cared for older children.
Where are the women who know? Have we abdicated our power and responsibility for our bodies and our selves to medical management? How will we find connection without the benefit of modern technology? We need the keepers of the old ways. They are our freedom. They are choice.