Why are supporters of natural childbirth still being shamed ?
On August 12th this year, the day after my fourth grandchild was born, The Times ran a story on their front page with the headline 'Midwives back down on natural childbirth'.
The sub heading was, 'current policy makes women feel like failures.'
I'm sorry but I'm not buying that. The only person who can make you feel like a failure is you. We feel however we feel based on our own thoughts.
Let's say I had a baby by natural childbirth and you had a forceps delivery, is it rational that you should blame me for your feelings of failure?
No, any feelings of failure you may have are nothing to do with me, they are stories you tell yourself in your own head.
Let's spin it around, would it be rational of me to feel guilty that I had a natural birth and you had forceps?
And in any case, how can anyone, including the writer of the Times sub heading, make a statement as sweeping as:
'Current policy makes women feel like failures'?
What policy? What women? Is that all women? Where is your evidence? Does anyone have solid statistics based evidence to back up that claim or is it based on anecdotal evidence which, in other fields is usually discounted as being unscientific.
So how has it happened that an organisation supporting natural childbirth is being blamed for 'making women feel like failures'?
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) had been campaigning since 2005 to see a rise in the number of women giving birth 'normally'. That is, without Caesarean, induction, instruments or epidural.
(When I refer to a 'normal' birth from here on, I mean, a birth without any of the above interventions.)
The RCM's original campaign was called the "Normal Birth Campaign" but three years ago, that campaign was changed to the "Better Births Initiative".
Reading the Times article, you could be forgiven for thinking the Better Births Initiative had only just happened when in fact, this 'news' is actually three years old.
It goes without saying, medical intervention in childbirth is, for some women, an absolute necessity for the safety of themselves and their babies.
That is not up for dispute here - I am not against medical intervention in childbirth when it is genuinely needed.
What I do question is this - women who use induction and Caesarean by choice for convenience when there is no compelling medical reason to prevent them from experiencing natural childbirth. And more to the point, to stop the baby from experiencing natural childbirth.
Have we become so narcissistic now that we don't care to consider the impact of our decisions on others involved?
And if you aren't considering your baby's right to natural childbirth and his needs as he enters this world, how are you going to cope with his intense needs once he is here?
According to the Times article, only four in ten women give birth normally now as opposed to six in ten 30 years ago.
Natural childbirth versus a birth with some kind of intervention is an extremely emotive subject and it seems that their campaign for 'normal' births (which ended three years ago) has upset some people to the point where the RCM now 'backing down'.
Er - they 'backed down' three years ago. Why is this on the front page of the Times now and written as if it only just happened?
On page two of the Times, the article carries an analysis section in which the writer admits that 'The RCM may be right that no careful reading of its stance could justify pursuit of normal birth at any cost.'..
This is an important point and I wonder how many people who are now criticizing the RCM and playing the blame game have actually read its stance on the subject.
But an even more important point in the analysis is where it continues, '...yet it is hardly surprising that those who did not pay such close attention could conclude that the goal was to increase the number of normal births.'
There is a huge difference in what is contained in a policy and how much close attention the readers of that policy are paying to it.
Who is responsible if I don't read the Highway Code properly and I don't pay close attention to what road signs mean? If I kill someone because I didn't read a stop sign properly, who will end up in prison? It won't be the policy makers or the writers of the Highway Code.
If I fail my driving theory test, can I blame the writer of the manual for my lack of close enough attention to get it right?
The shaming of natural childbirth advocates has to stop - it has gone on for too long.
When I had my first baby 37 years ago in Canada, all this shaming and blaming nonsense was going on then. The natural childbirth movement was being painted as extreme and a bit 'dippy hippy'. I had to fight to get a natural birth and was very aware that I was seen by my doctor as a rebel against the system.
When I say I had to fight to get a natural birth, I mean I had to deflect a whole list of standard procedures that I did not want applied to me or my baby. It was a case of, if you don't tell us beforehand that you don't want these things, they are just going to be done as routine.
So maybe that is why women like me started to shun hospital births completely in order to avoid the fight not to be shaved, not to be given enemas, not to be offered drugs while extremely vulnerable, not to have have bright lights and noise, not to have fetal monitors attached intra-vaginally, not to be kept on our backs, not have interventions too soon, not to have the cord cut the until it stopped pulsating, not to have the baby washed, not to wrap baby up so he couldn't feel skin to skin contact, not to whisk him away to be weighed and measured before he'd been put to the breast and cuddled quietly under dimmed lights.
This is how it was in 1980 - we had to fight for those things and it was tiresome being looked at like some kind of weird alternative hippy type just for wanting a non-violent birth for your child.
Surely it would have been more sensible and safe for the medical establishment to listen to what the advocates of natural childbirth were saying and willingly co-operate so we had the best of both worlds.
We could have felt confident going into hospital knowing we would be left to labour and give birth however we wanted while being close to all the right equipment should things go wrong.
But no, hospitals, at the time, were places where those of us wanting to give natural childbirth a really good go had to be on our guard against unnecessary intervention at a time when we were at our most vulnerable.
I know of many women back then who were driven away from hospitals by the arrogant attitudes rife in the male dominated field of obstetrics at the time and who chose to have their second babies at home.
For every story of a death or injury caused by failure to use medical intervention during a birth there are stories of babies who have died or been severely injured during hospital births where instruments or scalpels have been used.
So why focus on the horrors of natural childbirth when it goes wrong? Both natural childbirth and medically assisted births have their horror stories. And both have success stories.
Should we have been blaming hospital policies in the 80s for driving pro-natural childbirth women away because we didn't feel safe around people wielding forceps?
Because make no mistake - forceps can and do injure babies. Women do die from complications during and after Caesareans. Babies are traumatised by bright lights and noise.
So the RCM, I believe, is quite right in campaigning for better births. What is so wrong with midwives trying to raise awareness regarding the benefits of natural childbirth and the dangers of medical intervention during childbirth when they are used unnecessarily?
Don't you, as a mother-to-be, want all the facts? Don't you want what is best for your baby's physical and emotional health? Because if you don't, you shouldn't be having a baby.
I still can't figure out why the Times printed this out of date 'story' three years after the RCM changed their campaign. Deeper inside the paper on page 27, there was more on this story under the title 'Born Free'.
The writer acknowledges that 'since the 60s, advocates of 'natural' childbirth have been pitted against defenders of medical intervention.'
Quite why they have placed the word natural in quote marks I do not know. Why not plain and simple, natural childbirth? If I were to write The Times is a national 'news' paper in the UK, what would I be inferring?
It is these kinds of thinly veiled prickles that have made the fight against the routine medicalisation of childbirth so long and tiring.
We shouldn't have had to fight this fight and it shouldn't still be going on.
Yes there are some compelling reasons around the risk of death or injury why some women can't give birth without intervention.
However, there are equally compelling reasons why healthy women, with straightforward pregnancies should try to avoid intervention and I sincerely hope the RCM will never be bullied into staying quiet about those reasons.
If you want the facts behind this 'story', you will find them on the Royal College of Midwives website.
I have nothing to do with the RCM - I have written this because I feel passionate about the subject and always have done. And it appeared in the paper the day after my fourth grandson was born, by emergency Caesarean that saved his life and possibly that of my daughter-in-law.
Some things cannot be planned for, such as baby deciding to try and leapt out feet first without anyone realising until the crucial moment.
Hospitals definitely have their place but so does natural childbirth and it is time we stopped shaming women who want to try and have one.
And it is time we stopped blaming pro-natural childbirth people for making women who don't manage to achieve natural childbirth 'feel like failures' - our thoughts are our own choice.
What has your experience with natural childbirth or medically assisted birth been? Please leave a comment at the very end of this post to let me know what your thoughts on natural childbirth, or otherwise, are.