Thank you for your email regarding my blog post about my first birth at home, entitled "Power Birth--Not to be Confused with Empowered Birth."
You're right that as a first-time laboring woman, I didn’t understand the reasons for the things that were done to me. I still don't. No one (be they midwife or doctor) has the right to do anything invasive to a woman’s body without explanation or permission, including manually dilating a woman's cervix to speed up her labor. Your statement that “a laboring woman often doesn't understand why the midwife does some of the things she does” is particularly true if the midwife believes that her authority is paramount and that explanations are optional. That attitude, which you demonstrated clearly at my birth, shows a lack of respect for the birthing mother. If the mother doesn’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing to her, stop. Explain. It’s her body and her birth. She has a right to informed consent no matter where or with whom she is giving birth.
I don’t agree that I’m just one of the inevitable “unhappy customers” that a birth professional is bound to have now and then. If I go to a car dealership to buy a functioning car and they sell me a lemon that breaks down on my way to work, then I'm an “unhappy customer.” If I go to a care-provider for a safe, natural birth and get physically assaulted and coerced, my rights stripped away, and end up with life-threatening iatrogenic complications, I’m not “unhappy." I'm grateful to be alive. I'm obligated to speak out. I've met another woman who gave birth with you and is now recovering from a hysterectomy and rectum reconstructive surgery that she attributes to the start-pushing-at-5-cm/forced dilation technique. Is she just an “unhappy customer,” too?
Scolding me for writing about this on the grounds that speaking up about my experience will breed distrust of midwifery as a whole and will damage the home birth movement, causing childbearing women to run for the hospital, is backwards thinking. First of all, I don't align myself with any "home birth movement". I love home birth and I would like to see it normalized, but I'm not interested in convincing any woman that she should give birth a certain way. Each woman will give birth best wherever she feels safest. What I would like to help achieve is a world in which every mother has a full array of options open to her and perceptions of safety are based in reality. Covering things up, pretending they didn’t happen, and trying to silence the women who speak out about birth trauma is what breeds distrust of the profession. Secrets will keep this birth community stuck forever. Telling the truth dissolves fear and creates understanding, which increases safety and trust.
As more survivors come forward to tell their stories (many of them never will, because they’re afraid of the social fall-out. Some of them have been bullied into silence…) I hope you and every other care-provider who has practiced this technique will take a moment to just listen. Women everywhere are outraged at the thought of forced manual dilation. Birth belongs to the mother and baby, not the midwife or any other authority figure or expert. Birth should unfold according to the mother and baby's own time frame, not be forced to conform to the midwife or doctor's schedule.
I agree with you and I felt encouraged when I read this in your email: "As women and midwives, we spend too much time criticizing and placing ourselves above each other without understanding where the other is coming from. We also make no allowances for each other to grow and evolve into better midwives as we gain experience. We are constantly learning. I, for one, am a very different midwife than I was 25, 10 or 5 years ago." I'm glad to hear that. If you're no longer practicing this technique then I would like to know. I'm not interested in destroying anyone's reputation. I'm focused in the present, hoping to make here/now a safe and sacred space for expectant mothers.
I am also a very different woman than I was when we met. I'm not afraid to talk about what's happening in our birth community or to raise awareness about every mother's right to be spared unnecessary and unwelcome interventions and abuse. I believe this dialogue can be a catalyst for healing, growth, and evolution for all of us.
Your sister in peace and progress~