Birth Right, Basic Right

My mother taught me that birth is normal. Birth isn’t at all like the women screaming in all those sitcoms and movies. She always rolled her eyes at those parts in the movies and said “birth isn’t at all like that”. So I grew up knowing that Hollywood had over acted. Don’t get me wrong, I know birth isn’t always a walk in the park, but I also know a lot of the pain is built up in our heads. We have all been told horror stories about people giving birth. We have been taught through our society that birth is something to be feared and that it is dangerous. Women can’t do it on their own. A hospital is the only rational place to give birth, even though someone you know has undoubtedly gone through hell in their hospital bed.

How many of those hellish situations are because women’s bodies are broken? I can tell you… not very many. A lot of it is imposed on us through interventions in the hospital. We have been giving birth since the dawn of our species, yet somehow our bodies just forgot how to do it in the last 100 years? I have had things go wrong in the hospital that weren’t birth related. I have gone unheard in the hospital before, leaving me with second and third degree chemical burns on my upper calf. I didn’t want to leave the most sacred act I was to ever preform in the hands of those who (usually) just see me as another number. People who would ignore me. People who wont listen to me. So when my husband and I started thinking about making a family, I did a lot of reading and a lot of researching. As I had never thought of birth as an emergency situation, I never thought I should have to go to the hospital unless circumstances weren’t in my favor. Birth isn’t like breaking your leg or getting in a car accident. For the most part, birth is the most normal, most natural act our bodies preform. Through my reading and research I learned, as so many have, that there are some serious risks that need medical attention, but not many. I didn’t have any of the risks. I know our society has taught everyone to think that people like me are crazy, but I chose to have a homebirth. I wanted to be comfortable in my living space and feel safe. I wanted to be able to have the privacy of our home and to snuggle my baby for the first time with no restrictions, barriers or interventions. As a human, it’s my right to choose.

When I started seeking out how to have my ideal birth at home, I found out that my choice isn’t supported. I had read all these beautiful books and watched amazing documentaries and knew without a doubt that I wanted a homebirth. I thought I could just do that. Go see my doctor and he (or she) would refer me to a midwife and I could set it all up. I was wrong. See, Saskatchewan is more than a little behind when it comes to birth. For people like me, who want to have a home birth, there are very few options. You can call the midwives, if you agree to their rules and regulations, where you will most likely get put on a waiting list because the demand for midwives is so very high, or you can give birth with a doctor. With so few midwives in our province, due to lack of funding and restrictions, it is almost impossible to get one, especially if you do not live in the city. The only health regions that currently allow home birth with the midwives are Regina and Saskatoon. Those are our options. But wait…. What? The ONLY health regions that accept maternity patients for home birth are Saskatoon and Regina? Why? Because in 2008, the midwifery act left it up to the individual health regions to decide whether or not they support birth with midwives. Seems like a niche market to me. So, if you get in with the midwives, you can choose either a hospital birth or home birth (limited space available!!!) with the midwives. You can only choose a homebirth if you meet their criteria. If you have had a caesarean section, that leaves you out. Which means women who may have been traumatized in the hospital and are in so much fear of them that they never want to step foot in another one, let alone give birth in them were told in 2012 that they MUST have a hospital birth or do it on their own. My heart goes out to them.

I never had a caesarean, maybe due to my choice to stay at home, but the legislation we are trying to bring awareness to and change totally effects me. The cities are the only places in the province whose health regions support midwives. Meaning that if you want to have a home birth, you have to do it in the city by either renting a birthing suite, a hotel room, or finding a friend who is ok with you giving birth in their home. Not exactly a HOME birth. For me, it’s easy to explain to the people who think I am crazy and radical for having a homebirth. I can just say, “we live 2.5 hours away from anywhere that has a hospital accepting maternity patients. I didn’t want to drive that far and or risk having my baby on the side of the road” which is partially true… (I have many other more pressing reasons of my own to choose a home birth) but in this rural setting, as most of Saskatchewan is, you would think that it would be ok for me to have a homebirth. I mean the hospitals don’t accept maternal patients; surely you should be able to get care if you are that far away from medical services! Nope. You can’t.

The Midwifery act, as it stands now, has actually made it illegal for anyone who is medically trained to attend a home birth. How does that make sense? So, let me get this right. If you are a pregnant woman, and you want to have a “safe” birth, you must drive 250 kms to receive care? I wouldn’t have even made it with my second son. He would have been born on the side of the highway if I had wanted that care. What if I was a woman that had been sexually abused and I didn’t want the bright lights and the hands touching me? What if I was an indigenous woman who wanted a traditional birth? What if was traumatized by the hospital and never wanted to return? What if I was a lesbian who didn’t want to be judged in a much more public eye? What if my culture was in any way different than ours and I wanted to be surrounded by my mother, aunts and sisters and the hospital wont allow more than two people in the room? What if I just wanted to birth in my own home with my own things surrounding me, feeling safe and cozy? Our health care system leaves so many of us out.

So, I wanted a home birth, but I wanted someone there who had birthing experience, but it is illegal for any medically trained professional to set foot in my house. Under section 23 of the midwifery act, the one that “prohibits persons who are not registered midwife members or members of a regulated profession whose scope of practice includes the performance of an authorized practice” anyone who is with me during my birth (in our or out of the hospital) could be charged. Even if I were to choose hospital birth, I would want a doula there. To me, this legislation is the first step to regulating doulas. It’s another way for the health region to capitalize on the market, while maintaining control. See, a doula is hired by the woman. Not the health region. It’s the only loop hole that any of us home birthers have. If we can find and pay a doula who truly supports us in our birthing rights, and if we are open and honest with them, they will attend our births (not trained medically, but in experience which is all we really want… someone to tell us when something isn’t “normal”) So, women are being forced to either give birth in a hospital or ask someone to come into their home who will have to risk their butt in order for to have a “safe” birth. Crazy. Isn’t the right to give birth where and with whom I choose a basic human right? I believe choice is all we really have. Whether it’s the choice to have a birth in the woods by ourselves or in the hospital with the most medically involved birth. That’s our choice. Neither is right or wrong. We may not agree with one another’s decisions, but we can at least agree that we should be able to have those choices. That legislation needs to get changed.

We have come so far in the past century with women’s rights. Our voting laws changed and women are a norm in the workplace (even though we are typically paid thousands per year less than men). Can you imagine if the government said, ”Well there are so many women working these days, if one decides not to work, we should charge who ever gives her financial help”? No. That would be crazy. So why is it ok to charge someone who is assisting a woman in birth? It is a basic human right. Sure, we have some far in the past century, but there is still so far to come.

H. Motier

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