It’s not always easy to talk about childbirth, and it’s not always easy to raise feminist issues.People can even argue about what feminism actually is, but to me it’s simple: feminism just means noticing when women are getting a raw deal, and taking action.
And this is where the problem lies with childbirth. Not enough people are noticing that women are getting a raw deal, and not enough people are taking action.
We’ve become blinkered to the massive imbalance of power in the birth room, and somehow come to accept that birth is inherently unpleasant and undignified, or even traumatic, degrading and violating. ‘That’s just how it is!’
Well I want to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way, and as feminists we must no longer tolerate this state of affairs.
Feminism doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to be exclusive.
Giving birth like a feminist doesn’t mean giving birth a certain way, just as doing anything else – career, relation- ships, parenting – ‘like a feminist’ doesn’t require a one-size- fits-all approach.
You can give birth like a feminist in any setting and in any way, from elective caesarean in a private hospital to freebirth in the ocean.
All that’s required is that you have somehow moved from a passive place where you view birth as something that happens to you and over which you have no control, to a place of understanding that you may get a raw deal in this experience if you don’t wake up and get yourself into the driving seat.
Essentially: take charge, take control, and make conscious choices.
When I speak at mainstream maternity events, I am often shocked by the fact that telling women and their partners that they have rights and choices in the birth room seems to come as a revelation.
Many people have no sense of themselves as autonomous or powerful in their labour and birth, nor do they feel that there is anything they can do or not do to influence the way their birth unfolds. They are misinformed and, to compound this, their belief that they have little or no agency then prevents them from seeking out much information.
What is the point in learning about your options against a backdrop in which the phrase ‘not allowed’ is used with such alarming frequency?
Most pregnant couples believe that the majority of choices are out of their hands. Even the most progressive of maternity conversations emphasises ‘informed consent’, with the unspoken assumption that consent, not ‘decision making’, or possibly even ‘informed refusal’, is the goal.
Maternity professionals will speak of how they ‘consent’ women – using it as a verb, ‘I am just going to go and consent her’, as if the professional is the active one in the exchange and the women herself is passive.
It’s time to challenge a system that perpetuates this myth of unquestioning co-operation and female powerlessness.
– This piece was extracted from Milli Hill’s new book, Give Birth Like A Feminist which is available to preorder now
Milli Hill is a freelance journalist, and the founder of the Positive Birth Movement, a global network of over 400 free-to-attend antenatal groups – linked up by social media.
She is a columnist for Telegraph Women, a regular contributor to Mother&Baby magazine, and also writes for Guardian, ipaper, GoodtoKnow, and many others.
Her first book, The Positive Birth Book, has been a bestseller since publication in March 2017. Milli has become a global spokesperson for women’s experience of childbirth, and is invited to speak regularly at conferences and events across the UK and beyond.
She lives in Somerset with her partner and three children, aged 11, 9 and 5.