Government in my Uterus: no thank you

Step right up! History is in the making! Where we land though, nobody knows! Has the time come when Saskatchewan women finally give the government in their uterus the boot? Or will the current laws of the land–that dictate what women can and cannot do in childbirth–stand, sealing the fate of women’s choices from a state of bad to worse?

It’s all up to you folks!

The current provincial legislation under the midwifery act greatly restricts who can provide care for a woman during pregnancy, birth and postpartum*. Many of us here in Saskatchewan, and elsewhere in Canada, see this kind of regulation of women’s bodies for what it is: a violation.

Step closer so you can hear me! Birth rights are human rights! Alright, alright–going too far here, you say? Well, listen up–I’m telling you straight: this is how it is! Step right up and grab ’em–your rights that is–OR hand ’em over! It’s all up to you. What’s it gonna be?

Seriously though, since women are human (I know, shocker) we can put in the simplest terms:  Current legislation violates human rights.

Who says? What about our Charter of Rights and Freedoms under the Canadian Constitution? Well, Mothers In Action has taken this on and have launched a fundraiser to support a Constitutional challenge against the provincial legislation. From Mothers in Action Go Fund Me page–Who Owns Your Womb:

“We, mothers in Saskatchewan, need your help to challenge this legislation in court. We are raising funds to retain experienced legal council to launch a formal constitutional challenge against the very legislation that is taking these rights away from you, your wives, sisters, mothers, daughters and female friends. The time for us to change this legislation is now! The Saskatchewan College of Midwives is pursuing its first case against an individual in regards to this legislation. This care giver allegedly provided care to a pregnant woman prenatally, during early labor and during her postpartum period. If the charge is successful it will affect the rights of every woman across Canada. We are launching the Constitutional Challenge because It blatantly violates Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It infringes upon a woman’s right to “life, liberty and security of person”.

The test case has brought this all to a head. And though the test case is separate from the Constitutional challenge we can’t have the latter without the former. Regardless of what rumors are being spread about the circumstances of the charge brought forth by the College of Midwives, the focus must remain on the Constitutional challenge if we care about our rights and the rights of future generations!**

I see some of ya like the circus, eh? Gets everyone out and about, for sure. Lots of by standers milling about. Some of you may be thinking or may have even heard that the fundraiser is for the test case. It is not, no way–nope! Listen, I’ve got something to share with you: I’ve gotta say this quietly, so lean in: you may not notice this folks, but you are in a circus ring. It’s true! Look around! There’s a whole wide world out there! Don’t believe me, you say? Okay…. Your choice.

The real deal here is that larger wheels are turning outside of the circus ring. Our rights as birthing women are at stake.

There are those who will focus on gossip about the case and fail to see the larger picture–that this is about a woman’s right to choose who supports her in birth!

How this challenge plays has out has the potential to affect all Canadian women. Mothers are standing up for their rights and demanding that legislation reflect those rights. Those with clear vision are supporting this challenge!

Securing human rights has never come easy. There is banter and mud-slinging aplenty going on. I say to everyone reading this: do what you feel is right. I will do the same and I will support the fundraiser for this action because it’s the right thing to do. I’m doing it for the next generation. If I’m lucky enough to one day sit in a rocking chair with little ones at my feet I will be able to proudly say I was just one person who spoke up to protect their right to autonomy, their birth rights, their human rights.

Mothers in Action have done an excellent job of laying out the details. Please visit the Go Fund Me page to learn more and keep up to date.

Food for thought as you think about the possibility of a world outside the circus ring (maybe some of you will even choose to take a step and have a gander?):

When has regulating women’s bodies ever improved health or outcomes?

16882198_1482867411.8644.jpg*Saskatchewan Midwifery Act states that only licensed professionals, such as Registered Midwives may: “provide care to a woman and her healthy baby during a normal pregnancy, labour and Post-partum period” (Section 23 of the Midwifery Act, found on Page 12). More links available on the Who Owns Your Womb? by Mothers in Action page.

**Edited from original.

January 7, 2017 Update: Mothers In Action has exceeded their first fundraising goal!  They are moving forward with the next phase of fundraising for the Charter challenge.  Your donations are still needed!  Use the links above and donate today.   

For more information, visit Mothers in Action Website.

The way we frame “Unassisted Childbirth” matters

I birthed unassisted and am painfully aware of the prevailing attitudes out there surrounding it.  This post is an exploration of how Unassisted Childbirth (UC)¹ is generally perceived and how (mis)perceptions of UC have a negative impact on women.

(UC) has been an elephant in the room for a while but I think it’s multiplied into the whole herd. We need to talk about it and frame UC as it deserves to be–as one valid option for women. Earlier this week, an article was written on UC using the canary in the coal mine analogy.² I found the article patronizing in the suggestion that UC somehow needs fixing and also in the implication that someone other than the woman is the authority in birth. To my eyes, the article serves to reinforce the idea that our culture is in a position to judge what women have a right to (in this case, UC). Raising the “question of safety” paints UC as dangerous and misses the mark. The tone of the article is one I’m familiar with: fix the system and that will take care of women desiring UC. In essence, the article failed to recognize and understand the motivation for many women choosing UC.

I have a different way of looking at the canary in the coal mine analogy. To me, the canaries don’t represent the fact women are choosing UC. Rather, I see the canaries as representative of the stories, experiences, and rights of any woman whose choices have ever been invalidated. I argue that though a minority, UCers make up an important part of this category and worthy of noting. The fear and condemnation they face is real and the unwillingness to recognize the judgment they face as harmful is akin to the miner ignoring a canary taking a dive because he thinks the atmosphere doesn’t affect him.

The alarm isn’t that women birth unassisted. The alarm is that someone other than the mother thinks they have a say in what’s valid, legitimate, justified or safe for women.

I acknowledge that some women feel pushed into UC for lack of options and that is not okay–but this alone does not define UC. I acknowledge that a shift is needed in the system for the sake of all women. I also recognize it takes all kinds to make changes.

I’m thinking here of the new Facebook page by a nurse called: Hospital Birth Exposed – I Can’t Stay Quiet Any Longer. I feel she is brave in speaking out against what she sees and I respect her for doing so. But she also feels the need to single out UC: “while I support women’s birth choices, including not to birth at all, I do not feel comfortable with unassisted or unattended home birth, and am not promoting it here. It would be my desire that each woman have a trained attendant who can support her in exactly the way she wants and needs.”

Again, there is a failing to understand the motivation for many women choosing UC and a larger failing to recognize that humanizing birth includes doing so for all women (regardless of where or how a birth takes place). Aside from it being their right, many women want and need to be alone. Don’t be comfortable with it, that’s ok. I get it–it’s not what you would choose. But know that discomfort or lack of agreement for it does not prevent the right of another to pursue it. And let’s dig a little deeper into this common statement of not being “comfortable” with the choice to UC and where that leads.

I sense that behind the guise of “comfort” there too often lurks something more sinister–a judgement that says: “that’s just plain dangerous and women shouldn’t be allowed to do it.”

The FB page and article I mention are only two examples among many where a line is drawn in the sand on what women have a right to and UC comes up on the wrong side. Naturally, we all have our own opinions and are free to share them. But when the context is that of supporting women’s birth choices “except when” or supporting human rights “except for” I feel it’s vital to speak out.

The real issue is that human rights seem to be up for debate based on what’s popular or considered acceptable and “safe.”

Stop doing it because there is a price to pay down the line and one day it might be you or your children that’s paying. I have run into this before where an organization balked at including UCers because they were concerned they would lose respect from the medical community. I guess they were less concerned with losing respect from women who had been supporting their organization. They also didn’t want to be seen as “promoting” UC.

Validation in itself does not suggest promotion of a thing.  One can recognize a woman’s human right to choose the circumstances of her birth without promoting any particular choice.

What happens when we do not talk about UC as a valid option? Why do I care so much?  Well, as I stated, I birthed unassisted. I have heard many negative comments for my choices stemming from ignorance or fear–some of which were merely annoying. But other situations where far more harmful. I wrote about my postpartum hospital experience on the Humanize Birth site. I feel I was punished for doing what I felt best for both myself and my baby–for birthing exactly how I wanted and how I needed to.

The way I was treated as a woman who chose to birth unassisted impacted my life forever. I feel my rights were violated and yet few heard my plea. I was met with a lot of silence. This is why the way we talk about UC matters.

Excluding others for their choices is harmful. The significance of regarding UC as dangerous and irresponsible is that it lays down the foundation for someone other than the woman to be the authority. When that happens it’s the woman who pays. When I shared my own experience of abuse even “sympathetic” listeners asked me “well, what did you expect?” I wasn’t asking anyone to agree with me or even feel comfortable with my decision to UC. Was I wrong to think I’d be treated with respect? The lack of consequences for the person I feel violated my rights tells me that I was.

One point often argued as a reason for not including UC in the discussion is that they are “outside of the system.” It’s true that many UCers do not access medical care at any point (for reasons that vary) while others choose outside pre or post natal care. Others yet may transfer during or after the birthing process. It matters when we fail to understand UCers and their inherent rights because when they do access care they are at risk of being mistreated. It’s hard to get formal complaints of any kind recognized in the current climate but I argue it’s even more difficult for UCers to be taken seriously. How can we expect a system to respect a woman’s birth rights as human rights when it doesn’t even recognize that UCers have these rights?

It all starts with something like: “I believe every woman has the right to choose the circumstances of her birth…except you and you and you.” There fall the canaries.

UCers who do not access medical care may face other hurdles as a result of their choices such as in difficulty registering their births and obtaining certificates. Some women are harassed in pregnancy or even during the birthing process when it’s discovered they are UCing. Some of these problems aren’t unique to UCers but I do suggest the difficulties they face are compounded. Too often, the very people claiming to strive for humanized birth are the ones invalidating the choice to UC. And so, women who UC fall though the cracks because people aren’t “comfortable” with the choice.

I say that unassisted birth matters. How we frame it is of significance to us all.  Either women have the right to choose the circumstances of their births or they don’t. If you participate in discrediting UC, then also be prepared to ask: who’s next in line? ³

Don’t promote UC. No one is asking you to. But stop discrediting women’s choices. If you feel uncomfortable or fearful of even talking about it, please reconsider the implications of your silence. Stigmatizing UC hurts women, babies and families. Don’t ignore the canaries that are falling because they are smaller in numbers or because you think they fly funny. Their falling away is the alarm that you–what you would choose–could be next.

  1. I recognize the term “unassisted childbirth” is problematic in itself. There are other terms for birthing without the assistance of a medical professional including but not limited to free, undisturbed, unattended, DIY, unhindered, family birth, etc.
  2. Reference to the controversial article on Unassisted Birth: “A canary in the coal mine: the growing popularity of unassisted childbirth.”
  3. Read my earlier blog post on the topic and take special note of the poem quoted there called: “Why we must stand together.”