”Once you’ve given birth you’ll never worry about dignity again”
I was once told this by an older woman when I was expecting my first baby. She assured me that nothing phased her anymore, because so many people had seen her naked
in labour. Suffice it to say I didn’t find it comforting, I found it rather alarming.
It’s pretty sad that she felt that way about her birth. That forty years after the day she gave birth, she still remembered the humiliation she had felt during labour. She told me her birth story. Students watched her giving birth as she lay exposed from the waist down, on her back. They made jokes about it with her later … because her being naked in front of so many fully dressed men, was funny or something!?
That was nearly fifty years ago now. Yet women still talk matter-of-factly about how dignity gets “left at the door” during birth. But only women who give birth in hospitals express those sentiments. Does this tell us that everyone needs to have a homebirth? Not realistically, no. The most simple solution is for hospitals to examine the way they treat pregnant women who plan births under their care.
Dignity is quite arguably, a wholly objective perception. What some people find undignified may not phase others and vice versa. Which is why it’s so fundamentally important for those who work in healthcare to be extremely sensitive to the wide variety of needs their customers present with. Especially in birth, because a feeling of privacy is actually vital to hormonal output, and hormones are what controls birth.
It’s at this point that someone invariably interjects with “but sometimes things go wrong in labour!”. Which is entirely true, and completely undeniable. However, the thing to remember is that even when things go wrong, it’s possible to be respectful and to do your utmost to help the woman feel as if her needs are paramount. Her feelings matter. We know it is possible to offer respect in difficult situations because paramedics do so on a daily basis.
Treating vulnerable pregnant women with kindness and respect is what protects their dignity, and it’s not much to expect, in fact it’s pretty much the bare minimum for health care workers.
Even at the height of an emergency, a woman should be in no doubt that everyone present has her and her baby’s best interests at the forefront of their minds.
The social belief that women must set aside their dignity in order to give birth is seriously outdated. Sacrifice is not necessary to prove yourself worthy of motherhood. These ideas are outdated at best, and downright dangerous at worst. In this day and age we know better. Women should be able to expect better, in fact they invariably do, but they are frequently betrayed by modern maternity care.
In the year 2015 a woman should be able to walk into any maternity unit in the throes of labour, and walk out with a baby some time later feeling at peace with the events that transpired. Society must alter the way we view birth. Birth does not have to be humiliating, or undignified, because even in an emergency situation, competent staff can be respectful, working efficiently whilst protecting the woman’s dignity. There’s no excuse for it to be otherwise.