Don’t Become a Birth Activist in Labour

By all means be a vocal supporter of women’s rights, during pregnancy, but don’t champion the cause between contractions.

Don’t Become a Birth Activist in Labour

Many women face extraordinary opposition to their birth plans. This is especially true for women who are overweight, planning a VBAC or over a certain age, but in many instances other women face the same difficulties regardless of their health. They plan to go in and fight for what they want, to show hospital staff that they can give birth perfectly well, to see protocols changed because of their success, and to pave the way for future generations to birth peacefully.

This is undeniably admirable, but it is completely unrealistic. Any woman who thinks she will be a lucid, articulate, unwavering self advocate during the throes of labour and in particular transition, is underestimating the intensity of birth.

If your care provider or the venue at which you plan to give birth, show opposition to your birth plan during pregnancy, it is advisable to be as clear as possible well before labour ever begins. Be very clear about what will, and what will not be tolerated, what you will and won’t consent to, before you’re in the thick of labour. If the people you are speaking to are dismissive, ask to speak to a more senior member of staff. Pay close attention to how you feel as you negotiate.

If this is too confronting for you when you are merely gestating and not labouring, then expecting yourself to fight for your rights in labour is a gross overestimation of your capabilities. You may well be a force for reckoning in your daily life, but labour will be different. Labour is not the time to become a birth activist, and your pregnancy, your body, and your baby are not a battle ground.

Be warned though, no matter how clear we are with our consent or refusals, many women have been bullied or physically forced into things they don’t want by hospital staff. 

Women need protection and support during labour because few things make a woman as vulnerable as birth. In order to give birth our brains literally shut down the thinking parts and rely on the most primal, animalistic parts. Thinking gets in the way of birth. The world famous French obstetrician, Michel Odent, stated the following:

“a labouring woman needs to be protected against any stimulation of the thinking part of her brain – the neocortex – for labour to proceed with any degree of ease.

This part of the brain needs to take a back seat and allow the primal “unthinking” part of the brain connected to basic vital functions to take over.

A woman in labour needs to be in a private world where she doesn’t have to think or talk.”

Woman giving birth in hospital on back with legs in stirrups.
Woman about to give birth in a hospital setting.
License: Creative Commons CC0.

Interestingly he was speaking about the role of fathers in birth. He suggests that the presence of fathers makes labour longer and more painful, as fathers, in a loving attempt to share the experience of birth, can unintentionally interrupt the process. If loving partners can do this, imagine what brusque, matter of fact “no nonsense” hospital staff can do?

Imagine trying to fight with staff who are openly hostile towards your birth plans and you can see that labour is NOT the time to become an activist.

Hospitals run like a well oiled machine, they have protocols that staff must adhere to, and despite the law stating that women can pick and choose what happens to them, this is not what we see in practice. Many staff are not well versed on informed consent – or informed decision  making – and believe that it is their job to do all the things hospital protocol requires, to all women under their supervision. For many uninformed staff, safe birth is about ticking boxes. This does not mean that they are all heartless, just that they do not understand the true nature of birth, and this is why you can not become an activist in labour. If staff don’t understand how birth works, at the very least, you need to understand it for yourself. Sometimes activism is passive, and avoiding situations that may be hostile for your birth is not only wise, but it is also an effective form of activism. Boycotting hostile care providers and venues, is the only type of activism that is effective IN labour.

Birth activism is an extremely important cause, but far too many women who are faced with no true choice for their birth, plan to take on the system in labour. Labour is a time to go deep within yourself, to work hard on bringing your baby earthside, it is not the time to change the world. By all means be a vocal supporter of women’s rights, during pregnancy, but don’t champion the cause between contractions.

For a smooth birth you need peaceful, calm, and complete support at your side. Hostility in any form can literally cause labour to stop. Your body does not view an impending caesarean for stalled labour as a reason to give birth rapidly, it views the hostility as a threat, and shuts down in order to allow you to find safety. So by all means fight for your rights, be an lour and proud activist, a vocal supporter of women’s reproductive autonomy, but not in labour. In labour, focus on yourself, and your baby.

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