My friend, Mary-Rose MacColl (author of the excellent book, Birth Wars) writing about homebirth, and I completely agree with her here and this is something that has long been bothering me, too:
“You are sitting in a court of law, not a court of morals.” Thus spoke prosecutor Michael Byrne in his summing up of the case against a woman who’d taken a drug to terminate a pregnancy. The woman, just twenty years old, had been charged under Queensland law with procuring an abortion. This was 2010 not the dark ages. Protest marches were held all over Australia in support of women’s rights.
I’ve been thinking about maternity care and why there’s not the same outcry in response to what happens to women when they make choices about birth. When homebirth is reported in the media, it’s mostly because a baby has died and someone must be blamed. More often than not, it’s the mother and her midwife who are blamed. I wonder why we are demonising women, again. Are women really killing their babies? Are midwives? Is that what they were doing? Where is destroying-the-joint when it comes to birth?
I wrote my book The Birth Wars because when I worked for a review of maternity services in 2005, I met so many women who had such awful experiences of maternity care. I wanted midwives and doctors to know the cost of their wars on women and families…
.. How come the stories about homebirth in Australia never conclude that we should make it safe for women, if it’s not safe? Why is it that when people talk about homebirth, they blame the women who choose the option and the midwives or doctors who provide the care and not the system that doesn’t support homebirth? Why can’t we have safe homebirth, when the UK can?
I’m not a homebirth advocate, far from it. Love science, love medicine. I do worry though that we’re becoming increasingly vicious in our hatred of women who make a choice I might not make. And that really scares me.
And I am not a homebirth advocate either, one of my children was born in a birth centre and the other in a hospital, but as I have argued before in Essential Baby, it seems clear to me that birth choices are a feminist issue. Because here’s the thing about homebirth, like abortion the real issue is not whether you would choose homebirth yourself, or not. The issue is that some women will choose a homebirth and that homebirth has always been around and always will be, for lots of reasons, and given all that, how do we want to legislate for the reality of women’s lives? And do we not feel the tiniest bit suspicious of motivations to criminalise women’s lives?