I’m not personally a home-birther, but I strongly believe there is a fundamental feminist principle at stake here. Women give birth at home, always have and always will, whether you like it or not. (Mammals are in the habit of being very determined about their birthing).
As I’ve said before.. here’s the thing about home birth, like abortion the real issue is not whether you would choose home birth yourself, or not. The issue is that some women will choose a home birth and that home birth has always been around and always will be, 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? Good long read from Petra Bueskens in New Matilda.
This problem is fundamentally about the paradigm war between a women’s rights perspective and a medicalised perspective on childbirth, and while these two need not be mutually exclusive, they often are. The one group – independent midwives – assume birth is a normal physiological process and support women’s bodily autonomy, up to and including their right to choose a birth that is deemed ‘high risk’, and adapt their clinical expertise around this; the second group – mainstream medical practitioners, namely obstetricians – assume birth is “only normal in retrospect” and want instead to adapt birthing women to the medical model of risk, health, and illness. The latter group, it has been repeatedly observed, see the first group as risky and cavalier by definition – hence the constant reporting.
The other key dimension here is the massive power difference between independent midwives and the medical and media establishments – evidenced most clearly in the fact that independent midwifery is disappearing against the will of the midwives themselves and the women who want homebirths. There is no level playing field between these two positions; no sense in which accused and maligned midwives like Gaye (and many, many others), are able to present their case with clarity and equanimity. They are a maligned group with no access to a voice that reflects their interests in the mainstream media or medical establishments; many have blogs but these are ignored or cherry picked to ‘prove’ their ‘extremism’.
If, as Marx said, ideology is the mechanism through which the powerless experience their reality systematically distorted – “upside-down as in a camera obscura” – then the representation of independent midwives, and homebirth more generally, is a perfect illustration of this. The ‘dangerous baby-killers’ are the very midwives advocating strongest for women’s rights! They are the midwives on the vanguard of social change and whose human rights perspective is the international standard, notwithstanding that they are often treated as an aberration.