the face of birth

This is a tricky subject for me to comment on, but I thought I might just put a few thoughts out, and see what comes of it.

I should start out by saying that I haven’t actually watched this movie: I watched the kids while Kel went with some friends to watch it in a local screening, so these thoughts are from talking with her about the contents of the film and the surrounding issues. The face of birth talks about the changing way that mothers in Australia are giving birth.

We think increasingly of birth as a medical process, and so the key criteria about decision making for looking after the mother is keeping her physically safe during the delivery. If there’s any sense of risk, then a high-intervention birth (caesarean section, induced birth in a hospital) is the recommended way forward.

But this way of framing our understanding of birth seems insufficient. The event of giving birth is a significant event emotionally, physically, and generally ushers in some substantial changes to life – far more than the majority of other surgical procedures. Being forced down a particular path of a high-intervention birth without having the opportunity to consider other options (waiting to go into spontaneous labour, giving birth in a birthing centre with a midwife rather than an obstetrician, having a home birth) can leave women holding a baby with a profound sense of loss and regret, and no way of processing that.

This movie, in interviewing people from a range of professions, and who have had a range of birth experiences, seeks to shape the political debate, and provide mothers with a broader range of choices in how they give birth to babies.

Without a significant contribution from the general public seeking to engage in this discussion, the louder, more politically-savvy voices of the medical profession (and the insurance agencies) will easily dominate, and a high-intervention birth will become the norm. In our quest to keep people safe at all costs, we may bring about the kinds of birth experiences that discourage women from having more than a single child: – is this a decision that we want to take without thinking through the issues?



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