Conducted in July 2006
Janet Fraser is a mother, homebirth advocate, and radical feminist. Janet's experience of abuse during childbirth led her to establish the formidable force that is Joyous Birth, a network of (predominantly) women seeking to transform pregnancy and childbirth into joyous and empowering experiences for women, as they should be! Janet was kind enough to give me some of her time, despite her hectic schedule of raising a two year old, running a national support and information network, administrating and moderating a number of online forums, and being only moments away from the birth of her second child.
How did Joyous Birth come into existence?
After my son was born via caesarean (transfer from a planned home birth in 2003) I found that there was no real support for me and figured other women must be having similar experiences. I had noticed as I planned for my home birth how there were informal friendship groups across
What is the problem with birthing practices in
This isn't something which can be answered quickly or glibly. A few main points are as follows:
1. A complete lack of feminist input into birthing practices mean that women's rights in hospitals and birth centres are almost completely lacking.
2. Despite reports and inquiries ad infinitum at every level of government, all of which point out the appalling failures in our maternity system, appropriate reform is never implemented.
3. The haphazard way health is administered in
4. In the absence of feminist input and critique, a surgical culture has been allowed to develop which sets the agenda and discourse around birth in
5. Groups like the AMA (Australian Medical Association) and RANZCOG (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists) are constantly unchallenged in our media so that even the most outrageously untrue statements with no basis in fact are left to set the tone of public debate while evidence based information is derided and ignored.
6. Those same groups, along with other medical groups across the country, have a deliberate anti-home birth agenda despite the overwhelming worldwide evidence that home birth produces the best outcomes for women and babies.
How big is Joyous Birth today?
Our online forums grow at roughly 1.5 members a day. We've been going since March 2004, been an online forum since May 2005 and today I noted we have 460 members from across
What have you personally got out of Joyous Birth?
A beautiful way to join my politics with real action, a great deal of personal support, and many dear and true friends!
What, would you say, others get out of their involvement with Joyous Birth?
One of the first things many women say is, "I thought I was the only one traumatised by my hospital experiences and now I know I'm not!" Other women who've had wonderful home births are thrilled that they have a place where their births are honoured and enjoyed and not denigrated as luck or irresponsibility.
What are your hopes for Joyous Birth in the Future?
As we grow larger and are shortly to incorporate, we reach more women and have more resources both online and at our gatherings which can support women to birth safely and in ways which evidence and experience show are just marvelous! We have grown already from a first meeting of about 7 women in
Are you saying that; by realising their options in birth (beyond the medicalised status quo) women become empowered, and this has a flow on effect into other areas of their lives?
No, I'm saying it round the other way. Women who realise that their lives are limited in other ways can become equipped to work through that and then apply that same knowledge and those same skills to choosing birth options which don't limit them. Women whose lives are constrained in every other way are not suddenly going to make a leap into birth being a different scenario, they can only take those constraints with them. Remove the constraints and birth by necessity becomes different.
Birth education cannot be solely about the mechanics of labour and birth but in a poor system like
Finally, for readers who may not be familiar with this, can you elaborate on exactly what that reality is?
Worldwide, birth in institutions is limited by narrowly defined parameters of "normal" which are set by surgeons using outdated notions with no basis in evidence. So most women see a different person at each appointment which by necessity has to be brief because there are so many women and so few appointments. They form no relationship with their supposed careproviders who are meant to be supporting them through some of the most vulnerable times in their lives.
The nature of hospitals means that they run much more smoothly for the staff if protocols can be adhered to regardless of the needs or wishes of the client, so women are frequently fooled into thinking that they have no right to say no to what happens to their bodies. Sadly saying no doesn't necessarily result in what the woman desires anyway, as the deeply paternalistic nature of maternity hospitals means the staff feel empowered to just insist or force despite a woman's clearly stated wishes. No does NOT mean no in our maternity system.
The supposed "choices" offered by staff to pregnant or labouring women are couched in terms like "I just need to..." or "You have to..." rather than honestly speaking to women as if they are adult consumers with a right to decide what happens in their birth, "How do you feel about...?"
Women frequently go into hospitals and birth centres pacified into feeling they have control only to realise when it's too late that they have little or no control over their environment and what control they have is entirely dependant on the quality of the staff available to them that shift. No wonder our breastfeeding rates are so low and our postnatal depression rates are so high!
Our rates of post traumatic stress are not yet being counted as they are in other countries such as the
We are told that "birth" is traumatic and to blame birth and our supposedly defective bodies when in reality it is trying to birth while strangers violate your body that is, unsurprisingly, traumatic. If "birth" were traumatic, home birthing women who experience just birth and no interventions would be dropping like flies from postnatal depression and post traumatic stress disorder, right? Postnatal depression is almost unknown in home birthing populations, and likewise post traumatic stress disorder.
Interventions regardless of women's individual circumstances have now become the norm in institutions around the world. Conveyor belt maternity services are convenient for administrators and staff and easily maintained in the light of women's broader experiences of life in a patriarchal society.
Thanks to Janet's activism, you (or someone you love) don't have to be a victim of poor reproductive care and the subsequent trauma from such treatment. Know your options!
To Find out More:
Joyous Birth Website
Joyous Birth Forum
Scroll down and watch the sidebar for Joyous Birth Articles. Check out the "childbirth" category for a section entitled "women talk about birth":
The article categories also include "birth trauma":
And "for women"
Janet's Birth Story
*In 2008 Joyous Birth has over 1000 members