Melbourne based birth servant Julie Bell started the seminar by talking about maternity services and women's experience of birth in Australia. She spoke about "masculine" and "feminine" ways of knowing and the importance of feminine knowledge (instinct) during birth. I found her views about birth and Indigenous Australians particularly interesting. She shared the concept that "when one is not free, no one is free" and went on to say that Indigenous women have been dispossessed from their land, and that for her as a homebirther was heartbreaking. Bell suggested that Australian maternity services will be broken as long as Indigenous birth is broken. In terms of strategies for how to bring birth back to women, Bell stressed the importance of women telling their birth stories.
An unexpected surprise for the day was that the Joyous Birth National Convener attended the seminar and gave an impromptu talk about human rights and bodily integrity. She urged listeners to not be wall flowers at this crucial time. Her most insightful comment, in my opinion, was "birth is but a reflection of our lives."
A mother of three (J) and maternity services consumer gave a moving talk about birth trauma. She opened by talking about the widely held misconception that birth is naturally traumatic and how, as a society, we have been desensitised to violence at birth. She summarised the problem with hospital birth thusly; "hospitals are set up to treat illness thus birth is treated as pathological until proven otherwise, but if you look for something hard enough you will find it".
I found myself nodding along as she defined the purpose of birth as an experience for women to prove their strength and courage.
She shared a collection of women's personal accounts of traumatic births which were hard to hear, one quote in particular struck me; "I feel like I was pack raped with instruments."
J critiqued the response "at least you have a healthy baby", which is often given to women recovering from birth trauma, and observed that "healthy is a term that seems to be applied to anything that is not dead". Another quote that really struck me from her talk was "we're living in a disconnected world and it starts from a disconnected birth."
After lunch Gloria got behind the lectern and shared some of her brilliant birth worker wisdom with the room. She spoke about how she came to be a birth attendant and the joys of serving women at birth, and of homebirthing, and the trials of dealing with an anti-homebirth culture, including legislative and regulative aspects of this in Canada.
One of her many insights was that she notices a persistent yearn in women to go back and give birth all over again, to get it right. She stated that the best birth control there is, therefore, is to ensure women get great birth experiences first time round!
I found her insight about how dangerous government regulation of midwifery can be to be particularly enlightening given that many birth workers in Australia are presently calling for the government to take more responsibility for homebirth regulation and subsidiaries. She noted that there is no such thing as autonomous midwifery in a system where doctors set the rules for midwifery practice and regulate midwifery conduct, and how this ultimately leads to midwives simply becoming a go-between for doctors and women.
It was disheartening to hear of the tactics used in Canada by anti-homebirth agents to stop Gloria's birthwork. I was not surprised to learn that the government had successfully bribed other birth workers to do their leg-work and try to catch Gloria out doing something illegal. It reminded me of what I wrote last month about homebirthers being divided and conquered by the dominant forces in Australia.
My favourite quote from the seminar came when Gloria asked her audience why it is human women can't give birth (or more specifically why human beings believe that human women can't give birth). She said "Goats don't have midwives". I may very well stick a photo of a goat up in my birth space next time! The answer was that language is our worst enemy. She said that without language birth looks like this:
Finally something of great importance for all the birth workers present at the seminar was Gloria's warning that we don't want to become part of the problem in maternity services. She talked about responsibility and autonomy and how imperative it is that the birthing women takes both of these things at her birth. She talked about a case where a woman said "I don't know how I got a ceasarean, I paid a doula". There is a danger that some women will fall into the trap of believing that because they hire a midwife or a birth servant, that the birthworker can protect or save her from negative outcomes, or rather take responsibility away from the women. This is not the birthworkers role.
It was a fabulously enlightening day. But most of all it was soul-nourishing to spend a day in a room full of birth-loving, birth-trusting, birth-serving wise women.
ETA 5/6/09: Gloria has since added "The goats have no midwives" saying to her blog. Check it out here.
Here are some photos I took throughout the day:
The hall during Gloria's talk (approaching 2pm)