Why the face of advocacy has to change

I was just reading Michelle beautiful post about where she is at now on birth in her life. At the same time, I was browsing through The Unecesarean's open thread today.

I thought I would add a bit to my previous post, the one about my friend choosing to have an elective cesarean for her breech baby. I cannot honestly say I didn't feel a tad disappointed that she chose the cesarean over the vaginal birth. But because I know she took the time to weigh all the pros and cons and made her decision fully informed, I respect her choice. Before she found out about her baby's breech position, she had already chosen to give birth at the hospital, with a doctor. I should stress that her doctor is probably more of an advocate of natural birth than some midwives! He is quite a Doctor Wonderful himself! She felt safe to have her baby with him and we discussed at length interventions, means of pain relief and so on. She is a very educated women and certainly not clueless about the comings and goings of hospital births. Of course, women are able to birth breech babies vaginally but as an old midwife I know once said “breech babies can be cheeky troublemakers!”. So I try my best to understand my friend’s fears and concerns that a vaginal birth could have meant injuries to her of her precious little one. Like many advocates, biting my tongue and listening carefully before blurting out whatever goes through my mind has become a second nature.

After spending many years volunteering and working in the environmental movement, I experienced a difficult burn-out. Many of the people I worked with were passionate. So passionate they found it hard to understand that other people were not as concerned as they were by this or that particular issue. From saving the Amazonian rainforest, to the plight of whales, gorillas or elephants, the issues were compelling and necessary to address. However, after many years of experience, I can tell you that badgering people because they haven’t made the same choices as you have won’t convince them to make a positive change in their lives. You have to give people credit, they are able to understand issues and take action when they feel compelled to do so by inspiring people and positive thinking. They will not feel compelled by people who talk and act as if their standpoint was the only acceptable alternative. Those people who are quick to judge others harshly end up with a narrow-mind and seem unable to embrace the larger picture and I’ve seen it over and over: they end up being detrimental to their causes because they give a negative image of activists...

I have a gut feeling that the same kind of disparities can be found in the birthing movement and I’ve witnessed it a lot around breastfeeding advocacy... BTW, Dou-la-la just posted an amazing piece on the issue of being a lactivist.

Although I personally chose to give birth at home, unmedicated, I will not “push” my friends to make the same choice. I will give them information on homebirth, on its safety, but will support my friends who decide to take another road. Each one of us needs to have their own experience. Homebirth is great, and I will do it again given the opportunity, but I know it’s just not for every woman out there. Some births will always need to be dealt with high-tech medical support. 

I really want to advocate for is freedom of choice. Freedom for women to choose how and where they want to give birth. Freedom to birth in the position they want, with the support they want. I want women’s rights to decide what pertains to their bodies to be respected. Those rights should be upheld everywhere women give birth, be it at home or in the hospital. Some of us are lucky to be educated and supported on our journey to give birth but some of us are not as lucky. It’s also for their sake that we should choose our battles wisely. It is not productive to fight amongst ourselves about whose birth is best, this is not a competition and no mother should feel like a lesser woman because she needed an epidural for terrible back labor after 36 hours or because she had a caesarean. Hell no! What we need to fight is the way some women are abused during labor and birth because someone thinks they know best. We need to fight unecessary interventions and mutilations, we need to make sure every woman on the journey to become a mother is in charge and has choices she can make in an informed way.

I think we really need to take advocacy to a whole new level and forgo the bitter bickering for new ways to engage women in what is still a battle for their rights. Women need to start demanding more of their care-providers, ask more questions and should not take no for an answer. We have to bring the mainstream media on board and change the way Hollywood persists to portray birth. We need to be both fierce and compassionate.

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