We DO have so much power in us. So then how do we end up filing into our hospitals with our birth plans and coming out cut or broken, with a baby in our arms?
All over the world, and especially all over North America, women are finding new ways to birth in their own sovereign power. This can be terrifying. It can be fulfilling. It can be both.
I am speaking to old women who are attending birthing mothers as Traditional Birth Companions. I speak with younger women, mothers of young children themselves, who are devoting their time to attending the births of the women in their communities. I am speaking with women who have said "No!" to the maternity care system we have installed in our countries, and who are giving birth alone or with their families. I see sisters helping sisters. I see communities that are thriving, attending each other in birth, as in life.
Here in Canada, we have very strict regulations about what constitutes someone's right to provide care to a woman during her childbearing year. If you perform any of these restricted practices, without an officially regulated midwifery license, and without being employed by and liable to the health services establishment, then you are practising midwifery without a license.
Billie Harrigan is a Traditional Birth Companion in Ontario. She does not perform restricted practices, and she does not call herself a midwife. She says that Vaginal exams are rude, but also that they constitute a very clear message that our reproductive life and our bodies are not our property: they are the property of the state, and only people mandated by the state can invade them. Number 7 of the Ontario Midwifery Act states that vaginal exams are a restricted practice. In other words, you cannot put "an instrument, hand or finger beyond the labia majora or anal verge during pregnancy, labour and the post-partum period."
Ok, don't get me wrong here. I don't actually WANT to do vaginal exams. I also think they're rude. Not only that, my doula students have heard me say for years that the only reason for so many endless vaginal exams is that medical professionals are not taught about how sexual birth is. The sexuality and the mind-blowingness and the all-out intensity of birth is sublimated into rituals such as vaginal exams (actually, it is absolutely amazing to feel a baby's head in someone's vagina. Just saying. But I keep my hands to myself.)
But my point is, that women have been regulated for far too long. Our bodies have been misappropriated by a maternity system that pretends it is doing things to us for our own good, and it is not. Why do you think many a woman going into the hospital wants (or discovers she needs) a doula by her side? Because the doula can try to prevent some of the grosser abuses from taking place. But not all. And certainly not enough. Not enough to make the difference to so many, many women who feel that they have been violated (and they have!) when all they wanted to do was to give birth to their child.
So, what is happening? Just when the pandemic started making our lives more restricted and difficult, women started wanting to birth away from Covid-infested hospitals. We all, as our lives changed, started to take deep breaths and realize that we don't actually want to go back to the old "normal". I am getting weekly calls and emails from women who want to learn about new ways of birthing. I'm connecting with women around the globe who are moving forward to change the face of birth; to change the world, starting with birth.
Want to come on board? Come along!
“Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.”
And, if you are one of us who has indeed experienced trauma, abuse, and despair during your birthing, even more reason for you to move away from that reality, bring your scars and hold your head up high and cry out: "Enough!"
What is to be done?
You can listen to the Baby Magic Podcast for inspiration.
You can join my Traditional Birth Attendant seminar.
You can reach out to me or to any of the fine women on our podcast for community, information, wisdom.
You can reach deep into your womanhood and remember that you are strong! You are magical! I love you!
My name is Rivka Cymbalist.