Monday, April 9, 2012

#31: ?

Hello Everyone,
Today while I was searching for the new study on the link between obesity and autism, I found a link from BBC's "Witness." They interviewed JANET BALASKAS, who, in 1982, was (in her own words), "just a mother and childbirth teacher in north London." She had never given a speech but found herself speaking to a group of 6,000 people, mostly mothers and fathers (and babies too).  Balaskas announced and organized this march in London for the right to birth normally, and through a groundswell of consumer-interest (the internet, let alone social media, was not around yet!), 6,000 parents gathered to demand the right to birth normally. The protesters carried signs with messages such as: "SQUAT FOR YOUR RIGHTS" and "STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS." Janet invited Dr. Michel Odent, author of many books on birth, and he came to support them! Fortunately, a rock band offered the free use of a stage and sound system.

JANET BALASKAS, now a well-known author and founder of Active Birth (1990/1992) and birth activist, is an amazing woman.  She has a beautiful, peaceful Active Birth  Centre in north London (Virginia Bobro and I have both enjoyed giving talks and workshops at the Active Birth Centre when we were in London).

What inspired Janet to organize a march in 1982 was that women were literally being "forced" to birth on their backs. Janet went to the library to inform herself on other positions women could labor/birth in, and she discovered that, until the 16th century, women gave birth standing, squatting, and kneeling--there were no illustrations of women lying on their backs. She also learned (it was new news back then!) that when mothers lie on their backs, the pelvic diameter decreased and blood supply to the fetus decreased.

When Janet became pregnant, she sought out a midwife for a home birth. At the time her midwives had not seen a woman give birth upright, but they were willing to go with this; Janet did birth at home. She had four children.

When Janet first taught women "Active Birth" and upright birth positions, it was revolutionary. "Active Birth" was banned in the hospital.  One doctor referred to active birth as "animalistic behavior." Through persistence, the idea of birthing upright, or in whatever position the woman desires, has become more "accepted." Even so, recently I was speaking with a mother who was still surprised to learn she could give birth without lying on her back!

In 1982, women were actively learning about their bodies, the midwifery model, and wanting autonomy. It was an exciting time to be a midwife and a mother. It was parent-driven change that brought 6,000 parents in London together to demand the right to birth normally in hospitals.

That is impressive, inspiring; I wish I could have been there! In a way, even if I missed the march, I feel some of Janet Balaskas' frustration today, in 2012. Yesterday I spoke with Virginia Bobro (co-owner of Birthing From Within) who  imagined someone arriving in a time capsule in London and telling everyone at the march for natural birth, "Hey, this is a great turn out! You are probably envisioning a really conscious birth culture thirty years from now. But, I just came back from 2012, and I'm sorry to report, most women are still birthing on their backs... but for different reasons." (e.g. the incredible rise in inductions, epidurals, and cesareans, as well as (still!)  birth attendants' preference for the mother to be in the bed when she is pushing).

There are new questions to ask, now in 2012:
(1) How many mothers in Western hospitals (who are not being induced or are confined to bed because of an epidural) are really encouraged or "allowed" to stand and birth, or get on hands-and-knees, or squat on the bed or on a blanket on the floor?
(2) How many mothers who ARE "allowed" to get up and walk in labor are told to get in bed during pushing and birthing?
(3) How many mothers are "demanding" the right to give birth naturally?

I ask myself: Would even 1,000 parents come together today to Occupy Birth and demand midwifery care or natural birth or protest routine monitoring, inductions, or high cesarean rates?  The passivity among the majority of parents is deafening and confusing. Something has happened. It's not all about the medical model; some hospitals do offer parents midwifery care and many more options than before, this is true. It's also about the collective attitudes of mothers; some midwives tell me that many parents do not desire, value, or demand natural birth.

When I tried to think of a title for this post, #31 of 50 Ways to Change Birth in Our Culture, I stumped myself.  Is the problem within the medical model or within the parents' vision of birth? Can parents organize a march to motivate parents?

Here are two links:

To hear the interview on BBC's "Witness" with Janet Balaskas:

To learn more about the Active Birth Centre in north London: