Sitting in a public hospital’s antenatal waiting room feels like a cattle call. There you sit, expectant mother, full of questions surrounded by at least 30 women just like you. As you wait, questions mounting, you know you’ll be lucky to have 15 minutes with a midwife you may never see again.
When I was expecting my first son this system let me down. I was scared and every time I went to the hospital it was a different person examining me. Whenever I tried to confess my fears I was told I was being ‘silly’. But how could I not be scared of giving birth when all I was being told was what could go wrong?
The whole experience left me disempowered, anxious and honestly, alone.
If money allowed it I could go private, but knowing Australia’s high caesarean and intervention rates occur in these hospitals I was glad I couldn’t afford it. Then a colleague’s story of her obstetrician ‘booking her in’ for a c-section before he went on holidays really put me off.
Since my son’s birth I have heard many pregnancy and birth stories. As a journalist I’ve written about home birth and talked to both sides of the debate. In all the discussions I had I found women who choose homebirth to be the most informed about our maternity system.
What really worried me was a lot of them had turned away from hospitals after being poorly treated by registrars, our obstetricians of tomorrow.
Sadly, homebirth is a contentious subject in Australia. Mainstream media and the Australian Medical Association have a lot to say about it while feminists remain silent.
Arguing for (or against) birthrights are just as important as arguing for reproductive rights. Both correlate to a woman making decisions over her body, and her baby. The challenge for us now is how our current maternity system deals with this.
Midwifery spokesperson Hannah Dahlen has gone on the public record and said we are dealing with a ‘broken maternity system’. To get an idea on this you just need to look at the alarming stats in the Federal government’s Maternity Services Review.
Australia has some of the highest rates of caesarean section in the world and is second only to the United States for the highest rate of intervention during childbirth. Looking at research from Queensland you could argue there are some obstetricians making a lot of money out of low risk births.
This is not something to be proud of.
And yes, as I have been told many times, the best outcome for any birth is a healthy baby. But with the number of women identifying with birth trauma growing we can no longer just talk about mortality rates.
We need to dig deeper and broaden the debate.
Last year was a turning point in feminism in Australia. Now with gender issues like pay and reproductive rights being brought back in to the spotlight let’s not forget our birthing rights too.