I wish homebirth was illegal

This may surprise you all but I sometimes wish homebirth was illegal.*

 

Recently I saw a kind woman asking online what would be nice in a basket for her friend due to have her babe at home in the near future. There were lots of heartfelt suggestions from massage vouchers to biscuits which can be eaten one handed while breastfeeding a newborn. My first thought, because I tend to run away at the metaphorical mouth, was human rights. I’d like a basket of human rights, please. Gift wrapped? No no, just the same as everyone else’s would do, thanks. I don’t want a plastic bag, I brought my own calico number with a political statement on the side. But then I thought, actually what we need isn’t only human rights, what we need is an enemy that is honest about their actions. Why don’t they just make it a crime to birth at home? That’s what everyone wants, it would make it so easy to prosecute us all. Send the midwives to prison. Take the children. Give the women years of community service or minimum security gaol. Re-educate partners to their roles in preventing women’s exercising of their human rights. Bang. Done. No more mealy mouthed “expanding choices” double plus good speak, just a refreshing burst of honesty: birth outside of a hospital and we will put you in gaol. Simple.

 

I hear fairly regularly from consumers who’ve had GPs tell them homebirth is illegal. Do they really think this? I find it problematic to imagine GPs being so ignorant about law but then it’s also problematic to imagine that GPs would fail to inform us about the full range of options available to pregnant women. That couldn’t be, could it? After all, when I go in and ask what drugs are available to asthmatics no one says, “Well there’s only this one and that one, there are no others, they’re illegal!” Of course birthing outside of a hospital is in no way illegal in Australia. Not at all. There is no Act which says anything remotely like that. Those who seek to remove human rights are far more clever and strategic than that.

 

The far smarter plan, of course, is to create as much fear and shame as possible around birth generally and birthing outside of hospital and hope that women and their families will police themselves right out of homebirth. It also means that politicians never have to own up to their actions, they can continue to swathe them in the rhetoric of choice. Removing most women’s access to midwives who would support them to birth at home is obviously “expanding women’s choices”, in the same way that episiotomy protects women’s perineums from damage. It also gives us nothing to concretely struggle against because all opposition to this Orwellian “reform” is like struggling with fairy floss. You bite down on this massive ball of poisonous, highly coloured crap, only to feel it disappear to grit between your teeth. The more they can tie us up in Senate enquiries, letter writing, inventing new overseeing bodies, writing new position statements that no one but the writers of Yes, Minister understand anyway, desperately trying to understand what the hell all the rules make, the less we have something concrete against which to struggle. The brilliance of the blanket suppression of birthing rights is how it’s a hydra of massive proportions and no matter how many heads you confront, there are more waiting and no song to lull Fluffy to sleep.

 

A simple Act of parliament making us criminals would be something open, honest and able to be confronted. If birthing outside of hospitals is so dangerous and irresponsible why isn’t it illegal? Why are we fined for failing to restrain children in cars if birth is the place where all the risk lies? Instead we struggle with the abuse of judicial power which can be wielded in coronial courts where there is no onus of proof and there are no real rules of evidence. When coronial processes are treated like prosecutions but the prosecution is on the same team as the judge, and the justice is tailored to the opinions of counsel assisting, there is no justice. These are proceedings which have no judicial credibility but are clearly tools of punishment and oppression targeting some of the most vulnerable families and professionals in the country on the back of personal tragedy. When grieving women’s babies are used as the weapons to flog their midwives and our decision making processes are ridiculed with caricatures of Bad Mothers put abroad in a colluding media, there is no hope of freedom, dignity or compassion. The law is being abused and employed as a weapon of social control to keep women in line. It’s very difficult to explain to people that no, it’s not illegal to birth at home but only midwives in this category can support women in that category (but only with ante and postnatal care, not the birth) and this national body decides who’s in and who’s out. There is no governing body meant to divide up consumers into the Yes or No baskets, it’s been left to midwives instead so those who maintain registration risk losing it every time they take on a woman outside of the Yes basket. Given how obstetrics works, the majority of women are in the No basket and yet they birth just fine at home. Some midwives stand with women and refuse these categories. Some are exploiting it to make money. Corrupt systems breed and support corrupt behaviours.

 

Our communities struggle with mischievous and vindictive reports to DoCS by hospital staff and disgruntled collaborating midwives who now work under the direct control of obstetricians in another one of those “expanding women’s choices” things that make no actual sense when brought out into daylight.

Women are bullied, berated and punished if they transfer to hospital.

Families are refused birth certificates and experience intrusive questioning with no legal basis when applying for birth certificates and the baby bonus.

Families are threatened with court orders removing children, women are threatened with being sectioned and midwives can be too scared to accompany clients to hospital in dire circumstances because to do so would leave them open to harassment by hospital staff.

Women are threatened with DoCS reports (or actually reported) for refusing to feed babies with artificial baby milk.

Midwives are having malicious and baseless reports made against them by hospital staff which tie them up for long periods of time unable to practise.

Women are reported to DoCS for breastfeeding older babies and children and cosleeping is considered a suspect activity.

Women have had police turn up on the doorstep because hospital staff have reported them for not turning up to be induced or on suspicion of planning a homebirth.

Hospital staff are making reports to the police and coroners in circumstances which wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in hospitals.

There are no laws making hospitals or people who work in them to be the birth police, charged with protecting babies from their mothers’ decision making. It is simply a culture of bullying and control which lives like quicksand on the lesser trodden paths of our society. It is one of the biggest open secrets in Australia at the moment. The press won’t cover it, politicians won’t own up to it, we’re called paranoid and conspiracy theorists when we try to tell people about it. The growing numbers of us facing coronial proceedings are beginning to spread word of this among the legal community who are dealing with circumstances most have never seen, nor imagined before, in long and varied careers. Equally interesting is how only some stillbirths outside of hospitals achieve inquiry status. (And sadly, very very few in the hospital system.) It’s clear that it depends who you are, or who the attending midwife is, before your baby’s death attracts the notice of the state.

 

I think that we are going to reach the peak of obstetric control in Australia in the next few years. They will never succeed in forcing us all into hospitals to birth but they are willing to give it a good go. If they would all just be honest about it and criminalise us, we could run a repeal campaign. Community campaigns changed laws in each state which criminalised homosexual sex, a consenting activity between adults which occurs in people’s homes, generally speaking, and which was rightly judged to be no one’s business but those consenting. I have friends in Sydney who talk about having to rent two bedroom flats so that real estate agents wouldn’t tell the police two men had rented premises with one bedroom. They talk about midnight raids on private homes, dragging them out of bed under suspicion of having had sex. We moved on from that, when can we move on to accept the idea that adults birthing in their own homes are equally entitled to the protection of the law or to simply be left the hell alone? The difference, of course, is that homosexual sex was between men who were unlikely to be pregnant. Their bodies are different from the contested public zones of women’s bodies where nothing we do is private and we walk around in a permanent state of consent. We will have equal marriage rights in this country long before women’s bodily autonomy is recognised in law. Actually I doubt our bodily integrity will ever be enshrined in law. The goal posts controlling our lives can never be brought to so concrete a form nor our oppression challenged in such a profound way. Far better to keep us all believing the myth of this equality we have supposedly reached now we’re allowed to vote.

 

  • That’s a joke. Sort of.
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30 Responses to I wish homebirth was illegal

  1. Linn says:

    Excellent post, thank you! If you’re able to stick a picture onto it, I’d love to spread it via Pinterest!

  2. Janet says:

    As you wish!

  3. Murasaki says:

    Brilliant! Youre so right. At the moment it does seem like we are fighting some wimpy not even “real” injustice – if they made it a blanket law it’d be so much clearer.

    Know your enemy and all that.

  4. Mira says:

    As a mama who was reported to DHS for refusing to given baby formula (when the hospital overstated her birthweight by 200 g then flew into a panic at an erroneous 10% weight loss – I have a photo of the true weight!)… Women are indeed bullied. And when I wept at the unfairness, they sent a psychiatrist around. Really, they need their heads read, not me!

  5. Janet says:

    There’s no law that makes anything anyone is doing illegal so why is it even happening? Societal beliefs that something is unusual simply aren’t enough for people in legal positions to act on them. Show me the law! Until then it’s patently obvious that it’s a measure of social control, nothing more, nothing less.

  6. Janet says:

    I’m so sorry, Mira. We could fill this thread with stories like yours. <3

  7. kelley says:

    Wow. I’ve never seen homebirth as an equivalent to smoking before. If it’s so bad, make it illegal! I guess we have to make homebirth taxable under the guise of all the money which would be spent in future on saving babies and women’s lives from the dangers of homebirth. Oh hang on….HB actually saves the finite health dollar….and what?? ….the outcomes are equivalent morbidity/mortality wise (for low risk pregnancies) compared to hospitals, but there’s better psychosocial outcomes? And more empowered women? And better breastfeeding rates?…

    Birth police…maybe that’s like having the armed public transport guards we have in Melbourne now rather than just manning the stations and bringing back conductors?? Birth police with powers of arrest and DoCS warrants. Yeah that’ll teach those pesky opinionated hippy weirdo women who think it’s OK to risk their life and their babies life for an experience. You know we’d all be dead if all birth was at home.

  8. Sam says:

    When preparing for my daughter’s homebirth, my midwife was repeatedly contacted by local health district representatives demanding she disclose my name and address.

  9. Great post as usual Janet. Mira, I’m so sorry that happened to you :( and Sam, same! We have a whole new cohort of stolen children – child protection is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approach to social ills – yet again! We need fences at the top of the cliff to stop people falling off it – when will society understand we need to support and care for women properly – “The law is being abused and employed as a weapon of social control to keep women in line” – exactly! Many women think feminism is irrelevant and that the ‘battles’ for equality have been won – unfortunately, no. We have a long way to go before women have equal rights and personal sovereignty in this world. And we keep on working on it :) Never, ever, ever give up!

  10. Janet says:

    Thank you for sharing, Sam. I’m so sorry.

    Thank you, Carolyn. I appreciate the shares and the comment. Germaine Greer once said that legislative change is easy, it’s changing beliefs that’s hard. Paraphrasing but you get the idea. I think she was right.

  11. Allison says:

    What a fantastic post. Some of it could be directly transposed to parts of the UK. I will be sharing it!

  12. Eleanor says:

    Thank you Janet, I really REALLY enjoyed reading this. XX

  13. Anne says:

    Carolyn – are you SERIOUSLY comparing some erroneous DOCS reports (of which the majority have no action taken) to the indigenous stolen generation?!

    The stolen generation involved mass, intensely organised removal of children from their homes for no reason other than their skin colour with genocidal intent (wanting to ‘breed out’ the aboriginal in them). Are you seriously claiming this is happening to homebirthed children? that the state is explicitly and thoroughly perusing a genocide agenda against home birthed children? How? Why? Under what criteria?

    You are so far off the mark and so disgustingly offensive its not even a THING right now. Apologise please.

  14. Munro says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with this wonderful article. Very well written! Birth has become nothing but a money making and power hungry experience for medical professionals and hospitals. Women are often bullied and lied to, to ‘hurry’ things along and to make things easier for the health professional rather than the woman. Yes, there are situations where a mother and baby’s life has been saved by being in a hospital. However, why can’t women with a low risk pregnancy birth at home? I am Australian and I have worked in the UK. I had such a wonderful experience working as a community midwife and on a birth centre. It is all about women’s choice. The problem that I see with Australia is that it is over regulated. There is a rule for this and a rule for that. I read an article recently where a mother was talking on her mobile phone, pushing her pram and was fined by the police. WHAT??? The police officer realised the mistake and refuted the fine. How ridiculous. I love my home country but what a load of rubbish. Home birth should be illegal is the voice of some of the doctors who want the power and the money, nothing more.

  15. Bullied says:

    I was originally planning to have my 3rd baby in hospital. (The same hospital that coerced me into an unnecessary ‘elective’ caesar against my will with my first pregnancy and lied on my medical notes with my second pregnancy to make it seem as though there were medical reasons for my second unnecessary caesar – you would think I would learn!)

    I made it clear that I was not going to consent to unnecessary interventions in my 3rd pregnancy and I hired a person purely to reinforce my intentions with regards to what I would consent to. Then I got to see the true colours of the medical staff. I was lied to, they attempted to trick me, they intimidated me and threatened my support people. They tried to control meetings to the extent that they asked me to come to a meeting with the head of obstetrics, another obstetrician, the head of midwifery and my midwife while banning one of my support people from coming and telling me if my other support person came she was not allowed to talk and they were going to TAPE the meeting. It was at this point that I decided to stay home for the birth because they gave me absolutely no faith that they wouldn’t do whatever they pleased in during my labour no matter what I said or what my support people said.

    I was supported at home by a woman who had recently handed in her registration partly as a result of the bullying she received. The head of obstetrics sent me a NINE PAGE LETTER “strongly recommending” I come to hospital for my labour when they were unable to say they wouldn’t disregard my CONSENT which they constantly referred to as my “proposal”.

    For the first time in my life I was able to labour and birth. It should have been my 3rd birth. I will never get a chance to have a 3rd birth.

    Then when I tried to register my baby’s birth a process which I was told would take 10 days took 2 months with Births Deaths and Marriages treating me with little respect. I spent 2 months next to broke with my husband working at an extra job to help us buy food all because BDM wanted to make a point? When I told them I needed the certificate to claim the baby bonus they stalled it even longer, then called me up just to question me insistently about what I needed the money for.

    I haven’t been able to share this with my family or my friends as I feel like a conspiracy theorist when I try to talk about it. People look at me with blank expressions or tell me to sue the hospital or shut up.

    I am a nice, compassionate, honest person. But the government is closing in on me. I should have had choices and respect. I got anxiety and alienation and something so pathetic it’s less than shit.

  16. Simply shocking, the status of birthing that provoked the original article and the responses. This is a major human rights issue, it makes birthing a baby a medical football.

  17. Janet says:

    Thank you for sharing, Bullied. I’m so sorry for the stress and trauma you’ve experienced.

  18. Bullied says:

    Thank you for so many things Janet. Even the fact that I’m scared to post under my own name with regards to this when in all other areas I’m so fearless should speak volumes on its own.

  19. Kazz says:

    Thank you for this post. When relating how I was forced into an unwanted and unnecessary induction via threats of using the mental health act to force my compliance as well as threats of DOCS removal of my three children and my yet to be born child many people do not believe me and assume I am insane.

    I have no history of mental illness but I do have a history of birthing successfully at home – three times in fact – I’m so audacious. My body is disobedient and I gestate for 43 weeks – they will not tolerate that! They bristled at my asserted self-sufficiency they cringed in the presence of my trust in my body and my track record of birthing three strong babies into my own hands made them weak in the knees – I was the embodiment of their deepest fear: they are superfluous.

    So they used every means at their disposal to bring me down; they broke me and bent me to their will. I am speaking from the shreds and tatters of myself now but I know what is true – even broken as I am by their brutality and psychological torture – I will speak because I am beyond the reach of their cutting implements now.

    I learned that my children were weapons the state could and would use against me to blackmail me into conformity with their will. Whatever it took to strap me to that bed, supine and disempowered penetrated with their needles and their tubes and their hands and their hooks and their scissors.

  20. Bramley says:

    I was a midwife for 31 years in the UK. I was a Community Midwife for many of those years, which involved attending Home Births. In the UK there are still GP’s who are against this but fortunately they are in the minority, and are over-ruled by the Midwife and women anyway! In the area I worked home birth was encouraged and we had complete support from the hospital and Obstetricians for any low-risk woman who wanted a home birth. In some cases even a ‘high-risk’ woman who refused to have her baby in hospital has given birth at home as in the UK it is law that a woman has to be attended by a Registered Midwife. I feel so sorry for all those women and their supporters that have had to battle such narrow-minded and totally uneducated bureaucrats to have a home birth and to have something that is the beautiful, never equalled experience. Please continue to stand up for your rights… yes you have them even though many may tell you you are still second class citizens. Lastly, those midwives who stand shoulder to shoulder to these bullying authorative administrators should be ashamed to call them selves by that title… Midwife= with woman.

  21. ninhao says:

    Bullied the medical fraternity doesn’t like people who buck the system. I pray your next birth will be more pleasant.

  22. Pingback: The state of Homebirth | eutraphalia

  23. jill mc says:

    Well written. Plausible deniability in choices only a mother has the right to make. You have made a very good point. Why “offer” a choice if we are all going to be punished to punished and threatened for it. It is high time women stop the manipulations of governmental entities from governing our bodies and our choice of where and with whom we birth. The choice is OURS AS.WOMEN to make.

  24. Janet says:

    Yes yes yes. So true!

  25. MotherD says:

    Careful what you wish for. The battle for reason continues, but I feel is being left farther and farther behind by the new ‘troops’ (doctors and midwives) coming through the big teaching hospital training. No breech, tentative twins, and half an hour of pushing before forcepsman rushes in. True, horrible story. I like the loopholes, they validate my hippy practice, and allow me to rant to new grads about the dangers of epidural before one contraction. I like the homebirth conference, hangin wit the madwives , stealing their wisdom.
    In your introduction you talk of protecting babies from their mothers choices. The vast majority of choices I see from women are more about acquiescing without thought to the machine, not protecting their birth, baby. They won’t take a panadol for nine months and then embrace pethidine, benzodiazepines, intrathecal morphine and fentanyl the moment their child decides to join them. I am midwife. I am with woman, but sometimes I despair of the danger in the support available to Women, which i mus t offer, no matter how stupid and inappropriate. Keep it out there. The further to the left it can be, the closer the right must be, and the middle ground remains reasonable. I know there’s a paradigm/equation for this…. Just have to find it

  26. JKLV says:

    I was reported to DoCs after the FBAC of my son in 2011. It all went smoothly and he was healthy as was I, it was only because the head nurse at the local hospital got her nose out of joint because it wasn’t a whoopsy free birth. 4 days PP they sent their officers around at 3 in the afternoon and demanded to see where bubs slept, how he fed, demanded and checked that I had done the heel prick test, and questioned my non vax status. According to the officers they don’t condone homebirth and there were laws about birth, but when questioned he was unable to give me an example law that was in question.
    I have never felt more violated in my life, and being the first in SA to be investigated for a successful FB was even more violating and all because a small minded nurse got it in her head that I had possibly put my child in danger.
    I wish midwifery and Birth could be given back to women, this is after all women’s work and it’s what we do best!

  27. Janet says:

    I’m so sorry, JKLV. I keep reading about all these inquiries and apologies lately and wondering when ours will be. <3

  28. Claire H says:

    Once again – brilliant and very articulate. Call the bullshit Janet!

  29. If only we had hospital supported homebirth services in all areas (instead of a scarce couple of locations country wide).

  30. Janet says:

    Well I’d say be careful what you wish for, Natalie. Those services don’t really serve women. Most women are risked out and have no autonomy in their pregnancy or birth. The only system I think we should have is women give birth wherever and with whom they wish and are supported in that by everyone. If a woman wants surgery, she should have it. If a woman wants three registered midwives, she should have them. If a woman wants to birth with her family, she should have it. All else is oppression. <3

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