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birth in Australia

I wish homebirth was illegal

By | consumers' rights, midwives, midwifery, reproductive justice | 30 Comments

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.

Maternal mortality in Australia – 30% under-reported?

By | consumers' rights, reproductive justice | 4 Comments

Maternal deaths in Australia compared with England and Wales from 1967 to 1969

The MMR for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women remains three times higher than the MMR for non-Indigenous women.

Monitoring maternal mortality and morbidity in Australia

We need first to ask, how good are the data? There is a concern about under-ascertainment. As distinct from a stillbirth or a neonatal death, there is no mandatory notification of maternal mortality, although some States and Territories have a ‘tick box’ for notification that the deceased has been pregnant within the preceding 12 months. It is generally held that in the absence of coordinated efforts to maximise ascertainment, maternal deaths are underestimated by as much as 30 per cent. Some States undertake such efforts, but as is so often the case in public health surveys in Australia, there is variation between States and Territories in the approach to ascertainment. Failure to notify might be more likely for deaths in early pregnancy and when the death occurs remotely in time and/or place from the birth or termination of the pregnancy.

There is also variation and inconsistency in the way in which maternal mortality committees function in Australia, with respect to consideration, classification and reporting of maternal deaths. For example, in the compilation of the most recent report on maternal deaths in Australia, it appeared that there was no functioning maternal mortality committee in Queensland, which was the State with the highest MMR in Australia (over the previous twelve years).Only some States consider and report on preventability. Other States refrain because of privacy or other concerns. There are also variations in referrals of these deaths for coronial investigation. From 2003 to 2005, only 47 of 65 deaths were reported to the coroner, and only 19 of the 29 direct deaths were referred to the coroner.

There are also concerns about the quality of data indicating Indigenous status. In the 2003 to 2005 report, data on Indigenous status was missing in eight per cent of maternal deaths. This deficiency is of special importance because the MMR for Indigenous women was 21.5, compared with 7.9 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous women, reflecting their health disadvantage, in pregnancy and childbirth, as it is in all areas of health of Indigenous
groups.

It is estimated that for every maternal death, there are approximately 80 instances of severe maternal morbidity, in which the woman experiences a life-threatening complication from which she survives (completely, or sometimes with residual injury).

A concerning aspect of maternal mortality monitoring in Australia is the lack of recurrent funding or a permanent auspicing agency. The last national maternal mortality report carried a foreword signed by the Director of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), which auspiced and authorised the report that contained this statement:

‘..the (Australian) Commission (on Safety and Quality in Health Care)
is not able to provide ongoing funding (for regular reporting of
maternal deaths in Australia) and it is concerning that no resources
have been identified to sustain and improve this reporting in the future.’

An options paper to obtain a firm footing for the national maternal mortality survey has been prepared by the AIHW and submitted to the Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, but no response had been received at the time of preparing this article.

Maternal mortality in Australia 1964-72

Maternal mortality in Australia, 1973–1996

Maternal deaths in Australia 1997-1999

Maternal deaths in Australia 2003-2005

Maternal deaths in Australia compared with England and Wales 1967-1969

 

Throwing out the lies with the birth water – Sydney screening!

By | consumers' rights, homebirth campaign, reproductive justice, surgical discourse | One Comment

Throwing out the lies with the birth water is a documentary about a woman’s right to give birth at home. It outlines the key issues for birth choices in the Blue Mountains, NSW. It follows one woman’s journey before, during and after her homebirth. It questions the definitions of risk in birth and the notions of choice. This a hot topic in the marginal Federal seat of Macquarie.

The documentary has been largely shot in the Blue Mountains of NSW and also features footage of the major protest rally that took place in Canberra last year attended by over 4000 protesters.

The Blue Mountains supports a high number of home births that occur nationally each year. Legislative changes that have come into effect from July this year with restrictions and requirements will limit birth options for women. Many women in the Blue Mountains who choose home birth will have to go to hospital, they will have no choice.

An inability to attract obstetricians and anaesthetists to the local hospital in Katoomba means regular staffing shortages and closures. Women often have to travel to Nepean or to Lithgow to give birth. There have been roadside births en route to hospital. The documentary includes an interview with a women who had to give birth on the side of the road as a result of this shortfall.

Throwing out the lies with the birth water is a 50 minute documentary being made by Rani O’Keeffe. A sneak preview rough cut of the documentary was screened at the Edge Cinema in Katoomba on Saturday 31st July to a packed and enthusiastic audience.

THROWING OUT THE LIES WITH THE BIRTH WATER

Rani O'Keefe

Come one, come all, to the screening of this great documentary by Rani O’keefe.

Bring your partners, bring your friends, bring your family. (babies and children welcome)

When: Tuesday 17th August 2010
Time: 7:30-9:30pm

Cost:$10 per ticket

Where: Mu-Meson Archives at Crn Parramatta Rd & Trafalgar St, Annandale; at the end of King Furniture building up the steel staircase.

RSVP: Please contact tia_aimee@hotmail.com register tickets. Payment will be on the night at the door.
Facebook event here.

Catherine had a hospital birth, then an oops, and then….!

By | who homebirths? | 3 Comments

Thank you for sharing your lovely montage!

In her own words:

Birth: Our Journey Home

From hospital birth to accidental homebirth to planned homebirth. There were many reasons why we chose to birth our 3rd child at home, this montage shows a few of them.

It is disappointing and frustrating to see certain Australian medical organisations and prominent doctors scaremongering and attempting to mislead both the general public and government about the safety of homebirths.

As homebirthers we just want to be able to birth our babies in the safety, comfort and privacy of our home, away from the cascade of intervention and pathologising of birth that occur all too frequently in hospitals. It is the unnecessary interventions that are commonly performed in hospitals that increase the risks for mothers and babies. These days women have so many options regarding birth – they can choose to birth in a hospital, in a birth centre, to be induced for non-medical reasons, to have an elective caesarean. Why shouldn’t women have the option of a safe homebirth?!

I am not ‘brave’, I am not a ‘birthing goddess’. Simply, I am a woman, a mother, and homebirth is *my* choice.

Opening your window to birth

By | consumers, consumers' rights, Uncategorised | 2 Comments

Birth, she is dying.

This primal and unspeakably powerful initiation, the only road to motherhood for our ancestors, has been stripped of her dignity and purpose in our times. Birth has become a dangerous medical disease to be treated with escalating levels, and types, of technological interventions.

Healing birth, healing the earth (1996)

So am I a hero or a martyr? I am neither and none of us are. We all just do the best we can at the time. And as I write this, with my beautiful baby sleeping peacefully next to me, I am acutely aware that it is not the process that brought her here that really matters. It’s just that she is here.

Drug free childbirth (2010)

Would you say the same about your baby’s conception, Amity?

Does it matter if babies are conceived consensually in love whether in a bed or via a petrie dish, or by pack rape in a public space? Once the wedding day is past, do not the couple remember it for life? Do not those who are unable to marry because of prejudice remember other weddings with pain? Could it not colour the way a marriage begins if the couple are terrified, powerless, desperate and injured the day of the wedding?

Why are we so eager to excuse away violence during birth as if it is of no importance to babies or women?

Does it not support further brutalisation in our society when our very entry to the world is in violent circumstances?

MORPHEUS: Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

Morpheus holds out a red pill in one hand and a blue in the other.

MORPHEUS: This is your last chance. After this, there is no going back.You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe.

The pills in his open hands are reflected in the glasses.

MORPHEUS: You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

Neo reaches for a pill but stops as MORPHEUS breaks the silence.

MORPHEUS: Remember, all I am offering you is the truth. Nothing more.

Neo opens his mouth and swallows the red pill.

MORPHEUS: Follow me.

THE MATRIX Written by Larry and Andy Wachowski April 8, 1996

I sat in a bus the other day. It was rainy, foggy, cold. Condensation sat on my side of the window while grime and rain merged on the outside creating distortions in what I could see. I squinted, moved my head, trying to read a sign in the distance but couldn’t bring it into focus. Finally I realised, “Open the window!” I dragged the sticky small window back from in front of my face and saw clearly the sign that had been obscured by so much hampering my normal vision. As I blinked with relief, my eyes adjusting to the clean light and cool air after the fug of the bus I realised what a powerful metaphor had just been enacted.

Birth is that sign out the window. Our task as parents is to notice that which obscures the view but ultimately to throw open that window and let nothing stand in the way of us embracing normal birth.Take the red pill and make yourself open to the possibility that what you once thought was true may not be.

Do you remember having faced similar challenges over other important decisions in your life? Did you consult only with those by whom the service is provided and who make money from the service? Or did you ask around widely to seek opinions from those outside of the realm of those being paid to provide the service? Did you research buying a car or a house for some time? Make yourself familiar with the features and models of each car, the ways in which dealers work, the impact on the environment and your family of the car you choose?

Then ask yourself this:

What you could do differently in learning about birth before your babies are born?

Weasel words revealed by the government

By | bullshit, consumers' rights, feminism, homebirth, homebirth campaign, reproductive justice, surgical monopoly | No Comments

All birthing women are equal but some are more equal than others.

In a nicely Orwellian turn of phrase where we’re assured that our choices are being expanded, the government deigned to share some of their maternity “care” plans with us. Finally. The AMA’s choices are sure being expanded but those of birthing women have been reduced to “When? How high?”.

Luckily for me, Lisa Barrett has already written about this so enjoy.

This is what it looks like when human rights vanish. It’s not a big revolution, or a violent attack, it’s just a sinister set of back door dealings between powerful groups in order to trash the basic human rights of women. Scary huh? You could be next.

Look out.