The Power of Speaking Up
Earlier this year, I’d been asked to speak about my birthing experiences to the board of the Birmingham Women’s Hospital. The group I addressed on 26 March 2015 makes important decisions in relation to women’s birthing and post-natal experiences. It is they who create the overall culture at that hospital.
Looking into the eyes of 25 people sitting around the room, I told them my two birth stories. My first birth experience two years ago was a classic tale of disempowerment: I was induced against my wishes, my body was not always treated with respect, and I generally had a sense that the hospital took over. As I recounted specific incidents, I saw people’s eyes widening in response. I was deeply traumatized by the insensitive treatment by a midwife, so much so that I repeatedly compared one of my vaginal examinations to rape. I also shared some insensitive remarks which were equally hurtful.
‘You need to be induced because you had a bleed. This does not happen to normal women,’ said a doctor who gave me a sweep in an attempt to start my labour.
‘Why can’t you accept that you are a high risk and just lie down?’ said a midwife in response to my request to have a birthing ball so that I could be active during the labour.
‘I don’t know how you are doing this. I’d have had an epidural long ago. At least have some gas and air. At least have some gas and air,’ another midwife kept repeating while I breathed through contractions and coped rather well. That is until I gave in and had some gas and air, which completely disorientated me….
In contrast, my second birth experience earlier this year was a story of reclaiming my personal power as a woman and as a mother. I went against medical advice and decided to birth at home. The biggest difference was in the attitude of the homebirth team towards me. I was not treated as a ‘high-risk patient’. They connected with me as a person, who was doing the most natural thing: giving birth. On the day, the midwives showed amazing sensitivity and respect. They watched for signs of how the labour was progressing without rushing in to intervene unnecessarily. I saw nothing but admiration and love in their eyes. They were like a cheer squad. Their loving care and tenderness helped to transform me from within.
Telling my story in front of the board touched me in two ways. First, I felt the power of being heard. I also realized how a truly loving and positive experience can rewire us as human beings. My second birth went far beyond delivering my baby into this world: I returned home healed and whole.
Standing in front of those people and telling my story in the hope that it could improve the birthing experiences of many other women was an honour. It feeds directly into why I write: to share my story to inspire change and to give voice to women who may never be heard otherwise.