I am a hippy. Probably. I like strange teas, I vote green, I have my nose pierced. But when it comes to birth, it seems I am at odds with much alternative thinking.
When I was pregnant last year, people started to ask me about my choices for birthing my baby. Implicit in many of these questions, and explicit in some of them, was the assumption that the most right on, empowered, feminist decision I could make would be to have my baby at home.
I was warned again and again to cultivate a mistrust of the medical profession, which people assured me wanted nothing more than to take over my birth, to disempower me. Ideas of patriarchal oppression merged with historical accounts of women mistreated in hospitals and resulted in a sort of nostalgia for an imagined, idealised past populated by wise women midwives. Doctors were a hand of pariarchy, quick to remove a woman's powerful, intuitive oneness with her body, her baby and the birthing process.
I know in the past there have been terrible practices enacted against pregnant mothers by doctors. I know horrible situations still arise today and women are left feeling out of control, unlistened to and even violated. I know in many parts of the world women are treated horrendously on a regular basis. But despite all of that, I feel like a real disservice is being done to both pregnant women and the medical profession by the alternative birth discourse.
I am likely to be more temperate in my views of modern medicine, because of father is one of the medical profession. He is a nurse by the way, not a doctor, which straight away somewhat disrupts the patriarchal angle on his job. He was in paediatrics when I was a kid. He's in neonatal medicine now. I can confidentially assert that he doesn't want to disempower anyone. He wants to help.
And things can go wrong.
I had fears around pregnancy before I ever experienced it because of knowing about his job. These latent fears made it all the more shattering then when my first pregnancy ended at five months with the death of my baby girl in utero. Her stillbirth was my first experience of labour and birth. It was also my first encounter first hand with the medical profession. They were incredible. Everyone we encountered treated me and my partner with compassion and respect. More, they treated the body of our baby with this same respect and care.
Earlier this year I had my second encounter with birth. Because of the loss of my first child I was anxious - deeply and pervasively - but even before her loss, the idea of giving birth at home, away from the quick medical care I could receive in a hospital never felt more empowering to me.
For me, the most empowered choice I could make was to go into hospital. Yes, I made this choice because I was afraid. But I also made it because I trusted that the doctors and consultants we met with frequently through my fraught second pregnancy only wanted what was best for me and my unborn daughter. I trusted that if they decided any interventions were needed, that would be the best choice.
I trusted my intuition where that was appropriate, but intuition cannot, for example,tell you your baby's heart rate during contractions. There is a machine that can, and I took comfort in knowing that machine and my midwife had a watchful eye on my baby whilst we worked together to bring her into the world.
Yes, the room where we (my baby worked hard with me) gave birth was devoid of candles or music or home comforts. It was full of medical equipment. But no amount of machinery can distance you from the sheer, incredible, awe inspiring act of giving birth. In fact, the enormity of the physical sensations make one's surroundings quickly feel pretty damn irrelevant.
I was never pressured to have interventions which - luckily - were not needed. I gave birth without any form of pain relief - paracetamol included.
I'm writing this because I would never want a woman to feel as if she had somehow failed by choosing or ending up in hospital to deliver her babies. I don't want women to feel afraid that the medical profession will take over for no reason other than to flex the muscle of male dominance (just to add, ALL the doctors and consultants we met with were women). No one wants to make more work for themselves in hospital. They want to ensure the safety of the mother and the baby.
I chose hospital for the blessed event of my babies safe delivery. It's true that fear affected my decision, but since losing my first baby I have learnt just how tragically common it is to encounter problems during childbirth.
Sadly, the story that is so often told of women's intuitive and bodily power is not always true. For me, I did not feel powerful when I was pregnant. I felt humble. Just as I accept, finally, that the death of my first baby was not my fault, so the life of my second my baby is not my doing either. Nature, life, call it what you will, made her live. Nature grew her inside me. I did nothing. I only observed with wonder as my body swelled.
I did feel power as I gave birth. But it was not my power. It was leant to me by biology, by nature. Maybe by my daughter too. I felt great power in that hospital room, with the midwife watching on calmly, with my partner beside me.
Everyone should have the right to choose where and how they feel safe to give birth, be that at home or in a delivery ward. Everyone should have the right not to feel pressured or judged for their choices - by the mainstream medical profession but also by the voice of the alternative.
I wish hospitals and their staff would stop being demonised and start being recognised for the incredible work they do.