Re-framing Childbirth Choices: Review of Freedom For Birth

On September 20th I joined many in the “birthy” community for an international screening of the new film, “Freedom for Birth”.  I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked in the door.  As a doula, it’s hard not to get stereotyped into the long skirt and dreadlock camp (I have neither), or the birth-should-always-be-natural-at-home-I-hate-doctors camp.  While I live with my own idealized visions of childbirth, when it comes down to it, I am a pragmatist and I tend to walk into just about every situation with my eyebrow raised, especially when I know I’m attending an event where there are bound to be people of strong opinions.  Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to view a moving and thought-provoking film, which takes the present childbirth debate of dichotomies (hospital vs. home; midwife vs. doctor), and re-frames it as an issue of human rights.

The film opens with the story of Hungarian midwife, Agnes Gereb, who has been imprisoned for practicing midwifery (something that is all too common for midwives around the world).  Her case garnered international attention when a mother, whose first child was delivered by Gereb, made the case in the European Court of Human Rights that dictating that a woman must give birth in a hospital with an obstetrician (as opposed to at home with a midwife) is a human rights violation because it takes away reasonable choices for her own body and self-care.  As, filmmaker Toni Harman says, “the court ruling means that every birthing mother in Europe has the legal right to decide where and how she gives birth.”

What is interesting about this film is that it is not just about making a case for home birth.  It also explores the experiences of other mothers who have be forced or coerced (via threats of prosecution or having other children taken away) into giving consent to cesarean sections or other medical interventions.  The film makes a convincing case that for many women, their right to choose the best way to give birth for themselves or their baby has been co-opted by hospital, insurance companies and even government interests.  More importantly, the film challenges these institutions to change their internal culture to allow women to make informed and empowered choices on their own behalf–Her body, her baby, her choice.

Here in Louisville, the screening was sponsored by the Kentucky Homebirth Coalition, who is working on legislation to license Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs), thereby legalizing midwifery in the state of Kentucky.  Many women and families are are currently working on similar measures in other states.  What they need are informed health care consumers who would like to see more options for birthing women.  They need people who are willing to write letters and call representatives.  They also need financial support to help pass legislation.  It’s a David and Goliath issue, really:  there is big money for lobbyists from the ACOG folks, for example, who oppose home birth midwifery. This makes it all the more important for consumers to demand changes from the bottom-up.

As a doula and a mother, I look forward to living within an integrated system that, regardless of birth location, respects a woman’s wisdom of her own birth process and values the different, but complementary skill sets of both midwives and obstetricians.  When everyone gets to play the game, we all win.

To learn more, check out the Freedom for Birth website.  I understand that starting in November there will be a short, web version of the film available.  Until then, check out the video from the original indie go-go campaign:

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