The other day, on the train on the way home from work, I spotted a link in my Twitter newsfeed for a photo gallery of women’s birthing experiences in countries that would probably be described in that classic Western imperialist terminology as “developing.”
Countries where medical care was, at best, patchy, and where, for a poor, rural woman, they may well be non-existent.
Oh great, I thought. Another uplifting gallery of photos showing the beauty and joy of childbirth, and how even in situations of adversity, women birth their children, without intervention, and pain relief, and all those apparently unnecessary evils foisted upon us by the men in white coats.
The first few pictures were setting the scene, a few rusty beds here, a labouring woman there, a cute newborn there.
And then I chanced upon a photo of a young woman with her newborn lying next to her, swaddled in blankets, and apparently healthy. The woman was, the caption explained, in the process of giving birth to twins. One had already been born, and she was waiting for the other one to come out.
Waiting for the other one to come out.
Now admittedly I have never given birth to twins, so I’m not one hundred per cent sure of the protocol, but I figure that in a modern hospital, they come fairly rapidly one after the other. I don’t imagine that there’s much of this waiting around nowadays. They’d be whipped out with forceps, or a scalpel. And yet here was this woman, apparently calm and serene, waiting for her twin to be born, looking for all the world like it was in no hurry. Is this better, I wondered. Is it better to do things naturally, and just wait for them to come in their own time? That’s what my hypnobirthing books told me, after all. And if so, why was I induced, when I was only expecting one baby, he was only nine days overdue and I only had one teeny weeny pregnancy complication which no one could even be sure definitely posed a risk to the baby? Why, modern medicine why? I did hypnobirthing, I’ll have you know. I knew my body could birth that baby. I told myself that over and over again by listening to a CD of an Australian woman telling me so while the sound of waves lapping on a beach played in the background. And yet here is a woman having twins, au natrel and apparently without incident?
I flipped to the next photo in the gallery, feeling like a hopeless failure that I couldn’t-or wasn’t allowed to-birth my baby naturally.
The next photo popped up, but the scene this time was very different. This photo showed a midwife holding a recently delivered baby-not such a healthy-looking one this time, sadly. The midwife was trying to resuscitate the baby, the caption said. It was the second twin.
Whether or not the baby had indeed been successfully resuscitated was unclear, but the fate of its mother was not. She died shortly afterwards from a post-partum hemorrhage.
I was angry. Angry that this should happen, in 2016, when both mother and babies would almost certainly have survived if they had access to the medical care that I had, but also that there are people who glorify the process of natural birth. Who claim that everyone can birth their baby naturally, in any circumstance. Who make women like me, who take the medical intervention on offer, feel like failures because we cannot do what we are supposedly designed, as women, to do. Who make us second-guess our circumstances. If I had only been younger, if I had had children in my twenties, or teens, as nature intended, instead of waiting until 34. If I had not accepted that induction, if I had not had that epidural. IF, IF, IF.
Well how about let’s get angry about the woman in the picture. IF she had had access to decent medical facilities. IF she had been able to have a C-section. IF she had lived in a country where she wasn’t giving birth to her second and third children (at least) at eighteen after being forcibly married at fourteen. IF she lived somewhere where women’s rights, their rights to decent medical care, their rights to choose who, when and if to marry; to control their own destinies, had been respected.
If your natural birth worked out well for you, then I am happy. If you managed to get through it with no pain relief and it took two hours from start to finish, then I am happy for you, but please know that you are LUCKY. Not all of us are. But I know I was. Lucky that I am not the eighteen year old girl being buried in the final photo of that gallery.