This evening, we attended the premiere of a new documentary highlighting the issues surrounding birthing — especially the right a woman has to decide where she gives birth. Freedom for Birth is less a collection of birthing stories (like The Business of Being Born) and more about freedom and legal restrictions that interfere with a woman’s right to informed consent of birth choices.

We made a family outing of the premiere, travelling together to Ipswich to wander around the huge university campus hoping to find the right building. Thankfully, one of the organisers spotted me (that probably wasn’t difficult) and pointed us in the right direction.

Calista and Aisha eating cupcakes, September 2012
Student midwives from UQ's are raising money to travel to Cambodia, and our girls are happy to support their cause by buying homemade cupcakes!

Outside the auditorium at UQ, September 2012
The screening is held in a small auditorium at the University of Queensland's Ipswich campus.

Our girls weren’t the only children at the premiere, but they were disappointed that they didn’t get to see babies being born! We sat next to the open door of the auditorium so the girls could play outside on the steps if they were rowdy.

Freedom for Birth was launched today across the globe through a series of private screenings. From their promo:

In many countries around the world, women are being denied the most basic human right of autonomy over their own bodies. They cannot choose how and where to give birth. Those that persist in their desire to have a normal, physiological birth are sometimes forced by judges to surrender to surgery or threatened with having their babies taken away by child welfare services. In many countries, if a woman wants to have a home birth supported by a midwife, those midwives face criminal prosecution. Some midwives, like Ágnes Geréb in Hungary, are even imprisoned. Freedom for Birth calls for radical reform to the world’s maternity systems so that these Human Rights violations stop and women are afforded real choice as to how and where they give birth.

Mae't Pearson, UQ, September 2012
Organiser Mae't Pearson is a passionate midwife who teaches at UQ and enjoys researching issues around birthing and support for birthing mothers.

Attending the screening of Freedom for Birth, UQ, Ipswich, September 2012
About thirty women sit through the sixty-minute film here in Ipswich, but we're joined by a much wider audience in many such premieres around the world.

Freedom for Birth, UQ, Ipswich, September 2012
The documentary highlights the basic human right issue of a woman's autonomy over her body — especially the option to choose where and how she births her children.

The documentary sets out a case for the reclassification of birth choices as a human rights issue. As Mae’t Pearson says, “We have the right to choose where to conceive, why can’t we also choose where to give birth?”

In our travels, we’ve heard many stories of giving birth, and New Zealand has an excellent system of midwife-based birthing options that actively promotes home-births where appropriate. In Australia, home-births are available to those who can find and pay for a midwife to support them. But this choice — and the possibility of freebirthing like I did with Elijah — is viewed with suspicion and often actively discouraged.

I am a late arriver in birthing advocacy. Before having children, I was adamant that I didn’t want to birth in a medicalised setting. For Aisha’s birth, we were lucky in being selected for entry into a birthing centre here in Brisbane. However, due to traces of meconium in my waters, the midwife escalated my labour into a high-risk category and I ended up on my back with my feet in stirrups and Aisha was extracted with a ventouse. My consequent three births were all in hospital — endured for the sake of the baby at the end of it, but there was no joy in the process.

When pregnant with Elijah, we visited and heard wonderful stories of women who birthed away from hospital. We were travelling, and I didn’t know where and when I would give birth, so I spoke to my doctor about home-birthing. “You’ll be fine,” she said. And her confidence buoyed me to move past my fear and embrace the experience of a natural birth. (As it happened, while birthing Elijah, there was also meconium in my waters, but the birth was uneventful and the baby perfect.)

In medicalising childbirth, our society has separated birthing from real life. We no longer approach it as a natural transition and instead view it as a fearful, danger-fraught endeavour. Before I gave birth, I hadn’t ever witnessed a child being born, and I certainly wasn’t privy to the different ways a woman can labour naturally.

We find the nudity, the fluids, the noise and the pain all confronting. Recorded birthing scenes aren’t perceived as “family-friendly” and God knows when a true-to-life labour and delivery was ever shown in a movie. Our society seems to be more comfortable with cloaking child-birth in mystery than revealing it in all its messy, emotional glory.

Freedom for Birth raises the issues surrounding women’s birthing rights. It is not promoting natural births, home-births, midwife births or medical interventions. It is simply highlighting choice in birthing as an essential human right.

Birthing issues are very important to me — mostly because I know that the advocacy I engage in today will impact our daughters’ options in the future. Until our society — and women individually — support each other in the different ways we choose to birth (and parent, for that matter), we will remain at the mercy of the “experts” who rule us with fear and intimidation.

I’m thankful to Mae’t and Leah who organised the local screening of Freedom for Birth today. If you missed the film, a shorter version of the documentary will soon be available for viewing on their website.