I returned yesterday from the Where’s My Midwife?’s 2nd Annual Birth Activist Retreat, which took place at the beautiful Snowbird Resort outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Of course, the beautiful surroundings took a back seat to the high-level strategizing and learning that was taking place in the conference center as around 40 birth activists gathered to advance the citizens’ movement to improve maternity care in the United States.
The group included leaders and members of organizations, such as BirthNetwork National, ImprovingBirth.Org, Where’s My Midwife?, BOLD, MEAC, Empowering Birth Awareness Week, Uzazi Village, Birthing the Future, and more. Bloggers from the sites The Feminist Breeder, Plus-Size Mommy Memoirs, Portland MamaBaby, Human Rights in Childbirth, and Evidence Based Birth were in attendance. Others in the group were birth workers and independent activists who want to participate in collective action.
The speakers were top-notch, hitting on a number of important topics. Major themes that ran through the speeches and through conversations included:
- The violence and trauma that we experience as part of our maternity care system today, and how it is now being viewed as a violation of human rights
- Finding areas of unity within our diverse network of organizations, missions, and beliefs
- The need to increase the racial and cultural diversity of the movement for greater understanding within our network, and greater impact on our cause
- Learning tools and frameworks to work efficiently and maximize our impact
- Monetizing the movement, and birth work in general, to “step into our worth,” and recognize the value of the work we do so that others will recognize it too
Every person in the room had stories of abuse that they had either personally experienced or had witnessed in maternity care settings. They ran from blatant failure to provide informed consent, to disregarding the wishes of laboring women, to physical assaults such as cutting episiotomies without consent, using a vacuum extractor on a baby without consent, and performing cesarean surgery without consent.
What does that look like? Picture in your mind, a doctor saying that his on-call time is almost over so it’s time to get this birth done and over with, while a woman is being wheeled into an operating room, screaming that she can push the baby out and she does not consent to surgery. While the doctor is in the hallway trying to convince the husband to consent to the surgery, the woman pushes the baby out onto the bed while she is in the operating room with the anesthesiologist. The woman is traumatized and suffers PTSD, the husband is traumatized by being powerless to protect his wife and by missing the birth of his child, the doula is traumatized by witnessing the abuse and being powerless to stop it, and the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff are affected by working in a system that fosters this type of behavior.
This is a true story. It is not the first time any of us had heard a story like it. In fact, each of us in the room had participated in stories like it, and had helped our fellow birth workers process through similar events. We know that every woman giving birth can fall prey to this type of abuse while engaging with the current maternity care system because it happens daily in hospitals and caregiver’s offices around the country. Almost every speaker at the Retreat started her or his speech with a story about violence in childbirth and the need to protect the empowering nature of birth as being the catalyst for our work. For many of us in the room, the fire of our activism was ignited because of these experiences. These abuses simply cannot continue, and we feel compelled to do everything in our power to stop them.
To change our maternity care system, activists are developing programs and events to raise awareness and empower action. Uzazi Village serves low-income women in the urban core in Kansas City by teaching and providing services to support healthy birth, breastfeeding, and parenting and will act as a model for such villages in cities across the country. Rallies to Improve Birth will happen on Labor Day in over 150 cities along with movie screening and performances of the play “Birth.” Empowering Birth Awareness Week offers activists the opportunity to focus and unite during one week in September to amplify their messages. Activists can utilize BOLD classes to enhance skills to affect change. Women and birth workers can download printouts about the evidence basis of common birth interventions at Evidence Based Birth. Lawyers who have a passion for issues surrounding birth can get active through Human Rights In Childbirth. BirthNetwork National focuses on community organizing through growing chapters where all the stakeholders involved can come together to problem-solve, and the activities of many of these other activists in the network of the greater birth movement can be done through those local community groups.
Being an activist is challenging, isolating work. We all felt renewed by coming together and “refilling our activist cups.” That renewal allows us to move forward with our important work.
Learn about these organizations and activities and participate!
The organizers of this amazing event put their personal finances on the line to make it happen, and it did not break even. Please consider making a donation to help defray the costs so they can make sure there will be a 3rd Annual Birth Activist Retreat next year!