A lot of people talk about “empowering” women. Seems like a noble enough cause. And since today is International Woman’s Day, a lot of people will talk about this. But to say we need to “empower women” implies we need to give them back some power. But I don’t think that’s entirely true, because, women already have power. It just needs to be recognized, to be awakened.
One of the ways a women can recognize her power is through birthing her children. (Just one of the ways.) But all too often in modern society, the time of birth is not respected or understood enough to support women to awaken the power within themselves. And believe me, it’s there.
Birth has the potential to be the most ecstatic experience of a woman’s life. It stands to be a time in a woman’s life where she can wholly recognize the power within her, flowing from the source of life itself. Birth is a time where women can be reborn. Birth can be healing. Birth can feel really good. Birth can be a mountain of a challenge. Birth is a time when a women can drop away from her ego and thoughts and enter a purely existential and transcendent state of being. The potential birth has in a woman’s life is enormous.
I was fortunate not to fall prey to the present medicalized system of birth and gave birth to my one and only son, at home, with the support of midwives. Hands down, the experience of birthing my son was the BEST EXPERIENCE of my life. The birth got me so high that I literally researched options to become a surrogate mother so that I could birth out more babies without having to keep them – that’s how amazing it was. And it’s not to say it wasn’t painful at times, because it was, but it was also immensely pleasurable, euphoric and powerful! My birth gave meaning to the word “sacred” for the first time in my life.
Without detailing my whole birth story, I just want to highlight why I think I had such an amazing birth. For one, I was under the care of midwives who were of course well trained, experienced and knowledgeable, but had a deep respect for women, babies and the birthing process. For that reason, my labor started on its own and progressed without any medical intervention. I was surrounded by my dear family who loved me, were supportive and not inculcated with fear. I hadn’t been brainwashed to believe that birth is an emergency waiting to happen. I was not disturbed by anyone, by any machines or medical equipment, by any panic, by any pressure to birth quickly (though I did) or in an particular way. And for that reason, I was able to completely let go and surrender to the birth. I wasn’t thinking or questioning, I was just letting go and letting my baby out.
With remote guilt, I will tell you that my first thought after I birthed my baby was, “Wait, it’s over? I want to keep pushing!” Yes, it was that good.
My type of birth story is sadly quite the minority. But please don’t misunderstand. It’s not the minority because I am super-ultra fit, courageous, strong or anything like that. I was a normal healthy pregnant woman, but not a health freak or exercise-obsessed. And it’s not because I am a white chick!!!!! No, what made the difference is that I believed in me, the people around me believed in me, and my care providers (my independent midwives) knew how not to intervene. Basically, my micro-culture believed in birth and by believing in birth, they believed in women.
(This is not too say that things don’t ever go wrong, even in the best of care – they do. There are many forces and factors at play. But things are much more likely to go right, rather than wrong, if the previous conditions are met.)
Not many women in India come away from a birth with an experience that emboldens them with power, positivity, and love. Not because something is inherently wrong with them or with birth, but because there is something deeply wrong with the system and culture – as is the case unfortunately around the world today. There is so much fear surrounding birth, along with inadequate care which is often “too much too soon or too little too late” that it is next to impossible for modern Indian women birthing in hospitals to have such well-deserved and needed, empowering birth experiences.
But what if society somehow signaled to women that in fact they are capable to birth their own babies? What if instead of entering childbirth with a huge burden of fear, we supported women to enter childbirth with excitement, feeling capable, feeling heard, feeling at the centre? A major shift in India has to take place for that to happen, because that signal needs to be sent long before she is pregnant. From the time a female is born, she needs to know she is respected and valued. Only then can women on a societal level harness their inner power. Only then can a woman awaken her power through birth.
So, can we help women awaken their power? Can India find ways to support women so they don’t anticipate childbirth with so much fear? Can we help Indian women come out of birth experiences feeling stronger?
I think YES! And part of the way we do that, is introduce professional midwifery into India. The slightest bit of research will tell you that when women are in the care of midwives, outcomes of safe, normal and natural birth are much higher and many more women walk away from birth with positive experiences. This is because midwives work within the midwifery model of care, as opposed to a medical approach to birth.
The midwifery model of care is woman-centric, meaning the personal, individual needs of each woman are met (opposed the the medical system’s present protocol dictated, routine “care”). This care model entails that we monitor and support women physically, psychologically, and socially by providing her with individualized education and counseling during pregnancy, as well as continuous hands-on support during labor and birth. This model of care also encourages minimal intervention during birth.
It is my wish that in India we remind ourselves that birth is in fact a sacred time in a Mother and Baby’s life and that women can once again awaken their power through birth. I believe it is the call of this century to recognize midwifery as its own necessary profession and train loving and capable midwives to provide care to pregnant and birthing women. It is also required to respectfully integrate, support, (or leave alone) traditional birth attendants who still serve a significant portion of India’s rural population.