Diplomacy and Human Rights in the Labor Room,The Answer to Change

 I recently spent one entire week in the company, of midwives, physicians, doulas, and birth professionals from all over the United States and from countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Australia, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, Bahamas, and many more at The Midwifery Today Conference in Eugene, Oregon.

This conference is unique not only for the knowledge and expertise of the speakers but also for the variety of professionals present and represented.  It is so rare to have midwives from many different backgrounds. Some work in hospitals and are also nurses, some only do home births, some do both, some work in states where midwifery is supported and some work in hostile environments to midwives.

I was almost overwhelmed with the quantity of information shared about new cutting edge studies.  All very promising in collecting data supporting nonviolent natural birth practices.  More to come on that when I write the Part II of this story.

This blog post (Part I) is about The Summit that happened one day before pre-conference workshops started.  On Tuesday, April 2, 2013, a fierce and beautiful attorney, Hermine Hayes-Klein, put together a historical event that brought together 3 different panels:

Panel #1:  formed by midwives, and one obstetrician who have either been persecuted or prosecuted. Some of them were still in the raw and painful process of active trials. This panel was absolutely heart breaking. Midwives cried as they shared their experiences of being arrested, being taken from their homes, in front of their children, family, and neighbors in handcuffs. They spoke of the multifaceted trauma and tribulation that these experiences have caused.

In some cases, charges were made in the deaths that had occurred in some births.  Other cases charges were being brought forth simply because these women were practicing midwifery.  Each case was very particular and complicated based on the situation, state legislature, and community laws.

These stories, were stories that the majority of birth activists like myself had already heard or read about it,,, but to see their faces, hear their stories and their sobs was an experience I will never forget. These are the kind of experience that fuel my passion for birthing mothers and their guardian, midwives and physicians! The kind of experiences that inspire me to hold hands with the women sitting next to me, even if we were strangers. We cried together and hopefully were able to share some of the burden from our sister midwives.

These women who follow a calling to serve families and women were charged for manslaughter, crime, child abuse, and practicing medicine without a license.  Pretty serious offenses.

We broke for lunch and I could not be or talk with anyone. I went to my room, and took it all in. I sat, and took deep breaths for me, for them, and for all childbearing women.

The afternoon brought 2 more panels:

Panel 2:  Made up of Mothers and Activists, of which I was a participant on. This panel was strong, fierce, and powerful. Women stood up and shared about their courage to stand against a system that is broken, that denied them the right to choose how, where and with whom they would birth.

There were at least 5 of us who VBAC’ed, some of us (myself included) after multiple cesareans. We spoke about finding care that was safe and fair. We spoke about our work as activists in our own communities and how we share the good news of what true informed consent is, of knowledge of alternatives, of owning your own health and taking responsibility. This panel that brought hope and unity into the room.

Panel 3:   Lawyers. American and European attorneys flew from various countries to share how they have defended or are in the middle of defending midwives.  They identified their position to support women’s choices and rights in birthing and in health care. They educated us of the twists and turns of “the law.” They were courageous, intelligent, and agile. They gave us tools and power.

By the end of the day, we had made a full circle of having our hearts broken and built up again with even more determination and a unified desire.

My Walk-Aways:

-  Midwives are not perfect. They make mistakes. Either in their practice or judgment call or in their politics. But ALL professionals make mistakes. We learn, we change, we grow.

-  The difference of how a bad outcome is handled in the hospital or by a physician and midwife is enormous. A doctor who loses a baby in the hospital has a system that protects them. An expensive insurance that protects them. They may face litigation and it may cost a lot of money but when a bad outcome happens at home midwives face jail and criminalization.

-  Neither an obstetrician or midwife acts in bad faith, but in birth just as in life, there is always a line between skills and fate. The longer you work in this field, the more humble you become, otherwise you don’t sustain in it.

-  Women are strong. Women are wise. Women have a voice. And they are making it louder.

-  Activism is necessary for justice and fairness. It cannot be an option. We are all part of a movement that will shape the future of not only birth options for future generations but the future of human kind.

-  The way a woman is treated in her pregnancy, birth and postpartum period will directly affect her role as a mother, wife, partner, and professional.

-  The health decisions a woman makes during gestation, birth, and early parenting will directly affect the long term health of that child.

-  The law is not clear in many circumstances and we must educate ourselves and others about our local justice system.

-  It is time to go on the offensive. No more defending our views, we have plenty of legit scientific studies to make our cause for women and baby centered care the norm and not the exception.

-  Mostly I walk away knowing that we must UNITE. A house divided will not prosper. Regardless of individual situations, we must unite as mothers, caretakers, educators, and activists with the common goal of fair, safe care for mothers and a system that protects its professionals, both physicians and midwives

I urge you all to be curious, to open your hearts and minds and ask questions. Search for answers from more than one source. Every story has two sides, or three of four.

Let’s not focus in the details we do not agree with. We can learn and grow together by accepting our differences but mostly let’s focus on what we agree with and together make a change for the better.

Towards better, safer and healthier births,

Ana Paula Markel, Doula, Mother, Founder of BINI Birth, PAM Advisor – and ACTIVIST!

***Please note, image of Ana (with mike) is from last year’s LA PAM Event with Anni Daulter and Kim Graham-Nye

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