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The Power of Choice


Artwork by Ella Stewart

Please note that all names in this article have been changed for privacy.

The ‘Zoom’ profiles of seven pregnant women clutter my laptop screen like the Brady Bunch. This little social group, from the Inner West of Sydney, could not be more diverse. Some cup mugs in their hands while others scroll through their phones – Natalie*, a woman in her first trimester, unmutes and asks the group about their birthing plans. If there was no pandemic, the answers may have been more unexpected. But as Covid continues to scorch the nation, many of the women in the group lean towards a homebirth.

“A doula, in my own bed, in a position of my choice, with the people who love me the most.”

The history of birth goes a long way back of course, to the very beginning you could say. The history of a woman’s choice for how she wishes to give birth has changed throughout the ages and been influenced too.

In the 17th century, a special reclining bed for childbearing women was designed. The bed was in no way created for the comfort of women. Instead, it provided physicians a convenient way to deliver a baby. French doctor, François Mariceau, claimed in his book that women birthing on their hands and knees, kneeling, or standing made the job for physicians harder. And since then, lying down on backs has become one of the most popular positions for childbirth. However, the trend was mostly rooted in Western ideologies like England, the US and Australia. In Western Africa, the most common practice in history involved squatting or sitting on a birth stool. In China, women gave birth vertically.

The pandemic is not the only reason why women are choosing to give birth at home. Losing the freedom of choosing how one gives birth is something that many women fear, and is why those in the social group were turned off by the idea of giving birth in a hospital environment. I spoke to a midwife, Anna; she recounted to me an encounter she had at the train station after a long shift. “I think my biggest fear of giving birth at the hospital is that I won’t get to stand up or move around. I’ll be confined to a bed,” a woman nearby Anna said. But this isn’t the case anymore, and Anna could not help but correct her.

According to Anna, the way in which maternity wards operate has changed dramatically in the last decade. In the past, the norm involved the woman coming in, being sent to a room to lie in a white-dressed cot and then, once the time to give birth got closer, have an epidural administered. But now, women can customise their birth plans in a way that works for them. That means, choosing things like a position that is most comfortable for them, who is in the room, what they wear, and what kind of pain relief they are given.

Birth is a feminist issue. Despite these ground-breaking changes, birth is still not always a positive experience. Many women report that they felt abused and violated at a time when they were most vulnerable. They felt objectified and made to feel like an incubator .

“I want to have the power to control what happens to my body when I give birth. I feel like that’s the bare minimum.”

‘Power’ was a common theme discussed within the social group. However, the conversation did not only revolve around being in control during birth. Despite the meeting happening in a virtual space, ‘power’ was a feeling that resonated through the room. Jane, who led the session, explained that everyone in the group supported each other’s decisions to choose their own journey into motherhood. She went on to clarify that previously, she experienced judgement from other mothers about her own decisions about her body. Jane started this group through reaching out to mutual friends as she wanted a place where she could openly discuss her wins, qualms, and queries without feeling isolated.

“Everyone experiences things differently. Everyone experiences birth differently.”

As the group wraps up, the women discuss whether the new The Batman is age appropriate for a ten-year-old. I expected a heated debate to ensue. But the ‘you do you’ fashion of the group remains. “All mothers experience motherhood differently,” chuckles Jane, as she ends the meeting.


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