To be clear, I do not share my birth stories to malign or glorify any one type of caregiver or birth location. Mistreatment during birth can happen with all types of caregivers and in all birthing locations just as all caregivers are also capable of providing exceptional care in all birthing locations, throughout all outcomes. I choose to share this story, because so many of the families referred to me disclose that they feel alone in their lived experience of obstetric violence and often voice that they need a caregiver who understands the depth of trauma they carry and why they may have extensive needs for absolute body sovereignty during their childbearing year.
CW: For broad descriptions of Obstetric Violence / Medical Abuse
Giving birth to my first baby was a transformative experience. I entered into my first pregnancy at the age of twenty-two and was overjoyed with the prospect of becoming a parent. I read books, watched videos, took prenatal classes and generally felt well prepared for the birth experience. While I had wanted a midwife and an out of hospital birth at the beginning of my pregnancy, I wasn’t able to access my first choice in caregiver due the lack of midwives in my area and my own limiting beliefs around my available options at the time. I settled on a large on call physician group that had been recommended to me, and told myself that it didn’t matter so much who my caregiver was, because at the end of the day, I was the one doing the work to birth my baby. While there was truth in this line of thinking, my first birth process (a long, difficult labour with a baby in a challenging position) was further complicated by caregivers who utilized verbal abuse, coercive counselling, and misinformation as a means to enforce my compliance and who performed procedures without my consent (sexual assault) – aspects of poor care that have since been recognized in recent years under the umbrella term of “obstetric violence”. While I came out this rite of passage with a healthy baby in my arms and a newfound knowledge about my ability to access resilience and strength, I also experienced severe postpartum depression, complex PTSD and developed a deep aversion to accessing medical care during my first year of parenthood that negatively informed how I felt about myself as a mother for many years afterwards.
I had two more babies within a five year period and was able to access midwifery care and assert my choice of birthplace. With each birth, I reclaimed new levels of body sovereignty and continued to do the work to give myself permission to make increasingly autonomous life decisions that were in alignment with my beliefs. I became a birth doula in 2012, and was fascinated with the history and politics of western birth culture. I worked with over 250 families during this time, witnessing a full spectrum of maternity care as I attended births with midwives, family physicians, nurses and obstetricians in hospital, birth centre, and home birth settings. As a doula (and later as a Holistic Birth Consultant), I was not affiliated with any governing body or bound to an institution, and therefore was free to attend my clients on their terms, listen to their values, how they perceived their medical care and what they wanted for their births and their babies. I’m a researcher at heart, so while I was teaching prenatal classes and listening to the experiences of families, I was also observing patterns. I attended undisturbed physiologic births, medically managed births, surgical births and witnessed every birth outcome imaginable, for better or worse.
I raised my three children surrounded by midwifery and obstetrical textbooks as I immersed myself in on-call life, taught childbirth classes, attended births and traveled around Canada and the United States seeking out increasingly comprehensive midwifery training workshops. After years of struggling through an ongoing spiral of shame and blame around my first birth experience, I was able to access birth trauma counselling through Birthing From Within that validated my experience and helped me grapple with the complexity of institutional birth culture as a parent and as a birth worker.
I was accepted into Mount Royal University’s midwifery education program in 2016 and began my journey into becoming a Registered Midwife. During my senior year, I authored an extensive literature review exploring the factors that motivate parents to choose unassisted birth outside of conventional maternity care systems. This literature review, along with the voices and stories of local unassisted birth parents and my previous experiences as a parent, doula and holistic birth consultant have deeply informed my professional approaches to upholding the rights of birthing parents and the facilitation of harm reduction strategies within my personal midwifery practice. I completed my Bachelor of Midwifery degree in 2020 as one of five surviving members of the aptly nicknamed “Hunger Games” cohort.
As a Registered Midwife, I now provide extensive counselling around birthing options from both a holistic and clinical perspective. I provide support as families prepare for their birth, attend both physiologic and medicalized birth experiences (as dictated by families choices and life circumstances) and facilitate support and continuity for the times when complex events have occurred during labour, birth and the postpartum.
The personal opinions expressed in this post are those of the writer alone, are not a substitute for midwifery or medical advice, and are not representative of any official healthcare body or regulating college or association.