There’s a sea change in the air. Ireland is on the cusp of something huge. In the next few week’s we’ll get to vote on whether or not to remove the 8th Amendment from our constitution. If passed, it will allow the Government to legislate for abortion for up to 12 weeks. For the first time in a generation, the people of this country will have their say on an issue that has had devastating repercussions for so many.
Finally a move forward into the 21st century and away from oppression, you might think.
But in a country where a mass misdiagnosis scandal around our national Cervical Check screening programme has just been unearthed and a leading obstetrician comes out and labels some expectant mothers as ‘birthzillas’, can we ever really see a time when the women of this country won’t be treated as second class citizens?
I found Dr Aoife Mullally’s comments, highlighted in Kitty Hollands article from Friday 4th Mays Irish’s Times not just offensive, but deeply disturbing.
She said ‘over anxious, middle-class mothers have unrealistic expectations of having perfect births…. Everyone would “know the women because we’ve all had them” who “think they are the only woman who’s ever given birth and they certainly think they are the only woman giving birth in the labour ward that day.'
Giving birth for the first time can be terrifying and traumatic. I don’t think any woman goes into her first labour with the intention of becoming a ‘birthzilla,’ or to throw her weight around at the medical staff because she doesn’t want an episiotomy or wants to encapsulate her placenta. But I do think now more than ever, women want to feel more empowered during their birth, they want to be active partners in the process, not just treated like a veritable host-body who has to lie there and take whatever is done to her and shut up about it.
Silly women, what were you thinking?
Sure why don’t we just go back to the good old days when women just kept quiet and lay there they while they were given an unnecessary and painful symphysiotomy, or sent to a Magdalen Laundry and worked like a slave, then had her child taken from her against her will, to be potentially sold to adoptive parents in the USA or even put in a mass grave masquerading as a septic tank?
I’m not saying that a woman giving birth knows more about the medical issues around labour, than her doctor or midwife, but I don’t think it’s not unreasonable to go into labour with a wish for it to go the way you envisioned it. To hope that we will be informed of what is happening to us and to have our wishes respected, as much as they can be.
Obviously that’s not always possible and in the end, the course taken by the medical professionals are the ones that are in the best interests of the baby for a healthy, safe delivery for mum and baby, but labelling us as ‘birthzillas,’ for expressing a view on how our births go is so wrong and unhelpful.
Will expectant mothers now will have to check themselves at the door in case we are too vocal, to observant, too inquisitive about what's happening to us during our labour? Will this become just another stick to beat ourselves with?
Shhhh, quiet now, you might express your unwanted opinion about your own body.
In a perfect world, giving birth for the first time should be a joyous experience that goes off relatively to plan. But for many women it can be petrifying, especially when you are swamped by medical jargon and you feel as if things are being ‘done to you’ and you don’t understand what they are or why they are being performed. Of course, sometimes medical emergencies arise during labour, things have to be carried out quickly, but the medical profession need to understand this incites a natural fear and the only way to quell it is with compassionate communication to ensure women don’t feel out of control.
It is true that a lot of what expectant mothers pick up online about labour is often ‘Americanised’. The idea of birth plans, water births or just having access to a shower during labour are sadly things that often cannot be accommodated in this country, thanks to many of our major maternity hospitals being completely unfit for purpose. And that’s not a slight on the staff who work there, they are doing an amazing job in substandard buildings.
I think respect is key. Respect for the women in labour AND respect for midwives and doctors is paramount. It's a two-way street. I’m sure doctors and midwives have had to encounter some scared women who may in their terror say things that could be hurtful or even abusive, but in a vacuum of information where fear is the only thing left, what do you expect? Calling us 'birthzillas' is not the answer. Why not start praising women when they want to be empowered, instead of patronising and demonising them?
Inform us, treat us with compassion and care, help to manage our expectations, but don’t label us.
The bottom line is, and what is abundantly clear from the Cervical Check scandal, is that women are often not treated as partners in our health system.
Why can’t we have autonomy over our bodies and when are we going to be treated as equals in our own country?