It Takes a Compassionate Village to Birth a Child

I often write and consult on the importance of understanding the different role players in birth and choosing your birth team wisely. However, a talk by Margaret Hefferman, has blown the concept into a new orbit of importance for me.

Hefferman discussed an experiment on productivity by a biologist called William Muir. The experiment, in which a group of so-called ‘average’ chickens were pitched against the egg-production abilities of a “super chicken” flock, resulted in a flourishing ‘average’ flock. And the ‘super flock’? All but three were pecked to death by the end of the experiment.

Although a rather crude comparison, I couldn’t help but see the close resemblance the ‘super flock’ bore to the current birth & medicine landscape, in which many seem to think that success, can only be achieved by suppressing the effectiveness of the others (including the mom herself!) in birth. There seems to be an unwillingness amongst some birth professions and institutions to cooperate, collaborate and work together as a birth team when it comes to providing mothers with the best perinatal care possible. The result? Confusion, hostility, dysfunction, emotional trauma and disappointment.

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In my experience modern-day birth can be categorized by two schools of authoritarian (or “super chicken”) thought:

The first is where the “perfect birth” can only be achieved by selecting a birth authority and giving that authority all the power to manage your birth. With no team members to balance them, these ‘authoritarians’ sometimes give in to ulterior motives (fear, time money, the need to always be a superstar or know best), which lead them to make choices that are not always necessary and wanted by the mother. Add to that the fact that the definition of a perfect birth is subjective and you have a recipe for disaster.

The second is where the power of birth is taken back by the mother, or at least she made to think that she has the power (hello “mommy super chicken” *wink *), who is offered a menu of birth options by a permissive birth team. The team often fails to help the mother interpret information in the context of her own personal situation and she is left to weigh benefits and risks without a proper scale. The permissive team often also fails to prepare the mother for the randomness that can sometimes be nature and birth.

Both these approaches fail the mother and her baby. In both instances mothers are also often left, without any explanation or support, to process choices that are sometimes needed but not wanted or choices that did not have the desired outcome.

Since the birth of my first child, I have believed that, as with raising a child, a mother and baby’s physical and emotional well-being in birth is largely dependent on the impact of individuals and groups who play a role in that birth. Birth should therefore, in my humble opinion, be an outstanding collaboration between nature, birth partners and birth professionals with empowered mothers right at the center of it – a compassionate birth village where birth professionals, advise, encourage, recommend, and help where appropriate and needed.

The bricks of such village (OBG, midwife, doula, birth photographer, hospital staff, hospital etc.) is however not nearly as important as the mortar holding it together, which should be identified by a high degree of social sensitivity, compassion and trust – for each other, but most importantly for the birthing mother.

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Rome wasn’t built in a day and I’m not naïve enough to think that the ideal Birth Village will spring up overnight. I am however leaving you with five 6 tips to get you going in the right direction when choosing your birth team:

  1. Work from the standpoint that as long as they are all qualified to uphold safety and integrity standards in birth, you should get to choose who your birth team consist of. No one team member / institution should have the power to refuse other team members, without good reason, if they are uniquely qualified for their chosen role and you want them on your birth team.
  1. When you choose healthcare providers and birth professionals, look for individuals who are authoritative in their field but not authoritarian in their approach. You want people who can advise and help you without making you powerless. People who help you to make your own informed choices and not drive their own birth agenda.
  1. Steer clear of permissive healthcare providers who provide you with a ‘birth menu’ of options but no guidance on how to interpret the options in relation to your unique situation or on how to prepare for the randomness that is sometimes birth.
  1. Look for individuals with a high level of social sensitivity and compassion, but also the ability to take the lead when needed, without wanting to run the show. You want confident, but compassionate team players on your team – not lone super stars.
  1. Your birth team’s recommendations and actions should be free from any motives other than your and your baby’s emotional and physical well-being. It should be about your needs and wants. They should therefore also only intervene when truly appropriate and necessary. This is where pre-established trust between you and your entire birth team plays an important role.
  1. It is clear that putting together the right birth team for you and establishing trust is important. I would argue that such trust can only be established face to face and be strengthened as teams work together. How to make that happen in the current time-is-money, super-chickens- only system is beyond me (some team brainstorming might be required!), but I think a starting point is for you to request a team briefing before and a de-briefing session after a birth.

Apart from birth photography I offer birth mentoring as well.  Learn more about the value of having me as your birth mentor

Commentry on the above is always welcome,