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.
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.) are 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.
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 do however think us birth professionals should work towards such vision. To start with:
- 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 the mother wants them on her birth team.
- Try to be an authoritative instead of and authoritarian who just pushes his / her own birth agenda.
- Steer clear of offering a ‘birth menu’ of options but no guidance on how to interpret the options in relation to the mother’s unique situation or without preparing the mother for the randomness that is birth.
- Be sensitive and compassionate. Take the lead when needed, without wanting to run the show.
- Always put the mother and baby’s (both) needs and wants first and remember that that those needs are both emotional and physical by nature.
For a birth village to work there needs to be trust between the birth professionals. Trust can only be built over time, but a starting point is respect. A birth team briefing should also be considered.