Australian actress Zoe Naylor endured a traumatic labour and believes that Australia (and several developed countries’) maternity systems are in need of a major overhaul. She went on to co-found The Birth Time platform, an educational resource hub for maternity care and pregnant mothers. Ultimately, the site (and the accompanying documentary) is about changing the current politics, practice and funding of maternity care across the developed world. Here’s how Naylor came to be involved in this collective.
“The birth of my first child was what the medical system would call “normal” and “good”. Yet, it was deeply distressing. I’m an educated, well-resourced woman, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience I had.
The midwife I’d seen throughout my pregnancy wasn’t working when I went into labour, so I ended up with someone different in the hospital. It’s interesting how you can have lots of people in a room and still feel tremendously alone. I was in full-steam labour from the get-go and I didn’t know what was happening to me. It felt like I was holding onto the back of a steam train at full speed. I didn’t feel an inherent sense of safety and I tore quite badly.
It was so overwhelming that I emerged from the birth in shock. There’s a telling photo where I’m holding Sophia [daughter] and I just look flabbergasted, like “What the [heck] just happened?”
My experience was reflective of our current maternity system. The system is not set up so that every woman emerges from giving birth feeling physically well and emotionally safe. It’s highly medicalised and is driven by and undercurrent of fear. We start with the idea of what could go wrong rather than what can go right. We use blanket labels: You’re 40? You’re high risk. They don’t serve anyone.
Birth doesn’t happen on the clock. It’s not convenient. You can’t measure it. Indigenous cultures talk about a birth month because they understand it can’t be pinned to the date. Our maternity system has no flexibility, and that’s not the system’s fault. It’s a by-product of decades of unconscious interventions around birth, primarily driven by money and the patriarchy.
We can start to work towards ensuring birth is a physically and emotionally safe experience for all Australian women by implementing a model of continuity when it comes to midwifery care. That would mean having an attentive, attuned midwife who is with you for your pregnancy, the labour, and postpartum. The midwives bring a motherly energy, and the relationship with them fosters trust and safety, but they are also highly trained and experienced professionals.
Many women have traumatic births but push it aside as if it doesn’t matter as long as they have their healthy baby. Yet, it’s important to have these conversations so that they can potentially change the course for their children and their children’s children.
We need to get birth out of the current system and back into more accessible birth centres, and we need to put independent midwifery care on that map as the gold standard. A huge amount of research shows that if a woman has continuity of midwifery care during pregnancy, labour, and postpartum, she can do anything.
Her mental health, her physical health – all go it – will be better and she’s going to thrive as a mother.
Text: Bauer Syndication