August 13, 2014
Volume 16, Issue 17
Midwifery Today E-News
“Birth as a Human Rights Issue”
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Discover how sexual abuse affects women during pregnancy and childbirth and what you can do to help.

MT online storeSurvivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse was written to help break down the isolation pregnant women and their caregivers often feel—as though they were the only ones having to cope with these challenges. You’ll be able to read excerpts from 81 women’s stories of birthing, mothering and healing after childhood sexual abuse. The book also includes some complete narratives, discussion of implications of women’s experiences for their care, suggestions for working together during maternity care and beyond, resources to consult, and information from current research. Suitable for both caregivers and pregnant survivors, Survivor Moms will help anyone whose life has been touched by sexual abuse. Published by Motherbaby Press, an imprint of Midwifery Today. To order

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In This Week’s Issue

AU conferenceWhat do you do when a baby is breech?

Attend the full-day Emergency Management of Breech Birth class to find out. Led by Sue Cookson (pictured), Carol Gautschi and Angelina Martinez Miranda, this workshop will begin with a discussion of how to detect, prevent and turn breech babies. But what do you do when attempts at turning fail, and the mother decides to go forward with a vaginal birth? Or when you are surprised with an unexpected breech? The knowledge of breech birth is an essential midwifery skill. Although intentional breech birth is not for beginners, everyone is welcome in this class because every birth attendant must know how to handle the unexpected breech birth. Various methods and techniques will be discussed and demonstrated including the use of waterbirth.

Learn more about the Byron Bay, Australia, conference.

Quote of the Week

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

Mark Twain

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The Art of Midwifery

All women are fully human and deserving of respect and dignity. When we think about our sisters in sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia, we may not know how endangered they still are in childbirth and how few real choices they have. It has been said that in developing countries, the most dangerous occupation is motherhood. Ethical people have a duty to act on human rights violations once those violations have been made known.

Vicki Penwell
Excerpted from “A Hidden Tragedy: Birth as a Human Rights Issue in Developing Countries,” Midwifery Today, Issue 94
View table of contents / Order the back issue

ALL BIRTH PRACTITIONERS: The techniques you’ve perfected over months and years of practice are valuable lessons for others to learn. Share them with E-News readers by sending them to

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Editor’s Corner

Birth Is Still a Human Rights Issue

In 2010, Midwifery Today had a conference with the theme “Birth as a Human Rights Issue” in Strasbourg, France, where the European Court of Human Rights is based. Hermine Hayes-Klein then did another similar conference in the Netherlands; after this, Hermine joined with Midwifery Today for two more conferences in Eugene and Belgium, but still mother’s and baby’s human rights are constantly being violated in every country of the world.

We were hoping that with these conferences, things would get better. Hopefully, in some places, birth is getting better. The new research on birth microbes and their importance to the health of the baby has steered some birth practices in the right direction, but still we have unnecessarily high cesarean and induction rates. Very few motherbabies get to experience a normal and empowered birth. (Many of us in the birth field need to enroll in Respect 101 and learn what mother and baby need at birth.)

Hermine is a trooper and she carries on trying to change the world with conferences that focus on human rights in childbirth. In fact, she is having one in India in 2016. Please help spread the word about this conference via your social media outlets.

Consider putting on a small one-day event in your community to help spread the word about human rights in childbirth. My mentor Marion Toepke McLean is having an event near Eugene, Oregon, Birth and the Human Future, that will help spread information about the microbiome and human rights in childbirth. Why don’t you consider putting on an event like Marion’s? We all have things to share with others and the more we can educate others on normal, physiological birth, the better our world will be.

— Jan Tritten, mother of Midwifery Today

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor-in-chief and mother of Midwifery Today magazine. She became a midwife in 1977 after the amazing homebirth of her second daughter. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies throughout the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world, or join her online, as she works to transform birth practices around the world.

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Featured Article

The Issue of Birth Rights

Birth is biological. At its most fundamental level, it is an animal rights issue. When I was working in Mexico, I was not surprised when, following a birth, a grandmother asked me, “How is the mother?” But when she endearingly asked, “Y la creatura?” (“And the little creature?”), I stopped in my step. Something powerful and deeply instinctual came alive in me. I had watched wild and farm animals bond, nurse and protect their young. I had observed and studied the importance of maternal-infant bonding from a professional viewpoint. I had dedicated my midwifery career to keeping one of my 1000 eyes on everything from environment to timing to security to states of mind and heart and soul—anything that had the potential of affecting or shaping those first glances and touch and moments of irreplaceable connection between the mother and her fresh born. Nothing had set things more clear and right in my mind as that grandmother’s simple and urgent question regarding her hope of the future—“Y la creatura?”

We are creatures. We are animals. It is not a bad or lowly thing to be. It allows us to eat and poop and get in out of the cold and enjoy mating and flee danger. We embody an instinct that is backed by millions of years of invested intelligence. It certainly includes birth. It most certainly includes birth.

Who thought of holding legs above a pelvis with stirrups or shaving pubic hair to help create a sterile field or inserting enemas for cleanliness or providing strangers for companions? Certainly not creature mothers and babies. They would kick and bite and run for the hills. They wouldn’t need to consult books or experts. Their instinctual knowing only takes a second to be consulted. The answer and response is automatic. It takes force, mighty force, to restrain an instinctual animal in the moment of performing a bodily function, especially birth. Have we successfully used intellectual fear to overpower the instinctual fear of a birthing human, so she will now submit to actions that otherwise would make her bite and kick and run for the hills?

Sister MorningStar
Excerpted from “The Issue of Birth Rights,” Midwifery Today, Issue 94
View table of contents / Order the back issue

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Midwifery Today E-News is only a sample of what you’ll find in Midwifery Today magazine. Subscribe and you’ll receive a 72-page quarterly print publication filled with in-depth articles, birth stories from around the world, stunning birth photography, news, reviews and more. Subscribe. Midwifery Today Magazine

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Birth Q&A

Q: Do you feel you were treated humanely while giving birth? Why or why not?

— Midwifery Today

A: I felt so very cherished and honored by my second birth. My son was birthed at home with sister student midwives. His passage, by no means an easy one, has shaped my entire life as a midwife. The care I received set me on a lifelong path as a dedicated homebirth midwife. I made a personal commitment following his birth to honor and cherish the families I was called to serve just as my midwives had done for us. My second homebirth also echoed that path and just reinforced that, for me, birth is not a job or work, but rather a sacred calling.

— Patricia Edmonds

A: Although my first birth was textbook perfect, there were still things done to me without my knowledge (Pitocin) or consent (enema, amniotomy, staying in the bed). The good news is that I was only in labor four hours, but my daughter’s face was bruised from being barreled through the pelvis and vagina. It set me on a course to find a better way, and that led to my second birth at home and then my third birth unassisted. I followed “the rules” during that first birth, but the medical model of care didn’t work for me. I ultimately felt called to become a midwife to help others have a better birth experience the first time around!

— Cathi Cogle

A: With my third, yes, finally. My midwife took seriously my history of abuse. She asked before touching me every single time. She was very hands off, but I felt her guarding the space. She performed only two vaginal exams—one when she arrived and one to check why my baby wasn’t descending (cervical lip). When I was screaming, she gave me permission to scream while gently reminding me that it wasn’t productive. She said, “Anna, you can scream if you need to, but it’s not helping you and you’ll just end up with a sore throat tomorrow. You might try to direct some of that energy down there, okay?” I tried. When she did the second vaginal exam, I disassociated and thought it was my abuser. My body wouldn’t let her in. Rather than continue to try to force her way in, she gently touched me elsewhere to get my attention, looked me in the eyes and reminded me that it was her and then she asked permission again to check me. It only took a few seconds for her to back off and speak to me, but I haven’t met any other caregiver that has done that for me. My son’s birth was very healing.

— Anna Grace

A: No, my care was not evidence-based. I was subjected to unnecessary medical intervention. I was denied labour, birth and dignity. My child was kept from me for 24 hours. I was prevented from doing what I was perfectly capable of doing. My child and I were denied the healthiest normal process of birth—medicine denied me health without my consent. I now mistrust science and medicine.

— Ruth Malik

A: Not at all for baby number one. I was physically restrained on my back and given a large episiotomy. Had I been able to birth my son on my side, I likely wouldn’t have had the trauma I did. Babies two and three were gentle, beautiful and, most of all, healing. Those babies were born at home into my own hands with no trauma to me or my babies.

— Gayle Eckey

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A: No, I was not treated humanely at my first birth. I was just another [patient]. I was a room number. I was the ignorant who should shut up. They, and only they, knew what was best for me and my baby and if I had something to say, they would just give me drugs. No, I did not feel like a human. I was a machine that was giving birth and they made me feel like I necessarily needed their assistance, management, guidance and ruling to survive to give birth. My body survived, but was wounded and is still aching today, but my soul…my soul died. I knew that something was missing, but I did not know what until I gave birth for the second time. This time I had an undisturbed, instinctual homebirth. It was magic! It healed me; it awakened my soul.

— Willma Andreja Kolenc

A: With my first birth I was treated humanely. I had a private doctor in a small hospital. Every decision was made in consultation and collaboration with him.

My next birth was in an HMO and was a horrible experience. I met the doctor in the delivery room as he or she pulled their gloves on and reached for the scissors to cut the routine (mandatory?) episiotomy. It was awful. It’s been years and I still have deeply anxious dreams reliving the experience.

— Gail Hart

A: Humanely, yes. Like a woman who trusted her body, yes. Like a woman who knew what she was doing…not so much. There were midwife hands on me at times even when I requested there not be. Other than that, homebirth was flawless.

— Shylah Ray Sunshine

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