An Insight into the Maternity Care System

Listening to pregnant, birthing and postpartum women is the key to rebuilding a damaging maternity care system. Our current system in Australia is failing to address what women really want for their birthing experiences, as well as failing those who care about and work closely with women including midwives and obstetricians. Let’s start with the evidence, because when we do, we can plainly see not only the effects of fragmented, patriarchal structured care, but the disparity between Indigenous and non-indigenous women’s experiences which is an alarming issue in itself. 

When we look at the data about Indigenous mothers, it is staggeringly telling to see that the incidence of maternal death is three times as high as non-indigenous women. Indigenous women and Women of Colour are clearly facing racial issues whereby their culture is not being respected or represented within the maternity care system.

As of 2019, as many as one in three to four women emerge from their birth experience with birth trauma. In Australia, approximately 30% of births are cesarean births compared to the recommended 10% from the World Health Organisation. This tells us immediately that women are entering into maternity care in hospitals that is failing to provide adequate processes to ensure they are always making informed, evidence-based choices. Birth trauma is a complex issue and in discussing this we must be sensitive in acknowledging that trauma is whatever the person perceives it to be. 

A woman can have a straight-forward, medically safe birth and still emerge with trauma if she feels she wasn’t listened to or that her rights were railroaded in any way. It must be said, that a woman can also have a complicated birth where nothing goes to her plan and yet feel supported and empowered if her care providers are ensuring she is heard, informed and calling all the shots every step of the way. 

So, why is our system such a mess? For one, women’s innate wisdom and ownership of birth has been over-medicalised as birthing became a business many moons ago. In the 17th century, a man named Peter Chamberlen invented the forceps to assist in births where babies were malpositioned. Midwives of this time would occasionally call on men known as ‘barber surgeons’ to assist in births that were medically becoming unsafe, however, the forceps became one of the first examples of technology being overused in birth in order to make money whether they were medically required or not (https://www.millihill.co.uk/books/give-birth-like-a-feminist/).

Fast forward to our present day, where women might be glad they are no longer subjected to ‘twilight sleep’ or the use of chloroform to keep them from discovering birthing as their power; we still have a long, long way to go. 

As a doula, I have had an abundance of clients come to me as they are frustrated with their care and the lack of options presented to them by conventional, Western medical practice. Do you know one of the most common questions I hear? “Am I allowed…?”. Legally, women have the right to birth wherever and with whomever they wish, and they have the right to informed choice making and informed consent for every single decision they may need to make during their pregnancy, birth and postpartum. So why are they asking, “am I allowed?”.

AUTHOR BIO

Claire Heenan

I’m Claire! I am a birth and postnatal doula, facilitator of women’s and girls circles and a childbirth educator. I trust deeply that women are the experts when it comes to their bodies and their babies. As a doula, it’s my role to be alongside women and their families in whatever capacity they want and need. I am with women before, during and following birth, there to talk when they need to make informed choices about the care of themselves and their baby. I’ve always believed in the magic created when women support women and this is at the heart of my work as a doula and women’s circle facilitator. I am lucky enough to live and work primarily within the beautiful Blue Mountains which is Gundungurra and Darug country, but I am passionate about powering with women from all over Sydney through the most life-changing, soul-awakening, mind-blowing transition of their lives. It’s imperative that birthing women surround themselves with a birth team that aligns with their individual vision for their birth and postnatal experience. A woman giving birth is a warrior and a queen, and should be made to feel as such.  My other services include facilitation of Women’s Circles, Mother Blessings and Goddess Girls Circles. I also offer sacred postpartum ceremonies including Closing the Bones and Sacred Belly Binding. My whole soulful business revolves around serving the women! Claire Heenan 0413 416 210 claireheenandoula@outlook.com.au

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