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Elizabeth Baines, The Birth Machine: A personal perspective

People of a sensitive nature (mostly men, I’m guessing!): don’t go away when you see the words birth, cervix, pregnancy or contractions. Read on. There are big issues about power, common sense, human dignity, support, respect and knowledge here.

My story first:
Six years ago, at the age of thirty-five when heavily pregnant (stick with it!) with our third child. I went for my final scan. The consultant, who hadn’t seen me for my other appointments although he was supposed to be my consultant, did that breezing in importantly thing that people who have gone so far into being a doctor that they have come out the other side and become a Mr. again do. God, he was… well, he was God.
‘Now. I’ve done my research, I’ve looked at the map and if you’d lived any further away I wouldn’t be letting you have a home birth,’ he informed me and my husband.

Don’t stop reading. This isn’t about home births.

He then announced that if I hadn’t gone into labour by the following week that they would start little procedures to help me along.
I smiled a polite, foolish smile that probably supported his opinion that I was a silly little woman. Yet inside I was suddenly realising what a pompous twit he was.
Some important facts now:
We knew how far we were from the hospital, we’d taken the trip plenty of times and had made our own very well informed choices. We had been present at every appointment, every scan for every child we had, no one else had – especially not the consultant – and we knew that, yet again, everything was going well.
This was our third child, the other two births had been extremely straightforward, I was incredibly healthy, I knew my body better than anyone else and I had a better knowledge than anyone else about how my body had coped with previous experiences.
The consultant’s bit of paper informing him of my due date was based on an ultrasound head measurement. Both our previous children had large heads… was that in his notes? MY estimation of the baby’s due date, however, was later and was based on calculations, dates and twenty years’ experience of my monthly cycle.
Yes, he thought he had the right to force a birth to happen unnaturally based on a head measurement…

Are you male? Are you female and squeamish? Have you managed to stick with me until now?

Based on my previous experiences I had tentatively put out feelers for a home birth. I asked around, I spent time in Open University parenting and pregnancy social forums and absorbed other mothers’ knowledge and experiences, I ordered literature from a midwifery group, I read homebirth experiences from booklets, from the Internet and books by well-qualified pregnancy and birth experts. I became very well educated. Then I planned out how it would work for us. Finally I sat my husband down and told him I wanted a home birth and that I knew what I was doing.
(Remember this is about power and common sense. I could relate a lot of what I have written here to my experience with builders… ! )
I told my team of midwives of my plan and they were immediately supportive and said it would be fine.

I will spare you the details but child number three came into the world with zero pain relief and within half an hour I was having a cup of tea and a chocolate Hobnob in bed. Throughout the latter stages of labour I was asked where I wanted to be and how I wanted to do things. I had power, dignity and support and was shown huge amounts of respect. I felt warm, I felt safe and I felt comfortable. The midwife that came out to help grinned a big soppy grin and said that home births were her favourite. (Because things went so well, the routine second midwife – who was on her way – was told to turn around and go back.)

So here’s my point. (Hooray! Nearly out of cervix zone, folks!)
I would never tell anyone to have a home birth.
I know mothers who wanted to be in hospital – that’s where they felt safe. I know others that have had emergencies and needed to be in hospital. Women must be able to make choices and not feel bullied or controlled. Being scared and uncomfortable is not good for the birthing process. Other people have said that they couldn’t have gone through it without the drugs. But I knew I could and I also knew that I would have support at home and – importantly – we could be easily and quickly transferred to hospital if there was a problem.

But. This man who wasn’t armed with my knowledge of my location, my history or my extensive research; this “Mister” thought he could give me permission as to where and when to have my child.

And, by the way, she was born on the exact date I had calculated and weighed a healthy 8lb 5oz.

I had given myself the right to choice (even though when certain people heard about my plans for a home birth you would have thought I was planning to run off to remote frozen woods and have my baby in a hollowed out tree with only the wolves for company!). And unfortunately many women, for one reason or another, don’t feel they have the right to make and voice important decisions.

(Now do you want to hear about the builders???)

The Birth Machine by Elizabeth Baines

So when I read Elizabeth Baines’s The Birth Machine about a young, vulnerable woman completely stripped of power and dignity and Elizabeth’s comment that her book was a plea for logic I thought: ‘Yes.’

I don’t like book blurbs, reviews or introductions that give too much of a novel away. I recently had an experience of revelations in the opening chapters of a novel being tainted by too much being revealed in an introduction.
What I will say though, is that this is a short book that needs time and thought; not only to grasp the real behind the satire but also to appreciate the amazing talent that this author has to give you thoughts and feelings without telling you what to think or feel. If you think dilated cervix, waters breaking, contractions and pain are all too much for your sensitive disposition, you should try reading about Zelda. She didn’t get a choice. She had to grow up quickly when so-called powerful, educated men couldn’t apply their power or their education appropriately and I know a little of how she feels.
If you’re a woman who has ever had builders that will only talk to the man of the house you will know her frustration. If you have experience of powerful people who rule by title and charisma, bypassing logic or empathy, you will know her frustration.
And if you want to know how to write well, this book is for you.

Also by Elizabeth Baines and thoroughly readable (and no amniotic fluid!) are a collection of short stories: Balancing on the Edge of the World and short novel: Too many Magpies

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m adding this book to my ‘Must Read’ list. Thanks for blogging about it. 🙂


    • Glad to hear it! 🙂


      • I have it, courtesy of the woman herself, but haven’t read it yet. It is often a terrrible machine. Your story parallels my story of trying to get someone to listen when I told them kid number 2 couldn’t breathe or eat properly. The fact that in the other part of my life I’m the one doctors call to diagnose these knds of things didn’t matter at all, and even made them suspicious that I was a Muhchausen ‘s Mom. Twits.


  2. Rachel, this is so true (on a more flippant note, I can relate to the part about builders!)It’s shocking that women are still treated this way by the medical profession but sadly commonplace. Really enjoyed reading this, thanks x


  3. Thank God I had a hypnobirthing session… most of it was about remembering that it’s YOUR body, YOU’RE in charge of the birth and damn it, YOU call the shots. Something that can be hard to remember when you’re focussing on getting that little life into the world calmly and others are implying that they know more about this baby lark than you possibly could.

    I had my home birth (a first timer, too! Luckily the midwife and hospital team were VERY pro-home birth, but I had some interesting comments from friends, including one who wrote a note to my husband beginning “don’t let your wife have a home birth” and implying our child could be brain damaged if we weren’t in a hospital). It was perfect. My daughter is perfect.

    This post sums up everything I feel about the way women are too often treated as hysterical, silly little girls playing at understanding their bodies. It makes me furious.

    This book is straight onto my ‘to read’ list!


  4. Ooh, will buy this (in 3 months’ time, after BB#3 is out, I just can’t look at the moment). The clearest memory I have of my last labour was swinging ’round a roundabout in an ambulance, all but skidding off the bench, hanging on with one arm like an orangutan who’d swallowed a pumpkin. My other hand, naturally, clutched my mobile phone. (Cultural query time?)
    But on the flip side, my first time hospital birth did save my life…


  5. It’s been a while since I read a homebirth related story. Kind of funny in a way, given I edited a homebirth magazine in Brisbane for three years while my son was small.

    I remain adament that birthing should be the highest priority issue for the women’s movement -because after birth, women are at their most vulnerable and can’t fight to change or argue a bad birth experience. They are just left to pick up the pieces as best they can, having being underminded, stripped of their power and dignity… and in worst case scenarios feeling raped by the system.

    The fact that all women deserve to feel safe -as they feel and conceptualise it, should be the first concern of all,and ensuring that she have access to a birthing space which meets her needs -not the needs of the system, the hospital, the doctor, or midwife.

    I was fortunate enough to have a homebirth here in Brisbane seven and a half years ago. We had to pay out of pocket for our midwife – homemidwifery remains a marginalised choice here and has undergone catastrophic changes in the last ten years. I wasn’t having any one else professing to be the expert of my body. Even as a first time birthing Mum, I knew my body, I knew my rights and I knew no one was going to take any of that away from me.

    I wish the world could have been a fly on the wall to see my son come into the world with grace and power, in a candlight lounge room,among people who already loved and were eager to meet him (our midwife, doula and photographer). To see that it was safe for me.

    Nadine Edwards wrote a book called “Birth Autonomy” which although I haven’t read, I have interviewed here when she was in Australia and read parts of her PhD thesis which the book is based on. I think those two words are the most powerful combination.Birth. Autonomy.

    Happy Birthing Day Rachel. May the forces of common sense and sovereignty remain with you and your daughter for all your days to come.



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