Welcome to Birthyourway's Blog. This space is intended to serve as an interactive site for Doula related stuff based in Ottawa and around the globe. The archive links on the right hand margin will help you identify topics of interest to you. Your pictures of real pregnant bodies- stretch marks and all- would be most appreciated as contributions. Share your birth stories, concerns and comments by submitting to

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Politics of birth-today's rendition

As the 2nd wave feminist slogan goes "the personal is political". Yes yes. I get that. It just happened to smack me in the face today that’s all. I have an important announcement to make and though I consider this blog to be my professional blog and try to reserve my rants for other venues, this one is important to us all. I contacted one of the hospitals in town today to ask them a question regarding their policy regarding doulas. My question was as follows: "What is your policy regarding the number of people who can attend a birth including a doula?" The answer was two. So for a woman who desperately wants her mother, her partner and a doula attending and supporting her in labour, she must pick just two. I questioned her very carefully and politely about how doulas are not part of the family but are there as a health professional. Her answer? "Well the Doctors don't like it. It's too many guests." I politely said "Oh, okay thank you" and hung up.

Now, I understand that I don't work for the hospital so policy wise, I might be considered a guest. What I am concerned with is the nonchalant "the doctors don't like it". Let me just remind my reader that doctors normally are in the delivery room only after the mother has started pushing and the head is soon to be crowning. Doctors typically are in a birth for a relatively short period of time, sometimes only 20 minutes. An average first time birth is 16 hours. 20 minutes...16hours....
A labouring woman will not always have a nurse in the room with her. Nurses sometimes are fabulous and will massage you, breath with you but usually if this happens it’s only for a brief moment.

Whatever the situation, for a nurse to say, "Well the Doctors don't like it. It's too many guests" is a clear indication that birth in a hospital setting is not about the mother. Maternity wards are not mother centered health units. The important factor is what the doctors like, even when they are not there to enjoy it.

Birth is an immensely powerful life transition. You become a mother. There are incredible amounts of hormonal, emotional, and spiritual factors in every birth. It's intensely beautiful, miraculous, challenging and personal. Birth has the power to shape whom you psychologically experience yourself as. If you have a powerful birth experience, you can take that and negotiate whatever life throws your way with equal strength, courage and esteem.

When birth becomes someone else’s (dr.) experience, and when it's up to what the doctors like, you run the risk of being passive in your most personal, intimate moments.

This is not about how many people can be in your labour and delivery room. No, this is about who gives birth. Is it you, or the Dr.? I ask this question to all birthing women as a collective identity- however problematic that may be- because this is a gender based, systematic problem.


  • At 9:00 a.m., Blogger Dark Daughta said…

    Sometimes I feel as if the best solution in a power-based environment is not to ask at all. I attended a birth of one of my partner's cousins where I think there were four of us including her adoptive mother in the room. At 35 I was the youngest woman there. It hadn't occured to any of the elder wimmin that they would have to ask permission. They just entered. There were no complaints. :)

  • At 10:42 a.m., Blogger Birthyourway said…

    To ask or not to ask. In my situation, I consider it responsible to know the policies of the hospitals I attend births in. I am actually working with an expecting mother in this situation. When I commit to someone, I want to make sure I can keep that commitment. I provide information to my clients so they don't need to make tough decisions on the spot. Negotiating superfluous, what I call anything that unnecessarily causes struggles for the mother, is not something I want to add to the birth environment. The permission factor is likely going to be an upcoming post I think!

  • At 11:50 a.m., Blogger Birthyourway said…

    Well, I'm actually on my way to that birth now...keep you posted.

  • At 9:05 p.m., Blogger Birthyourway said…

    Just came back from this birth, baby and mom are well. In the end, I am happy to report, all three people did get to support mom in the delivery room. But, it wasn't withough a little pressure from the mother.

  • At 9:54 p.m., Blogger Dark Daughta said…

    I think for me it's about power dynamics. When I enter into hospital space, I'm interested in maintaining my autonomy and destabilizing the power of their rules an regs. In this sort of mindspace I have found it has been possible to successfully challenge many of the rules I've encountered, including stuff hospital staff frame as unquestionable. I've taken my daughter in a few times for really high fevers that I couldn't explain. One thing I do for sure is edit the permission forms they ask me to sign which have to do with the transfer of information and with my consenting to them doing whatever treatments they see fit. I don't want to have to wait until after they've done whatever they want, as was the case with that mama who went into hospital to deliver her child and came out with a quadruple amputation. She still can't get the hospital to explain why they did what they did. They don't have to. She signed all the requisite papers and agreed to all their rules and regs without question before she ever came under the knife.

  • At 1:00 a.m., Blogger Birthyourway said…

    Yes, the power dynamics are very real in the hospital setting. The hospital is a workplace, an institution, a system. Autonomy, agency and self determination are challenged as part of the routine. This is why it is important to know how the system works and to be prepared to use it the way you need to. Or be aware of it's policies so that you can manipulate them. Anything that makes the staff change their sleeping life awareness, like changing the forms you sign and wearing your own clothes instead of their hospital gowns, makes a vital difference in the type of experience you will have. When a procedure is about to be performed againts a woman's will (an episiotomy for example)I always reming the Dr. that they are abusing their power and violating the woman's right to her body and that she is aware, willing and able to write a formal letter of complaint. For me, birth is a highly political space.

  • At 10:33 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Have you read "Ritual in the Hospital: Giving Birth the American Way" by Robbie Davis-Floyd?
    It's all about power-dinamics in hospital births.

    Just one more reason to stay the hell out of the hospitals and bring my babies out at home!

  • At 3:56 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey there...

    I know this is an older post but I thought I'd throw this in as well... I've been a doula in Ontario for 6+ years and had similar scenarios...different doc's saying different things etc.

    After SARS the Ontario government recognized doulas as professional supportive health care workers and are not allowed to be included in the number of "guests" while a woman is in labour or birthing. Postpartum is another thing altogether.

    Anyway, if you look around the govn't website you can find tidbits there I believe.

    :) Hope that might be helpful in the future



Post a Comment

<< Home