On Monday, I watched Kay Gillard’s latest ‘Power Talk’ on the subject of power versus control. So often in birth circles, we hear women talking about how they want to remain in control. The debates around birth plans (good idea or not?) seem to revolve around this issue as well – we cannot plan birth because we cannot control birth.
Listening to Kay talk, I realised in all this talk of control and whether or not to write a birth plan, we’ve been focusing on the wrong issue. Successful birth plans are not about controlling your birth, or being in control. Birth plans, at their best, are about setting an intention and creating a space in which women can be powerful in birth, wherever and however that birth takes place. And if you think I’m only talking about undisturbed physiological birth here, I’d like to refer you to blogger Spirited Mama’s recent birth story.
I remember clearly Liliana Lammers, my first doula teacher, saying about birth plans ‘ask for what you need to give birth, not for what you want or don’t want’. She talked about birth plans for physiological birth that included points such as ‘no talking’, ‘dim lights’ – these requests do not control birth but they help to create an environment in which a woman can birth in her power.
That’s not to say that there aren’t an awful lot of people out there trying to control birth because there are – women, men, doctors, midwives, nurses, and, yes, doulas, each in their own way. Control does not make birth safer. It gives an illusion of safety. The truth is that when care providers use their skills with only love and respect for mother and baby, as well as for the birth process, there is no need for control over the mother or the process.
Control is what most of us grasp at when faced with fear. And a lot of us are carrying a lot of fear around birth. Some fear is justified, after all, birth is big! It is raw power, initiation, uncertainty. It is the edge of life and death. Fear is a normal response to the unknown and if you go into birth without even a moment of ‘wow! what have I got myself into?!’ my guess is that you are in denial.
Many of us are in denial. Attempts to control, whether our own or our care providers, lend the illusion of safety. But it’s not truth, and it’s not working. Birth is not safe any more than life is safe (that beloved phrase of birth activists ‘Birth is as safe as life gets’). Trying to control birth and birthing women doesn’t make it safer. Instead, it leads to distortion or warping of that raw birth-power and of the birth process. Women and babies suffer as a result in so many ways.
So what is the alternative to control? For me, it is to recenter ourselves in love and power. Acknowledge fear and do the necessary work ahead of time on the fears that arise. Create plans for birth that focus on setting intention for and holding as securely as possible a space in which the mother remains powerful. Have any and all actions (and interventions) in the birthing space begin in true love and respect for the mother and baby.
Control versus power…to me it has opened a new way of thinking about birth plans. I’d love to hear your thoughts, please do share them in the comments.
If you are work with pregnant women or expectant couples as a doula, midwife, antenatal teacher or in some other capacity, I invite you to check out the next Childbirth International(TM) study day ‘Antenatal Focus: Fear’.