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Time of the Elders

I believe that ‘Narrative’ can and always has been instrumental in providing us with the opportunity to share information and explore new ways of thinking, which in turn changes the way we live our lives. In David Suzuki's 'Letters To My Grandchildren' (2009), I was struck by the significance of these words: "It's important to remember the world as it was in the time of the childhood of elders so that we have reference points against which to compare today's world... the phenomenon that over time, in the absence of input from elders, people forget what once was and readily accept the current or recent state of the world as if it's the way it always was."

It was then that I realised that I had to share some of the early stories of birthing at the HBA 2019 Conference 'Women of the Earth, take back your birth'.

The late 60s, early 70s saw an influx of natural birth in the home, when 'women of the earth took back their birth' reclaiming their birth rights after years of Obstetrical-led practices. Left unsupported by their loved ones, they laboured and gave birth to their children. An induced Twilight sleep was routine, whereby women were left unconscious or semi-conscious and placed in lithotomy, secured by straps into stirrups, their arms sometimes also strapped down with their bodies cut open wide through routine use of episiotomies, while their babies were pulled from their bodies using outlet forceps. Babies were sometimes severely compromised, arriving earthside with no desire to breath and very little muscle tone as they too, were under the influence of the scopolamine. These same babies were deeply suctioned, stimulated through physical means and sometimes roughly handled, and then removed to nurseries, bathed and tightly wrapped, awaiting their first feed, that of formula. Hours would go by, while their mothers were attended to in another part of the hospital, slowly regaining consciousness, forgetting what had transpired during their child’s birth but left with tale-tale wounds and body-trauma that hinted of abuse and violence. Feeding regimes that included artificial feeding on a 4 hourly schedule were the nature of the day, babies being wheeled in as a group, by trollies and distributed to their mothers. Many did not see their baby undressed until days later, some until they were called into the nursery to bath and dress their infant. Fathers were given permission to see their baby through a glass window outside the nursery; siblings had to wait until mummy came home, a week later. Women had had enough and yearned for another way...

With societal changes and the support of significant birth professionals, the budding community of women began to educate themselves about natural childbirth, ‘psychoprofilactic’ skills to support a natural birth and the art of breastfeeding. They armed themselves, literally girded their loins and chose to go beyond the boundaries of hospital based maternity services discovering for themselves, better options for birthing their babies. They formed support groups; opened up birth education and parenting education centres and attracted women who were like-minded. They took the personal and made it political, writing letters to politicians and men in power. Hence the beginning of a movement that saw women being informed, empowered – and reclaiming their birthrights. The spark that fueled their passion created a fire that reached even the most remote corners of Australia and it is because of them that we, a national homebirth body, are here today.

I am an avid storyteller and love to listen to the stories of women - and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to hear and share story with some of the women who supported natural pregnancy, birth and early parenting practices in the Melbourne area so many years ago. They are the pioneers of empowered birth in the home, gaining support from a few medical practitioners and politicians. Indeed, it was this earlier time when 'women of the earth began to take back their birth' that has influenced our position now, in birthing. It was 'that time' we look to as we navigate our way through the recent over-medicalised birthing practices that hold reign over our maternity services.

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