Giving birth: Let's change the narrative
By Stella Saliari
This photo was taken by Kimberly Hammond and before you continue reading spend a few minutes looking at it: What do you see? What does this image evoke in you? How does it make you feel? How often do you see such images?
In the picture you see a woman birthing her child with the support of at least three other people; they are collaborating. One of the persons, maybe her partner, is receiving the baby together with her. It is a homebirth, there is a birthing ball and a lot of closeness among the persons. Birth is portrayed as a non-medicalized event and reinforces images of community, support and ownership. The mother and her baby are in the foreground. The mother is not alone but being cared for. I saw this photo for the first time on the Instagram account of a doula I follow; underneath the photo it says every time a mother gives birth with her instincts, a little piece of us is healed. Strong like a mother. The hashtags include #birthisbeautiful. How many times do we actually hear birth is beautiful?
Birth in media is often presented as a medical event, with women screaming and swearing at their partners, pushing out babies while being surrounded by doctors and nurses who function as coaches and legs in stirrups. Everything is a drama. As a result birth is associated with pain, horrific hours of labour and anxiety.
Against this background we can say that the image I chose is portrayed from a marginalized perspective and that its overall objective is to break long-existing stereotypes around birth.
The doulas and midwives I follow on Instagram have witnessed women giving birth for years and in all kinds of different settings; they advocate for pregnant/birthing BIPOCs, trans and non-binary people and support ‘’birth sovereignty’’ which allows us to have authority over our own body. They show birth as it is, by posting pictures of images that we do not find in mainstream media, i.e. persons giving birth, birth blood, vaginas, breastfeeding mamas, nakedness, breastmilk etc. These women allow birth and everything around it to be seen; they make it visible and normalize such images because why would we want to hide giving life?
Through their work they want to remind us of the power we carry inside of us. They want to change the narrative around birth and show a different reality that does not correspond to a universal notion of birth but is situated. They want to empower people who birth beyond measure. They want us to choose where we birth, who will be present, who can touch us; they want to educate us so that we can be informed when the moment comes and birth our babies with confidence. Through all of this they hope to provide healing, protection and change. Their project is partisan, political, ethical, with a huge social justice component, in other words: feminist.
And where am I in all this: I am a woman who has been pregnant four times, who has birthed three children and whose last birth was so powerful, beautiful and life-changing because of women like them. As Barbara Katz Rothman says: “Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers: strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.”