Then in Ramadhan last year, two events happened to me that brought this feeling to a screeching halt. I won't go into the details here, but at one of the births, I arrived after baby was born and mom was lying in a pool of her own blood barely moving. I told the father to call the ambulance and luckily the ambulance came in time, and mom received a transfusion. In another birth, mom's placenta wouldn't expel, and the mother almost lost her uterus. Prior to this, I had witnessed about 15 -20 labour & births - most of them unassisted at home. All of them turned out well. I had heard of a few cases of babies who died in unassisted births in the Klang Valley prior to this. I was, needless to say, affected by these stories, but not nearly as deeply affected as I was by these two incidents that happened in front of my eyes. These two incidents made me think long and hard about what I was doing.
Of course it was awe-inspiring to witness mothers & fathers transform into empowered parents & babies being welcomed gently into the world, surrounded by love; but at the same time, I had to ask myself what I would do if a tragedy occurred while I was there. Would I be able to live with myself if that mother died, or if the other mother lost her uterus? ...And the answer would be an unequivocal no.
Usually after the baby is born, without fail, the mother or father would turn to me and say "Thank you!" - the two words I was never comfortable hearing at a birth - knowing full well I didn't deserve an ounce of credit. I would smile back and say "Oh but I didn't do anything". The more I reflected on this, the more I realized that no matter how prepared the mother & father are for an unassisted birth, my being at the birth would inadvertently create a sense of dependence on me, no matter how small... not so much when things went right, but definitely when things go awry. I have heard the phrase "we would just feel more comfortable if someone experienced is around" said to me all too often.
I realized that if I were to continue to attend these births, I would be providing a false sense of security to the parents - which would be unfair for both the parents AND myself. Personally, I LOVE homebirth, and I would probably birth at home if ever I have another baby, BUT as a Childbirth Educator, I'm concerned about how my words can influence families' birth decisions. My role is merely to provide information and help families make informed decisions. Ultimately it is the families who must empower themselves by owning and taking responsibility for their own decisions. Regardless of whether UCs are safe or not (countless deaths happen in hospitals too), I decided I could not continue to act in a capacity that is beyond my scope, by attending unassisted births.
I NEVER deserved the credit for when things go amazingly well, and similarly I could not bear the responsibility for when things go wrong. "You know, there is a reason it is called UNassisted birth", said a colleague to me... and for the first time, I understood what it meant.
Immediately after those two incidents, I related the stories of those mothers to my colleagues in the birth community and in not so many words pre-empted them. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, they were unfazed. Ironically, a couple of months later, a mother in the Klang Valley died while having an unassisted birth, and the month following that, another mother died.
The Gentle Birthing Group came under alot of flak by the medical community, although none of the admins were part of either of those two births/ deaths. We issued a statement saying we do not advocate UC, but still we were blamed. The truth is GBG had never been a UC group. And UC stories had been circulating in Malaysia long before GBG came into existence. The GBG has always respected & supported women's choice of where and with whom to birth, and it has focused its efforts on increasing awareness and improving birth options in Malaysia. But because it is the only public platform on facebook promoting gentle birth, it was singled out as being responsible for spreading dangerous ideas.
It is an unfortunate situation that here in Malaysia there is a sore lack of natural birthing options. I completely understand the very difficult position of birthing families here in Malaysia. I myself was in that position before and remember feeling completely disempowered with the lack of options available. It should NEVER be the case that birthing families are forced to chose between two very black or white options (medicalized, mechanized birth in a hospital OR unassisted birth), simply because there is a lack of proper care and options. I dream of a day when families in Malaysia will have the option to birth at a birthing centre with midwives and have midwife-assisted or doctor-assisted homebirths ; and this I believe is the direction to focus on, moving forward.
Since I made the decision to stop attending unassisted births, I've attended a few hospital births and they've truly been eye-opening. I believe mothers who birth at the hospitals need Doulas/ birthing companions more so than the mothers who birth at home! There is so much more going on in the hospital that can interrupt the natural flow of labour & birth. And the Doula has a crucial role to play in protecting the mother's space and supporting the Dad while both of them work to welcome their baby gently into the world.
I also intend to concentrate on improving birth in hospitals/ birth centres. There are still millions of mothers who birth in government hospitals and THIS is truly where change needs to happen. I pray that Allah puts barakah in my work and guides me to the right path.
To all the families whose births I attended in the past, thank you for including me in such a significant, intimate time of your lives.. truly the power was ALL YOURS (with the permission of the Almighty) and I will cherish those memories forever! No matter where or with whom you birth - the difference is IN YOU!
Ultimately it is the family's right to decide where & with whom to birth, and this I will always respect.