I have a few catchphrases during antenatal classes- Positive doesn’t mean perfect -is one you’ll hear often! A positive birth doesn’t have to mean a drug free, vaginal delivery.
The defining feature of a positive birth? It is how we FEEL, how we were supported, listened to, how respected we felt during our birth journey.
One of the most asked questions during antenatal classes is “Am I allowed to... *insert preference here...*?”
So, let's clear things up!
The only thing you ‘have’ to do when you give birth is declare the birth to the relevant authorities.
Medical recommendations are exactly that, recommendations. You may be offered guidance depending on the situation that you are in, however everything remains your choice.
Pregnancy can be a challenging time for many pregnant people. It's not just the physical changes that cause anxiety, but all these decisions and choices you have to make along the way. These decisions may feel overwhelming at first, but it boils down to: it's your body and your baby. You get to say what feels right for you, you don’t need to justify your answer, “NO” is a full sentence!
How do you confidently advocate for yourself during pregnancy and birth?
The best thing you can do is educate yourself on the options available in advance so that you can make an informed decision about what's right for both of you. Knowledge truly is power! It may mean you study lots of interventions or possible birth scenarios that won’t be relevant for you in the end, but you’ll have that knowledge there, just in case. Read on to find out where to start!
TOP TIP *Follow Emma Ashworth Birth rights & Dr Sara Whickham on Instagram! *
What are your pregnancy / birth rights?
In short you have the right to accept or decline any / all forms of antenatal care, treatment or intervention.
You should not be pressured or coerced into accepting any form of care, coercive consent is not consent.
You have the right to record appointments, as it is your own data, for you own review or to share with anyone you wish to.
As a pregnant person, you have the right to birth how and where you want to by law. This means that if your hospital or birthing centre has a policy not allowing particular women to labour in water, it's illegal for them to refuse your request because of that policy. This may require conversations with the Ward Sister or Head of midwifery to ensure the care you wish to receive is noted and ‘agreed’ ahead of your birthing day.
What are your birth options?
As you begin to plan for your birth, you’ll want to know your options. This can help ensure that you are getting the care and treatment that works best for both of you, make a birth preferences list.
If someone tells you a birth ‘plan’ is not worth it, they have misunderstood the point!
Researching forms of pain management, positions, interventions such as induction, oxytocin drips, forceps/ventouse, coached pushing, hands on/off delivery and many other choices which may arise, gathering statistical data and general information will allow you to know in advance what the pro’s and con’s of each procedure are and enable you to make informed choices on the day, should they come up.
I always suggest having multiple plans, plan A being your ideal birth, plan B being how you would like a c-section managed to feel involved and positive about the experience should there be an unexpected need to move to a surgical birth. You might choose to have plan C, D & E too! Whatever means you feel as though you have researched all your choices and are confident in managing your birth in whatever way suits you, as an individual, best.
Remember that it's okay to change your mind before labour has started or during labour if things don't go as planned. You have the right to birth how you want to and to change your mind at any point during your labour/birth.
Remember to ask questions ahead of any treatment or plan, your care provider will make it clear if the situation is urgent and what they wish to do.
Here are some questions that can help guide the process:
What are the benefits of each option available?
What are the Risks of each option available?
What are the alternatives?
What do your instincts tell you?
What feels right for you and your baby? Listen to your body.
What if we do nothing? (for a day, an hour, 5 more contractions? So on and so forth, situation dependant).
What does the science say? (The actual statistical, research backed figures) This one is very important! Best practice, or hospital guidelines, are not necessarily aligned with best interest of the birthing person or their baby.
Generic phrasing such as ‘the risk doubles’, can be misleading, if that risk started at 20% or 0.05% is relevant and may well change how you respond to that risk, figures matter.
Wording is also important, change the word risk (which is instantly adrenaline fuelling, and a rather reactive word) to ‘chance’ and you may find it easier to process the information with a clearer mind. It's important that you are given fair, unbiased information, not just the figures that support the reasons for the suggested practice, but both sides of the coin.
So, remember, when making decisions use your
Prepare for a supported birth
Have a good birth team, and professionals who will listen to you and respect your wishes, consider a Doula if your budget allows, to support you on the day.
You have the right to decline consultant led care entirely or request transfer to a different consultant if you feel their approach is heavy handed and/or pressuring. The same goes for the midwife allocated to you on your birthing day, should you wish to, you can request an alternative supporter.
Your right to have a respectful birth experience means that if there are people/patients/staff present during your labour and/or birth who make you feel uncomfortable or unhappy, then they should be removed from the room immediately. If someone is being rude or disrespectful towards you in any way during this time, tell them calmly (but firmly) to leave.
I recommend adding any of Dr Sara Wickham's books to your Christmas list, following Emma Ashworth birth rights on Instagram and checking out www.birthrights.com. Remember knowledge is power!
I hope that this post has helped you understand your rights as a birthing person. You can advocate for yourself before and during labour, and I want to help you do just that! If you want to learn more about birth advocacy, and all those things you may want to include in your birth preferences list, book your space on one of my St Neots, Cambridgeshire antenatal courses or book in a private Zoom course now.
As always, with love N x