Birth as a Human Rights Issue
According to Amnesty International, the likelihood of a woman’s dying in childbirth in the United States is ﬁve times greater than in Greece, four times greater than in Germany, and three times greater than in Spain. After gathering their data from many sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AI concluded that approximately half of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are preventable. In an article published in Time magazine, AI’s stated that, “Women die in childbirth as a result of systemic failures including: barriers to accessing care, inadequate, neglectfull, or discriminatory care, and overuse of risky interventions like inducing labor and delivering via cesarean section.”
Maureen Corry, executive director of Childbirth Connection, proposes that “We need to make sure that we reduce the overuse of interventions that are not always necessary, like C-sections, and increase access to the care that we know is good for mothers and babies, like labor support.” Recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a landmark resolution acknowledging maternal mortality and morbidity as a human rights issue. As more and more human rights organizations gather statistics to properly fight this terrible breech of a woman’s basic human right to life, we as birth professionals in the tranches need to inform and encourage women to identify, own and fight for their rights as individuals.
When thinking about basic human rights, one might consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Decembe10 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. The assembly came out with thirty different articles. Beginning with the first stating, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights …” to the very last Article 30 which says, “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” Another common statement about the sovereign rights of all men can be found in the United States Declaration of Independence with its coin phrase, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In order to be granted basic human rights a pregnant woman must be considered and treated as a human being. However, today women are still described by the medical industry as a patient who needs fixing, managing and caretaking. Even the unborn child is often referred to as a mere passenger in the mother/vehicle. Both protagonists of the life-creating miracle are dismissed and treated like ignorant cogs caught in the wheel of the medical industrialization of birth. It is common knowledge that, if the people we fight for do not fully believe in their own rights, we cannot make a difference. Jan Tritten of MidwiferyToday.com declares, “We must stand for the rights of mothers to be treated with reverence and respect during the birth process, including pregnancy and beyond.” But, how can a woman stand up for her rights if she doesn’t know what they are, or most importantly, if deep inside she does not feel like she deserves them?
Aside from the right to life, some more personal, subtle rights are constantly challenged by our social, familial, cultural, and even religious environment. These are the right to speak and hear the truth, the right to love and be loved, the right to take action, and the right to know, to name a few. For example, if we were taught as children to never questions authority, we might not believe we can stand for our rights if they go against the medical norm. If these rights are denied in our childhood we might become incapable to stand up for ourselves or even believe we deserve to have any rights at all. Some of these rights have been violated as early as during our time in the womb.
The study of perinatal and prenatal psychology, has taught us that the embryo begins learning and accumulating memory from the very beginning of its life in-utero. Mother’s personal choices and actions have significant impact upon the forming of the future, the coping mechanisms, the ability to grow and learn, and the relationship with all that surrounds the unborn baby. We know that what we learn as children bears a strong influence on our actions as adults. Research scientist Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., explains in his lectures, how a child learns behavioral patterns: “A child’s can download at a super high rate of speed. From the moment the child is born through about the first six years of life, she is in a super-learning state. Children learn and assimilate from how we treat them and how we respond to each other.” This means that from conception to about six years old children learn and establish patterns of behavior from observing their parents, teachers, or the media, and as a survival response to their environment. In other words, we learn to behave a certain way to please and receive the love and approval we so desperately seek. These behaviors often do not mature in adulthood and we find ourselves reacting to life’s challenges with the same coping mechanisms we used as children. Anytime is a great time to learn about one’s patterns and reinvent oneself, yet the nine months of pregnancy is the ideal time to birth a new self as we are bringing a new life into this world. Helping mothers identify these patterns and letting go of unwanted beliefs will help her obtain the birthing experience she deserve and desires and help future generations.
While writing my book, Painless Childbirth, I began seeing a close relationship between the nine months of pregnancy, fetal development in the womb and what I call the Nine Basic Human Rights. The inspiration for the Nine Basic Human Rights of a pregnant woman and her unborn child came from studying the chakras or energy center. Many Eastern and now quite a few Western healers, believe that there is a close correlation between the chakras and the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of a person. Chakras are centers of activity that receive, assimilate, and express life force energy. The activities in these energy centers influence our body shape, glandular processes, chronic physical ailments, thoughts, and behavior. When one (or more) chakras is blocked and the energy does not flow harmoniously imbalance is manifested in all areas of life. According to medical intuitive and author, Caroline Myss, who described chakras in her work Anatomy of the Spirit (1996), “Every thought and experience you’ve ever had in your life gets filtered through these chakra databases. Each event is recorded into your cells …” in effect your biography becomes your biology. If you think the chakras is too esoteric a concept, remember that due to the similarities between the Chinese and Indian philosophies, the notion of chakras was quickly amalgamated to Chinese practices such as acupuncture which is more and more recognized as a valid healing modality. If you have gone to a yoga class, you also have probably been introduced to the concept of the chakras. Regardless of your belief in those energy centers, the Nine Basic Human Rights are very real.
In my work as a doula and a hypnotherapist I began to notice a relationship between these nine basic human rights, the labor process and birth outcome. For example: I once worked with a woman who was herself born onto a family who outspokenly wanted a boy rather than a girl. She revealed this while we were on a walk at the very early onset of labor. Once at the hospital, she feared for her daughter-to-be feeding off the ancient feeling of not belonging. This prevent her from relaxing and birthing her baby drug-free, and, even worse made her incapable to stand up to her provider who forcibly suggested an elective intervention. The basic human right that had been violated, when she was a child, had been her right to be here in this world and to have what she deserved. In another instance, a woman came to me and acknowledged that she grew up in an environment where she was not allowed to express her feelings or speak up for herself. During her pregnancy, she found herself incapable of changing provider even if she would end up feeling terrible following each prenatal visit. Only after we worked on her right to her feelings, and the right to take action, she was able to change provider and obtain the birthing experience she had been dreaming of. I witnessed a woman who had been emotionally abused, and never really felt loved as a baby. She recalled during one of our hypnosis sessions, how her mother had been very angry while pregnant with her and how she never felt loved or cherished as a child. In her labor, she was stuck at six-centimeter dilation unable to progress further for fear of becoming the unlovable mother she was raised by. Her unsolved right born in her forth chakra the right to love and be loved.
As birth advocates we need to encourage mothers to own their own basic human rights so that they can feed off a new sense of entitlement when it comes to birthing their babies. Using the Nine Basic Human Rights as a starting point, we can heal ourselves and teach our children the tools for self-confidence, serenity, and self-healing. When we become conscious of our relationship with each basic human right, and we are willing to do the emotional and spiritual work to heal or harness this relationship, we can obtain deep healing of body and mind as we teach our unborn children the tools for self-confidence, serenity, and self-healing. I propose that each woman work on healing those rights that have been denied her by family, cultural, or societal standards, and harness those rights she feels strong about, to prepare for the miraculous that is the birthing of her baby. This is not a new birthing technique, but a call for a shift in consciousness from “Pregnancy and labor are happening to me,” to “My baby and I are working together towards the same joyful goal: the making of and arrival of new life into this world.”