Please welcome guest blogger Roanna Rosewood! I met her at the Human Rights in Childbirth Conference in the Netherlands. She spoke eloquently about her own experiences giving birth and about who has the right to speak for the baby. Below are her remarks from her presentation and letter to the conference.
If you like Roanna's writing, keep an eye out for her upcoming book Cut, Stapled, and Mended: A Do-It-Yourself Birth. Forthcoming spring 2013.
I’ve been preparing for to the responsibility speak for my unborn
baby since long before anyone else considered it. While my brother
play-battled with swords, I sat next to my mother as she nursed, and I
nursed my own “baby doll” imagining the day when the baby that I held in
my arms would pulse sweet milk dreams and curl his toes around the
touch of my fingertips as I rocked him.
Twenty some-odd years later, my belly as round as the moon, I could
barely contain my excitement. “I love you.” I told him. I repeated it
again and again, not out of doubt, but because I knew – even then, that I
would fail him. I would make mistakes. “I love you” was the one thing
that I could offer unconditionally. No matter what hardships he would
face, he would never doubt my love.
Believing it was best, I willingly
surrendered our bodies to the hospital. I was wrong. They coerced me
into what I would later learn was an unnecessary cesarean.
I remember watching as they lifted him up over the operating curtain.
I caught a glimpse of his black hair. I waited for them to hand him to
me. They didn’t. They carried him away. He wailed loud, uncontrollable
screams, one on top of the other. I wondered how he could breathe.
Every instinct in my body demanded that I get up and go to him, that I
sooth him with the same simple words he had heard me repeat since his
perfect ears had formed inside of me. I couldn’t. I was tied down. My
womb was sitting outside of my body. There was vomit dripping down my
There was no reason for them to take him from me. My son was healthy.
His distress was emotional, not physical. The doctors were so bloated
with power that their routine more important than his well-being. While
he screamed, they took his footprints, cleaned him, and measured him.
Why must a baby be measured at birth?
How much can he grow in an hour?
To them, the cesarean was routine. To us, it was everything. It cost
fifteen-thousand dollars. I was forced to leave my newborn with others
and returned to work early to make payments. Nightmares of being tied
down and cut open that haunted my nights. Where I used to rub and
caress my belly with love, it is now cold and numb to the touch. Though
it’s been twelve years, my eyes tear at the memory of failing my son.
The sound of him screaming his first and simplest request of the world
will forever echo through my body. I’ve tried to make it up to him. A
million times I’ve told him that I love him. But there is no way to heal
my son’s introduction to the world – his first breath, his first sight,
and his first touch were filled with fear, pain, and disregard.
Pregnant again, the doctor I chose would have allowed a trial of
labor but administration refused it. The decision was made by people who
would never look into my eyes or see my baby’s entry to the world.
Their business choices overruled both her medical expertise and my
constitutional right to bodily integrity.
Why have others been given the power to deny me a basic bodily
function? We are each of us, here right now, because a woman opened and
bled for us so that we might live. The people and institutions managing
birth have nothing to do with impregnating us. Our babies are a gift
from something bigger, stronger, and more important than they are. The
way that we choose to give birth is between us and the powers that
entrusted us with this child.
I have deep respect and appreciation for birth professionals and the
important work that they do in the world. But I would like to, not so
humbly, remind everyone that women and babies are not products. We are
consumers. Birth providers work for us. Their expertise in birth is no
more important than our expertise in our bodies. Nobody can guarantee
good outcomes. Medical errors continue to be a leading cause of death
here and in other developed countries.
In spite of everyone’s best intentions, some mothers and babies will
die surrounding childbirth. If there is a mistake to be made, let it be
made by the one who has already proven her commitment to this child by
willingly putting her very life on the line in choosing to give birth to
him, let it be the one who will live with the resulting disability or
death for the rest of her life. Let it be the one who will grieve and
pray. Let it be the mother.
I was created to give life and speak for the interests of my baby. I
cannot separate from it. It is who I am. It’s in the breadth of my hips
that widened on their own volition to cradle them. It’s in the curve of
my breasts, heavy with milk to sooth them. Every month, my womb aches in
preparation to receive life because, as a woman, it is my
responsibility, my honor, and my choice to bring new life into the
world. I alone have earned the right to speak for my baby’s interests.