I mentioned last week that I had been privileged to attend the Positive Birth Movement's Be the Change event in London, at which I had met and heard some great speakers from the birth community. One lady I was desperate to hear was Rebecca Schiller, and I was lucky enough to have a chat with her and come away with a copy of her book for myself.
Rebecca is the chief executive of Birthrights, an organisation based in the UK that promotes respect for human rights in maternity care. I suppose many readers know that I was a keen student of human rights before I became a mother at home, with a particular interest in the rights of vulnerable groups, so this book is everything I want to read! The book is split into two main parts. The first half of the book explores the human rights issues surrounding childbirth, including what the relevant rights are. The issues are explored with reference to specific cases of human rights abuses. This is harrowing, but I feel that there is such a strange haze around the human rights of pregnant and birthing women that without these real life examples of abuses that have actually happened readers would struggle to work through the subject matter of the book in their own minds. Rebecca goes to great lengths to explain how pregnancy and childbirth have long been used as reasons to divorce a woman from her rights and humanity. A patriarchal medical environment has taught us to justify the violation of women's rights in all sorts of terms, but a woman does not give up her rights to privacy or autonomy or health just because she is pregnant or giving birth. Since these reproductive rights are fundamental to the lives of well over half of women around the world. their continual violation constitutes a major human rights issue, and compounds the marginalisation and inequality of women. Rebecca points out that by improving the standing of a woman's human rights during childbirth in developed countries we can support the protection of those rights throughout the world.
One thing I do feel Rebecca skirted around, however, is the matter of US influence in the healthcare systems of some of the poorest parts of the world. It is known that the US system of maternity care is in crisis. Their rates of maternal deaths are rising not falling, and their rates for cesarean birth are well over WHO recommended levels. For decades the USA has constituted a substantial power in the United Nations and programs of international aid and finance. During this time it has made a prerequisite of aid and development parcels a healthcare and pharmaceuticals system that reflects its own system of private insurance and healthcare paid for at the point of access, unlike the majority of European healthcare systems that are free at the point of access (which is very different from free). The case quoted of the mother who could not afford drugs to end a postpartum haemorrhage that would have ended her life (p67), and those women detained after birth until their care could be paid for (p72), are the clear victims of these policies.
The second half of the book forms a handy guide to human rights, providing specific guidance applicable to women in the UK. This is followed by suggestions for further reading on the subject, and details of other relevant organisations, including those involved in promoting human rights for pregnant and birthing women around the world. This can provide us with practical tools for defending our own human rights in childbirth, those of women birthing in our society, and the rights of women around the world. I highly recommend that everyone involved in maternity care read this book, and especially those going through it. Not to scare them, but to empower them! If you want to read more by Rebecca on the subject this short ebook is also available.
This book is another title from the "Why it Matters" series of concise works on pregnancy, birth and parenting. I am a big fan of this series, and wish all prospective parents could have access to it. All children's centres should have them in their lending libraries!