Documentary fights for women’s birthing rights
Friends of Muskoka Midwives support humanitarian film
Stephanie Hayes, left, Veronica Leonard and Marcia Kuehnen prepare to screen the documentary Freedom for Birth on Sept. 20 as part of the world premier of the film, which advocates for a woman’s right to choose how she gives birth.
HUNTSVILLE – Every woman should have the right to choose when it comes to how to birth her child, say the Friends of Muskoka Midwives.
And that statement rings true for them not only in response to the repressive Hungarian government portrayed in the documentary Freedom for Birth, but in Canada’s health-care system as well.
Veronica Leonard, co-chair of the Friends of Muskoka Midwives, spoke with the Huntsville Forester as the organization hosted the Muskoka premier screening of Freedom for Birth at the Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment on Sept. 20.
The film was premiered simultaneously in 1,000 locations around the world that evening.
“It was totally natural that Friends of Muskoka Midwives would want to be involved with this,” said Leonard.
She said Stephanie Hayes, an area doula who organized the Muskoka screening, brought the film to the organization’s attention. A doula gives emotional support, practical help and advice to women before, during and after childbirth.
The film is a 60-minute documentary made by British filmmakers that focuses on childbirth as the most pressing global human rights issue today. Freedom from Birth tells the story of Hungarian midwife Agnes Gereb, who has been jailed for supporting women who have chosen to give birth at home. A mother supported by Gereb took Hungary to the European Court of Human Rights following Gereb’s imprisonment and won a landmark case with global implications. The ruling on the case means women in Europe now have the legal right to decide where and how they give birth. And it set a precedent for women around the world.
Leonard suggested the imprisonment of the Hungarian midwife was based on repressive legislation.
“There are so many different countries around the world that have the backward legislation that are not really pro-women. It’s pro-establishment (and heralds) hospitals as the way to go. And that’s fine if that’s what you choose, but certainly I personally don’t feel women should be made to birth a certain way,” she said. “You should have a choice.”
It was natural for the Friends of Muskoka Midwives to participate in the global screening of the film, said Leonard, because the organization is about supporting choice.
“Many people think when they hear our name we’re all pro-home birth, pro-midwife, when in fact we’re pro-women choosing and understanding they have a choice in care giver,” she said. “Women have the right to become educated on all of the different choices they have, figure out what they are comfortable with and learn as much as they can about the culture of birth as it is today.”
Event organizer Hayes suggested the importance of choice is an issue applicable to Canada’s health-care system. While it may not be illegal to have the assistance of a midwife here, choice can still be at risk, she said. “One of the things I see as a doula working with birthing-women is that they are often restricted in other ways,” said Hayes. “Not necessarily in the choice as to where to give birth or who to give birth with – although that can be limited based on availability – but what about the woman who would like to squat to give birth or doesn’t want to be subjected to routine interventions that may be imposed on her?”
She said some women in the provincial health-care system may feel pressured by their health-care providers to go with birthing options without knowing what all the options are.
“Sometimes the cards are played in such a way that if they don’t make a certain choice there will be dangers to the baby, rather than giving all the options and all the pros and cons,” said Hayes.
She stated informed choice is often a mirage in many ways.
“Informed choice only exists if the woman is really willing to be informed, look for the information herself and stick up for her choices,” she said. “Otherwise, she may find herself manipulated in a different direction.”
Hayes noted the recommended maximum C-section rate as stated by the World Health Organization is 10 to 15 per cent of births, but in Canada the rate is about 30 per cent.
The increased rate of C-sections can be attributed to remote locations, rural settings or lack of attainable health-care specialists for complicated births, she said.
But Canada’s health-care system is far less repressive than others around the world, said the Friends of Muskoka Midwives. However, women have to take an active role in educating themselves about birth rights and options.
“We should feel lucky that we have options in Muskoka,” said Friends of Muskoka Midwives co-chair Marcia Kuehnen.