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"Crowd Birthing" or who you should (and shouldn't) invite to your birth.

You can google it for lots of details but essentially "crowd birthing" is when people invite many people to their births and/or broadcast their births over social media. There has been a lot of public discussion, as well as a fair amount of judgement and opinions, about who women should choose to invite to their births. As a midwife, I frequently have conversations with clients about who they want at their births. We talk about hopes, wishes, support, obligation, excitement, fears, family dynamics, power, control. These discussions - both within my midwifery practice and in the news - bring to light so many of the ways in which women's births and bodies are still thought of as the property of others and how narrow, egocentric, and ethnocentric our views of the 'right' way to birth can be. Women are constantly told how they should birth and who they ought to have present.

For some time when I first dove into midwifery I held and spoke some very strong opinions about the ideal birth team. I would counsel clients as to whether their mother or mother-in-law or partner or friend or sister or child or whoever should be present when their baby arrives. I would repeat that message I had been told by older midwives, that each extra person in the labor room adds an hour to the labor. I would express concern for their safety if they chose to have a violent partner present. I would tell stories of unsupportive in-laws who called the paramedics out of unneeded fear. I would tell clients that if they didn't heed my advice, their labors might be longer or harder. Let's be honest, I would try to coerce people into choosing who I thought should be their support.

Midwives tell ourselves that offering this advice is part of what it means to be a midwife. I think most midwives feel the same, do the same. Really, we have no right. Slowly, over years of seeing a diverse group of birthing folks, of listening more and talking less I have realised how selfish that way of midwifing was. We forget, in these moments of imparting egotistic midwife wisdom, that no one but the birthing woman knows who needs to be in the room when she brings her baby earthside. Our moment in these women's lives is brief, it is a snapshot of the decades she will be on the earth. She knows far better the intricacies of her relationships in the world, of who provides her support, of what that support looks like and of what she needs on the day she births and in the years following. We are there for the pregnancy, the birth and as new parents put their toes into life with a baby. We are not there before and we are not there after; we cannot pretend to be experts in what makes that woman safest, most empowered, healthiest in the years to come.

So now I listen, I watch, I pay attention. I rarely offer advice and only when directly asked, and even then my advice is in the form of questions. Would having him there or not there feel safer to you? How would having her there affect your labor? Does that person give you the space to be naked and raw? How do you rely on that person after baby is born? How will uninviting her affect your ability to buy food or pay you rent? Will you be safer now and in the future if he is there or not there? What decision would be best for your life? I acknowledge that just as the woman holds the expertise about her body, she also holds the expertise about her family and social dynamics and about which birth experience will be the most empowering for her. My job, as a midwife, is to hold the space to allow her story to unfold. My job is not to assume that I know what that story is or that I hold the power to affect it. That power lies with the woman alone.

I have seen women making calculated, careful decisions about who to have at the birth of their babies. I have watched a woman invite dozens of relatives and friends out of obligation and then, between contractions, draw her power out of the earth, walk out of her cave and tell everyone to leave her to her work. I have seen a woman surrounded by her six sisters held and supported instinctively, perfectly and birth her baby quickly and peacefully. I have seen many women call to their mothers and felt those mothers living and dead wrap women up and place hands on my shoulders as I catch their grandbabies. I have seen a woman lock eyes with her Nana, who talks soothingly and breathes with her through every contraction, and celebrates just as genuinely as if she were there. I have watched a mom cook food for her child, nurse her toddler and push out her baby in one evening. I have watched a woman decide to sacrifice the peace of a sacred birth space by allowing her abusive partner in in order to keep the peace long enough to gather the strength to strap her baby to her chest and walk away and I have watched another woman change her locks in the days leading up to labor to keep her and her baby safe. I have watched a woman birth alone, undisturbed as I tried to melt into the wall so as not to interfere with her solitude.

Whether a woman has one person or ten present, who she invites to her birth, whether she live streams her birth is not up to me or anyone but her to dictate. Beyond protecting her and the birth team from overt violence in labor, the choice of who is present and all the results of that choice are hers alone. I must trust that. She will make the right choice for herself and I will graciously and humbly play my small part in her story.

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