pregnancy

Sydney mum Amy was giving birth when her pelvic floor muscle was torn off the bone.

Every woman who’s a mother, or considering becoming one, knows that there are a lot of childbirth choices out there: obstetrician, midwife, hospital, at home. Each option comes with its own pros, cons, and controversies, and this is what SBS’s The Feed aims to examine in Birth Wars, airing Tuesday night.

The segment speaks to several health practitioners and mums, for example, Amy Dawes, who was 33 when she had her first baby in a Sydney public hospital.

Forceps were used as part of the delivery of her healthy baby daughter, but the birth significantly affected Amy both physically and emotionally.

She sustained a third degree tear, and there was trouble controlling the bleeding. Amy later discovered that she had what’s known as a ‘bilateral evulsion’, “where the pelvic floor muscle is torn off the bone.”

Tonight, she admits she wondered: “I was thinking, ‘Is this what death feels like?'”

“I was suffering from faecal incontinence. I need to carry wet wipes, not just for my baby. I’m now 37 and I feel in some ways like I’m 80.”

Amy co-founded the Australasian Birth Trauma Association with Professor Peter Dietz, an urogynecologist specialising in pelvic floor damage because her experience made her question whether women are informed enough about their birth choices and options.

“We’re sort of painted this picture that if we do all the right things, we can have a natural birth and that is the best birth,” she says.

“And I very much hoped for a natural birth.”

Birth Wars will also examine the 2010 ‘Towards Normal Birth‘ government initiative which was designed to reduce the number of caesareans section births in Australia to 20% by 2015. As this target hasn’t been reached, the policy remains in effect.

Professor Dietz urges immediate revision of the policy.

“Attempts at avoiding caesarean section will inevitably increase the likelihood of major trauma to women in childbirth,” he says.

“Forceps rates have risen very substantially and in a historically unprecedented way. And it has been accelerated and supported by ‘Towards Normal Birth’.”

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According to Birth Wars, in NSW, the use of forceps increased from 3.1 to 4.7 per cent between 2005 and 2016.

Professor Dietz says there’s a basic explanation: “This whole story can be seen to a degree as the latest chapter in a 400-year turf battle between midwives and doctors.”

Rebecca Judd shares the honest piece of information she wishes she’d been told as a new mum. Post continues after.

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Birth Wars also speaks to Professor Hannah Dahlen, who developed the ‘Towards Normal Birth’ policy.

“One of the problems with intervention is what we call a cascade of intervention,” she says.

“So for example you might induce a woman and that may lead to more painful contractions so she has an epidural. Now it’s hard for her to push, now she ends up with forceps or a vacuum or perhaps a caesarean section.”

Explaining that the The World Health Organisation has recommended an approximate 10 to 15 percent caesarean section rate as the ideal, Professor Dahlen adds, “Beyond that we see no advantage and we start to see harm to mothers and babies.”

Nadine Richardson, founder of She Births – an organisation trying to change the way we think about birth – has a similar perspective.

“These are the things that women have been using since the beginning of time,” she says.

“These natural, innate tendencies we have to manage birth.”

For most Australian births, there is some sort of intervention, such as medication to induce or quicken labour, and pain-blocking epidurals. This is why Amy is calling for better access to information for all pregnant women.

“How can you make a decision when you’re in the delivery room without knowing the full risks of both modes of delivery?”

“I’d love to see an unbiased approach to childbirth to treat each women as an individual, not one size fits all,” she adds.

SBS’s The Feed’s story ‘Birth Wars’ airs Tuesday night at 7:30pm.

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