Posted on September 7, 2009.

Safe motherhood for all. By F. Beaumont.

Safe motherhood for all. By F. Beaumont.

My daughter Esmeralda turns 18 today. Like all parents, I am amazed at how time flies. Like all mothers, I get reminiscent about those days, 18 years ago.

I was very pregnant and very happy. I lived in Rome, Italy, and I wanted a home birth.

I wanted music, soft light, friends, baby on my stomach still attached by umbilical cord, no drugs, and no epidural. A birth by my own rules, not by a cold hospital’s.

I found a group specialized in home births – Il Melograno. Their package included ob-gyn and midwife, courses, support and, more importantly, a woman-friendly feel. A photographer from Marie Claire magazine would do a photo reportage on my happy home birth.

Our premise: pregnancy is neither a disease nor a disability. Pregnancy and birth have become over-medicalized; women should reclaim it from doctors overly fond of control and caesareans. My family, my colleagues and the baby’s father thought I was crazy. Home births are more common now but women still battle to extricate pregnancy and birth out of the hospital realm.

In Brazil, we recently lost a battle for a  centre for natural birth in Rio de Janeiro.

Clueless mommy

In my case, at midnight, after 30 hours of labour, I was stuck at 6 cms dilatation – and exhausted. A home birth must be 100 percent natural, so the few drops of oxitocyn to trigger full dilation had to be administered in hospital, three blocks away. There I went. At 2am my daughter was born – and promptly taken away to the nursery.

At 5:30am a nurse literally dumped my baby girl in my arms and left. No instructions on how to feed, nothing. My midwife and friends were coming at 8 am. What to do?  I had never been around a newborn. I was like Carrie Bradshaw in Season 2 of Sex and The City – domesticity and motherhood were not part of my landscape.

So there I was, baby on one hand, baby book on the other, trying to figure it out. This is the most ridiculous and pathetic image of modern motherhood, I thought. How did we end here, from birth as a group event to 6 AM loneliness in hospital?

Less than 24 hours later, against hospital rules, I signed waivers absolving doctors of any responsibility and checked myself out.

I went home and turned on the CD player. My daughter’s godmother had been listening to the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want”. I chuckled.

Two close friends, one in Windhoek and one in London, recently tried a home birth but ended in hospital, just like me. Still, we were happy to go through labour at home.

Meanwhile, many women struggle to have a safe birth – anywhere. About half a million women die in childbirth very year. There are not enough trained midwives to ensure a safe labour, whether at home or at a clinic,


Art by Nelly Romeo Alves, photo by E. Zimbres

from Mexico to Uganda.

At a conference on reproductive health in Berlin last week, the World Health Organisation reported that one woman dies every minute for lack of adequate pregnancy and birth services.

A cruel paradox: the world proffers to revere motherhood but does not make it safe and comfortable for mothers to give birth.