by Carrie Felter
These are my hours, let them be hard. This is the sentiment of an immersive documentary about birth that gives the power of the process back to the birth giver. It is an emboldening display of one person’s birth journey and how it fits into the larger conversation about this universal experience.
Birth workers Carey Glenn (CPM, LM) and Emily Graham of Rooted Birth Midwifery created a film which documents the birth of Graham’s fourth child. Fulfilling the roles of both birth giver and birth worker, the two highlight the sacredness of the act and set the focus of the film on the person giving birth rather than the provider. For most of the film Graham is the only one who appears on screen while only glimpses of her support system are seen, putting her at the center of the experience.
The pair acknowledges that not everyone can choose or predict where they give birth which is why Graham recognizes “the intent of the film isn’t a how to, it’s not a statement to anybody else about what they should do or how they should birth…it’s a very personal experience”. The emphasis of the film is an examination of the autonomy and community of the occasion rather than definitive advocacy for home births.
This film places the ownership of the birth on the family. The role of the birth worker is to have the privilege to “get to know a family so well that you’re able to provide the care that they want” says Graham. This is what existed within the film which is why Graham was able to have the birth she wanted. Not all relationships between parents and birth workers are perfect matches. For birth workers, Graham advises “be true to yourself. If it’s not comfortable then you can remove yourself as the provider. You don’t have to do something you’re not comfortable with but it’s also not appropriate to force someone to accept care that’s inappropriate for them”. Throughout the film Glenn uses her role as midwife to be present in the background but does not take control of the birth. She is there if she is needed but does not interject herself into the process when she is not wanted.
Birth work is exhaustive, especially when the caregiver is forming personal and in-depth relationships with each of their clients. Having a high trust model leads to great outcomes, but it can also lead to burn out. Doulas and midwives who are not operating within a system that protects them and gives them support and relief can take on too many clients and be overburdened. Compassion fatigue is a real problem that threatens the sustainability of the birth work industry, so what do we need for the future?
Glenn believes “consumer driven demands for change in our childbirth culture are where we need to place our emphasis”.
“I want to see a lot more emphasis on education, not just as birth prep but as a seamless transition into non stigmatized parenting education” explains Graham.
Knowledgeable parents will lead to reduced trauma both for families and birth workers. When parents know about what their options are, they can ask for what they want. Eventually the healthcare system will have to grow to accommodate these needs because there will be a demand for more autonomy in the birth journey. In order to get to this point educators must be trained to bring childbirth education to their communities. When parents are informed in this way, they are given the tools to form their own communities or peers to extend the support system beyond birth workers.
Parental support services can be expensive, inaccessible, and can cause birth workers to become overworked. Postpartum support can be most impactful when it comes from someone who is close to the experience of giving birth. “I think I’ve done some of my best work as a birth worker during the times that I’ve been pregnant or postpartum” says Graham.
We need a strong community to raise a child and uplift the parents. “People talk about the village all the time” says Graham “and we’re so nostalgic for the village but it’s so true. It’s almost like a cliché to say the word now but really that’s what we want”. Birth givers need support, but it does not necessarily need to come from providers. Peer support is a more accessible and sustainable system to create to ensure that those who give birth will have a community of folks who care about them and can help them through their pregnancy and beyond.
After traveling around to small towns and big cities in the United State and Canada to promote the film, the pair noticed a commonality in the lack of childbirth education options. Launching online in January, Glenn and Graham will be offering courses to both parents and birth workers to bring birth education to these communities. The course for workers will certify the participants as a birth and postpartum educator as well as a trauma informed doula. Participants will also be given a copy of the film, a public screening license, and suggestions on how to use the film to spark conversations in their community.
Glenn and Graham are responsible for what goes on in front of the camera and behind the scenes. They love traveling to speak at screenings, classes, and anywhere else they can engage others in discussions about the film and their work.
Carrie Felter (she/her/hers) is about to complete a BSN in nursing and aspires to be a birth worker in her hometown of Philadelphia.