I INTERNAL COLLECTIVE // or, culture & systems

INTERNAL COLLECTIVE

OR, CULTURE & SYSTEMS

This quadrant is the ground for all the others, coming to birth. 

If the EXTERNAL INDIVIDUAL is where all the quadrants manifest their influence on the woman’s body as she births, this quadrant is the root of all the others – it is the way we value women and birthing as a community, and the collective beliefs we hold around women, birth, motherhood and families. The way we value women gives rise to the models of care available, and the spaces we birth in.

Before we even come to birth, it is the matrix within and against which we form our understanding of our Self.

There is a spectrum of valuing women with radically opposite beliefs at either end, but there is a centre of balance where each society sits as a whole, and that centre of balance gives rise to the systems and options for care that are available to women for birthing. It determines the funding allocated. The provisions for maternity and paternity leave, daycare, flexible work arrangements for women and men. It determines the legality and professionalism of birth care. The resources dedicated to supporting women in pregnancy, birth, early parenting and breastfeeding. All of these things are internalised by women well before they come to their first birth and influence to a greater or lesser extent – as much as she chooses to or has the capacity to interrogate them – her own feelings and thoughts coming to birth; what she is worthy of, able to or even “allowed” to access or be given in support of her birthing and mothering.  

For me, writing about birthing, I am very conscious that no woman should feel criticised for the choices she has made, or to feel guilty for how her births may have unfolded. I like to start from the premise that WOMEN ARE PERFECT. Any changes that need to be made are on us, the culture and systems that hold her as she comes to birth. When those structures and supports are GOOD, then the woman is also able to bring her own autonomous responsibility to a healthy and respectful partnership.

Across cultures and through time, women have given birth upright, held by other women, and with traditions prioritising their nourishment. Very, very recently, women in Western-medicine-dominant cultures have come to give birth in institutions, surrounded by strangers, in systems that work with the physicality of her body only, against a clock. There are countries where it is routine for every labouring woman to be given a syntocinon drip, routine stirrups births, routine episiotomy. The abrupt disconnect from community, valuing the natural world, and holistic understandings of one another, to a Cartesian industrialisation of natural process, has been a tragedy of the psyche for women, families and communities (and ultimately, we see daily the evidence of its effects in the ecosystems collapse of our planet).

Humans are nothing if not resilient. We are survivors. Even when broken and cut off and bypassed, our inherent systems for loving our babies patch up and stitch together and hold the frayed edges of love and bonding together and around ourselves. We bond despite being separated. We love our children despite our hormonal pathways being disrupted and nervous systems disconnected. But even as neonatal and maternal mortality rates are gradually falling across the globe ( – although iatrogenically rising in the United States, and especially and criminally so for African American women and Native and Latino women – racism is also inherent in our cultures and plays out fatally for women of colour in childbirth – ) so our rates of PTSD, trauma, and pain are rising. We are costing ourselves dearly. And when we are crippled in ourselves, our communities are weakened and impoverished by missing our light: what we can contribute, our energy, our purpose. When we are only surviving, our thriving is missing from the whole. Not in a transactional, capitalist sense of contribution, but in the unique contribution that each woman being fully herself, brings to us all – her light, her gifts.

The industrialisation of childbirth serves no one and nothing but capitalism. And capitalism ultimately serves no one and nothing. Certainly not any woman’s healthy thriving or this planet’s healthy thriving. 

Applying industrialised factory thinking to the organic process of childbirth makes no sense, unless we are only valuing profit. We can acknowledge the advances in health that access to medicines and medical procedures and investigations has given us, while also acknowledging the harm the system causes. We can interrogate our motivations in how we provide healthcare. We must be mature enough to have the conversations.