November 19, 2019
Book Review – Milli Hill's "Give Birth Like a Feminist"
By: Tanya Strusberg, LCCE, FACCE | 1 Comments
The first thought that crossed my mind after reading Milli Hill’s new book, Give Birth like a Feminist, was; why did it take this long for a book like this to be published? An entire generation of women have been raised since the last time birth and feminism as two intertwined topics were really explored. Ask your average millennial on the street today if she has heard of Germaine Greer, Adrienne Rich or Naomi Wolf, let alone the matriarchs of the feminist birth movement; Ina May Gaskin, Sheila Kitzinger and of course, Lamaze’s very own, Elizabeth Bing.
On the other hand, ask that same millennial if she has heard of the #metoo movement and you’ll undoubtedly get a vigorous nod of recognition. Hill wants this younger generation of women to understand that in the same way we have a big ongoing problem with the way society treats women, particularly when it comes to issues surrounding bodily autonomy and consent, we have the same issues in maternity care – a system that most women will encounter first hand at some point in their lives.
In her book, Hill explores some difficult but important issues such as ingrained paternalistic behaviour, language and treatment of women, including the rise of obstetric violence and the corresponding increase in the reported incidences of birth trauma – even PTSD – the likes of which we have never seen before.
Hill’s book is long overdue, but better late than never because this book is profoundly needed. In the introduction, the author confesses to some serious self-doubt in even attempting to write about birth and feminism in the same breath, but I am glad her inner critic cut her some slack and allowed Hill to persevere.
In a nutshell, Hill is calling for a birth revolution with feminism at its core.
Chapter Two opens with a powerful quote from feminist Germaine Greer. “Women are driven through the health system like sheep through a dip. The disease they are being treated for is womanhood.”
It’s important to highlight the fact that this book does not seek to praise the virtues of “natural” birth and disparage caesarean birth. Hill is quick to point out that in fact, this divisive and polarising approach only serves to distract from the real issues, diminishing any chance of collectively improving birth for future generations. Hill argues that feminism needs to go deeper and reframe birth choices and experiences within the context of human rights, thereby creating a world in which women’s birth choices are much, much broader.
So, who is this book aimed at? I’d like to say everyone to be honest. How we give birth doesn’t just affect a niche group of people. This is a global issue and birthing systems around the world are under pressure and many are in absolute crisis. The knock-on effect is far-reaching and the ripple effect impacts on every level of society. Our birth crisis is affecting all birthing people – regardless of race, education or economic background, although Hill is quick to highlight the fact that people of colour are even less likely to have their voice heard in the maternity care system.
Give Birth like a Feminist is the perfect rallying cry for birth activists the world over, including maternity care providers, childbirth educators and doulas. However, there is always the danger of preaching to the choir. The people most likely to read this book are the ones who already get it; birth geeks like you and me. The people who probably most need to read this book are the consumers of the system and the “string pullers” – people in positions of power who can effect positive change through implementing care that is both evidence-based and place the birthing person at the core of everything it does.
To quote Hill; “We need to hold on to a vision of humanised birth, in which the woman is powerful and in control, and her physiology is trusted and respected…. The best hope we have of retaining a grip on humanised birth (is) by viewing it through the lens of human rights.”
Milli Hill presents birthing women with a challenge; Stop accepting the trite messages we have been hearing for so long, and which have become firmly embedded in our psyche. Things like; “am I allowed?” and “all that matters is a healthy baby.”
Towards the end of the book, Hill quotes the late, great Marsden Wagner, former Director of Women and Children’s Health for the World Health Organization. “Humanising birth means understanding that the woman giving birth is a human being, not a machine and not just a container for making babies. Showing women – half of all people – that they are inferior and inadequate by taking away their power to give birth is a tragedy for all society.”
Ultimately, Milli Hill is hoping that her book will open the conversation up and enable the possibility of a new landscape for birth. The perennial turf war between midwives and doctors will never be won – and the truth is that both professions are needed to ensure safe and healthy birth for all. But this divisive power struggle is harmful and the people most harmed by it are the women and their babies. It is time for mutual respect to flow evenly between a woman and her chosen caregivers.
Hill sums it up perfectly towards the end of the book; “Women have the human right to be the key decision maker over what happens to their body, and to be listened to, and treated with respect. They’ve been denied that right for a while now, so they’ve decided to rise up and claim it. It’s that simple.”
About Milli Hill
Milli Hill is a freelance journalist, and the founder of the Positive Birth Movement, a global network of over 400 free-to-attend antenatal groups - linked up by social media. She is a columnist for Telegraph Women, a regular contributor to Mother&Baby magazine, and also writes for Guardian, iPaper, GoodtoKnow, and many others. Her first book, The Positive Birth Book, has been a bestseller since publication in March 2017. Milli has become a global spokesperson for women’s experience of childbirth, and is invited to speak regularly at conferences and events across the UK and beyond. She lives in Somerset with her partner and three children, aged 11, 9 and 5.
About Tanya Strusberg
Tanya Strusberg is the founder of birthwell birthright and the co-founder of the Lamaze International affiliate, Lamaze Australia. She is a Melbourne-based Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, doula and a Fellow of the Association of Certified Childbirth Educators (FACCE). Tanya is also a member of the Lamaze International Board of Directors, currently serving as the organisation’s Secretary/Treasurer. She is a passionate advocate for women’s maternity care and her articles have appeared in The Journal of Perinatal Education, Australian Midwifery News, Connecting the Dots, Interaction – the journal of Childbirth and Parenting Educators Association of Australia (CAPEA), International Doula, Empowering Birth Magazine and Rockstar Birth Magazine. Through her internationally-accredited Lamaze Educator Training program, she is very excited to be training a new generation of Australian Lamaze educators. Last, but absolutely not least, she is also the mother of two beautiful children, her son Liev and daughter Amalia.
TagsBook Review Tanya Strusberg Give Birth Like a Feminist Milli Hill