Monday, July 27, 2020

Book Review: Give Birth Like a Feminist by Milli Hill

Give Birth Like a Feminist
Author: Milli Hill
Publisher: HQ
Publication date: August 2019
Genre: Non-fiction, Pregnancy & parenting, feminism
Source: Review copy via NetGalley
Rating: 10/10

Description: Birth is a feminist issue. It’s the feminist issue nobody’s talking about.

For too long women have been told, ‘a healthy baby is all that matters’. This book dares to say women matter too.

Finally blasting the feminist spotlight into the labour ward, Milli Hill encourages women everywhere to stand and deliver, insisting that birth is no longer left off the list in discussions about female power, control and agency.

From the importance of birth plans to your human rights in childbirth, and including birth stories from women across the world, this call-to-arms will help you find your voice, take an active role in your choices, and change the way you think about childbirth.

My thoughts: So when I started reading this book, I thought it sounded like an interesting topic, and I was planning to start trying to have a baby soon, so it seemed like a particularly good time to read up on the topic. Then over the course of reading, I became pregnant, which made it an even more interesting book to be reading. However, I think it's really important that it's not just pregnant people or mothers who read this book. It's important that these topics come into the general discussion of feminism. 

Milli Hill highlights from the beginning of the book that in the birth room, people have got too used to saying 'that's just how it is' when experiences are unpleasant, undignified or traumatic, and instead we should be questioning things, exercising human rights, and pressing for change. Women shouldn't be told to 'leave their dignity at the door' or that 'a healthy baby is all that matters'. Of course, we want a healthy baby at the end of the process. But that doesn't mean totally discounting the mother and her experience. 

Some key topics she looks at: 
  • Consent during pregnancy & birth
  • The urge in some places (mainly first world countries) to push medicalised interventions, and discourage more 'hands-off' types of birth
  • Being 'allowed' to do things & the language around permission. (Clue: the mother should be the one in charge. She is allowed to do anything she wants.) 
  • Belittling & dismissive language used towards pregnant & labouring people
  • Difficulties for women who want to give birth in a way that differs from what's most common & accepted in their area 
  • The 'postcode lottery' of what you 'can' and 'can't' expect from your birth experience in the UK
  • The colour of your skin affecting your birth experience 
  • So many others! 

There are some stories of what a hospital birth was like in the UK for the author's mother & friends of that age that horrified me. There are stories of births in the UK today that were shocking. There are stories of brith practices that happen in Europe, Australia, and the US that made me very glad I'm having my baby in the UK. These stories were shocking because we don't hear about this stuff; people don't talk about this stuff. In my (39 week) experience of pregnancy, it's only at this stage of life that you hear about different policies between first world countries, through places like Facebook and Mumsnet where I've seen women talk about typical timelines and medical interventions that vary from place to place, like the UK vs US vs Australia. Outside of this book, I haven't seen much about what pregnancy & birth are like in other countries. We need to make the stealing of mothers' rights a big part of the feminist conversation, highlight the indignities and inequalities, and change them. 

Milli Hill does a really good job of providing scientific evidence around various policies, from delayed cord cutting, to giving birth lying on your back (did you know it's really not the greatest position to give birth in? I did not) to inductions. 

I could pick out more topics and probably devolve into ranting, so instead I'll say - go and read this book. It's well balanced, it's full of supporting evidence and it shines a spotlight on a topic that I think has been very neglected in our society. It might be very different from most of the books I've read this year, but it's still one of my 'best books read in 2020'. 10 out of 10. 

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