By Flavia Estevan

Before starting, I would like to qualify the use of gender in this note. I will use women referring to cis women, in order to address the specific details of their experiences with labor and birth, while acknowledging that transgender people also give birth and that trans women are also women.

Labor and birth

In labor and birth two different experiences converge and happen at the same time; labor is the experience of the woman and birth is the experience of the fetus coming into the world.

Both experiences involve bodies, emotions and sensations, and labor and birth occur under social, cultural and historical determinants.

I will talk briefly about some historical and cultural variants and above all share a view on the treatment that women’s bodies have been receiving in this process.

Until the 20th century, childbirth was part of a repertoire of situations experienced in the domestic and community sphere. Women gave birth among women, usually in their homes, and in this way maintained their clothes, food, family environment and identity.

Obstetrics as a medical specialty in the West progressively brought births to hospital institutions and this was consolidated from the 1950s onwards, particularly in urban societies.

The insertion of childbirth among medical specialties has changed the understanding of childbirth as a human experience. The professional who accompanies the birth began to play the role of the protagonist, quite motivated to do something about a woman’s “suffering”.

Since the 1960s, the feminist health movement has demanded the resumption of autonomy over our bodies. There is also a need to regain the confidence of both women and health professionals about our ability to give birth and that babies are born.

What is the humanist view of childbirth and birth that we should take today?

A humanist vision should include overcoming practices of obstetric violence that include abuse, psychological torture, physical and sexual violence during birth, and routine procedures that are carried out every day all over the world and are violent; such as the use of chemicals to speed up labor, keeping women lying down and without food, maneuvers such as pushing the bottom of the uterus, performing vaginal cuts and caesarean sections without need. All these practices have no scientific backing; on the contrary, they are against the recommendations.

We must work towards the ideal that all births should be respectful and safe experiences. Access to sexual and reproductive rights must be guaranteed for all people around the world, ensuring that the births that occur are wanted.

To humanize is to work day and night for the best possible birth experience, to have the necessary resources, which are above all to invest in qualified, well-paid professionals with decent working hours who can be in permanent reflection and have access to tools to overcome internal violence and with others.

To humanize is to take care of the way we look at labor and birth. If our look is judgmental, rigid and we want labor to fit our times, our agendas and our protocols, we inevitably run over women and disrespect their autonomy.

Every labor and birth constitutes an adventure into the unknown, an intention launched into the future, a condition of origin. It is the beginning of someone’s life and the rebirth of a woman and a family, therefore a sacred and sublime moment.

As health professionals, let us assume the responsibility of accompanying these processes, giving the best of ourselves to live up to this great mission that has been entrusted to us. As the Brazilian writer, poet and doctor João Guimarães Rosa said, “A child was born, the world has begun again”.

In a world that needs to start over in so many ways, perhaps there is a clue.