What are the basic needs of women in labor?

After panel 3 of the Human Rights in Childbirth Conference, the moderator abandoned the usual audience Q&A in favor of small group discussions. She challenged us to discuss one of the issues raised in the panel, then report back to the larger group.

I was sitting next to Jill Arnold, Chantal Gill'ard, and Britt Somebody (if it was you, please leave your full name in the comments!). Anna Verwaal's film had been the last item on the panel, and we first discussed why we resisted some of its emotional appeals. Then we turned to answering Michel Odent's question:

Now that we have discovered that newborn babies need their mothers, can we (re)discover the basic needs of women in labor?

I vounteered to be the spokeswoman. Here's what I reported back to the large group:


The four of us attempted to answer Michel Odent's question about the basic needs of women in labor. We enjoyed watching the film, but we found ourselves resisting some of its emotional appeals and its implicit assumptions that there's a right and a wrong way to give birth. We are searching for a series of truths or standards that hold true in all settings, that don't prescribe a certain way to give birth, yet that aren't so weak as to be totally useless.

Even if all women are given the most ideal, supportive birth setting possible, some women will still need medical intervention. So it's not solely about having a spontaneous, unmedicated labor. In addition, not all women desire or enjoy a "natural" birth or even a vaginal birth. Can we identify the basic needs of women in labor in ways that allow for a variety of birth experiences and a diversity of journeys?

We think we can. For those of you who like to think more left-brained, we came up with four key needs of all laboring women:

First, a right to autonomy.

 Second, a right to informed consent and refusal and the necessary information to make those decisions.

Third, real options to choose from. Autonomy and informed consent/refusal cannot exist without choice.
Fourth, being treated with respect & dignity.

If you're more of a right-brained thinker, these four principles can be boiled down even further into one simple question. This is the litmus test for what every woman deserves when she gives birth:

Was there love in the room?


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