An Open Letter to Birth Professionals

Dear Birth Workers,

I’m ashamed to share a title with some of you. I’m ashamed that I’ve been watching you do the things you do without ever speaking a word of question aloud. I’m ashamed that I’ve been weak, and I’m scared of what will happen as I step into this newfound strength to share the truth.

But someone has to fucking tell you, and nobody else is doing it.

Somebody has to warn pregnant people that they’re not being vigilant enough. 

See, I used to feel pretty good about simply supporting out of hospital birth. I felt like across the board, people who birthed under the care of a midwife, either at home or in a freestanding birth center, had consistently better experiences. At one point, I felt confident that just choosing the midwifery model of care was enough, but it’s not. Not all midwives are created equal.

I don’t know what has changed or if I was just terribly naïve before, but now I guess I’ve seen too much. I’ve witnessed abuse of power and gross manipulation at the hands of OB/Gyns, midwives, and even doulas. I’m truly stunned that so many of you have forgotten the definition of consent. I’ve watched you project your idea of the perfect experience onto birthing people in their most vulnerable moments over and over again, and I’m tired of watching it happen.

I think you need to be reminded: You. Don’t. Make. The. Decisions.

You don’t get to decide to call anesthesia when you walk in to see a birthing person struggling through transition.

You don’t get to keep your hand inside someone’s vagina while they scream and beg for you to stop. 

You don’t get to cut an episiotomy without first asking permission.

You don’t get to deny access to pain relief when they decide the sensations are too much to handle.

You don’t get to bait and switch someone out of a water birth at the last minute because you don’t feel comfortable with it.

You don’t get to tell someone they’re too tired to push in any position but on their back when they’re asking for a change.

Even small, seemingly insignificant decisions like whether the lights are on, or the blinds are open, if I use flash during labor, or if siblings are present during birth — the only person that gets to decide that is the birthing person themself.

I hear you when you say “I’m going to” instead of “May I?” and it sends a shiver down my spine.

I see you when you say “I support all types of birth,” and then quietly shame those who make decisions you wouldn’t have.

Pay attention here, because this is important: All of this is true even when the evidence is on your side. The decisions are still not yours to make.

In spite of this, many of these parents have identified their experiences as positive. But birthing people deserve more than positive experiences in spite of how they’re treated, they should be having positive experiences because of how they’re treated. Ultimately, their perception of the experience is all that truly counts, but it’s pure luck (or simply a defense mechanism) that so many of them walk away feeling okay about the things that were said and done to them. It’s only a matter of time before they connect the dots and begin to process the truth of what happened… and even if they never do, it’s the principle of the matter. Just because you get away with it doesn’t make it okay.

So many of us have fought for options so that we could have better experiences, only to find that we’ve just traded one monster for another. The list of birth places, care providers, and doulas I can wholeheartedly recommend seems to be getting shorter with every passing day. How did things get so off course? Why am I seeing so many of the very things we’ve tried to avoid in hospitals, weaving their way into alternative birth options, following us even into our own homes? Into places where we thought we were safe, with people we believed supported us?

I’m finding it impossible to stay silent anymore. My purpose in the birth space is to hold space for my clients while authentically documenting their journey — nothing more. But know that I carry the weight of these experiences home with me at night, and it’s heavy. That when you show up to a birth as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I see that. I hope that you have the humility and self-reflection needed to evaluate what you’re doing and make it right. It’s not too late to course-correct, I know it’s possible.

Nobody gives up their bodily autonomy when they become pregnant. I want to see more respect, more listening, more trust. Birthing people deserve it.

With love and concern,

Kayla Grey