Childbearing is an important rite of passage, with deep personal and cultural significance for a woman and her family. Pregnancy and childbirth are momentous events in the lives of women and families, representing simultaneously a time for extraordinary joy and a time of intense vulnerability.

The significance of pregnancy and birth is an often underestimated when the woman transitions to motherhood with the birth of her baby.  Giving birth is not just a physical act; it is an intensely emotional, social and psychological act.  We need women and babies to be more than simply alive; we need them to be well physically, emotionally and culturally.

Imagine the personal treatment you would expect from a maternity care provider entrusted to help you or a woman you love give birth. Naturally, we envision a relationship characterized by caring, empathy, support, trust, confidence, and empowerment, as well as gentle, respectful, and effective communication to enable informed decision making. Unfortunately, too many women experience care that does not match this image.

A growing body of research evidence, experience, and case reports collected in maternity care systems from the wealthiest to poorest nations worldwide paints a different and disturbing picture. In fact, disrespect and abuse of women seeking maternity care is becoming an urgent problem and creating a growing community of concern that spans the domains of healthcare research, quality, and education; human rights; and civil rights advocacy.

We in Australia need to rediscover pregnancy and birth as a family joy not as an illness to be treated.  Our society needs to make the transition from an industrialised model of maternity care to a social model of birth.  We need to remember and respect that birth for a mother is more than the everyday medical event.  We need to put in place responsive, sensitive maternity care systems that cater for the individual. And

woman’s relationship with maternity care providers and the maternity care system during pregnancy and childbirth is vitally important.  All childbearing women deserve respectful care and protection; including care to protect the mother-baby union.  The majority of women, when they decide to have a child are capable with appropriate support and education of making informed choices that influence the outcomes of their birth, the impact on their mothering career and on the long-term wellness of their child and themselves.

Why is a women’s autonomy over balancing the many facets of her life and such intimate matters as birth treated at times with blithe disregard.  What impact does this have on our families and our society?

My call to action for all of us is to sign up to The Respectful Maternity Care Charter.  Maybe then we will have a society that recognises and values the work of mothering and affirms that mothering is more than birth