Ruth Ehrhardt is a South African midwife, author of The Basic Needs of a Woman in Labour. She started a online directory for people to seek information and advice on home births in South Africa.
She is also part of a team that organises The Cape Town and Midwifery and Birth Conference that promotes the safety of birth and cycle of pregnancy. She is also a director of The Compassionate Birth Project which focuses on the abuse in South African labour wards.
Ruth speaks about the nature of mammals, elephants in particular, and how they surround a labouring female during the time of birth.
"When a female elephant gives birth she is surrounded by a group of female elephants who form a protective circle around her. They face outwards, guarding her and leaving her to birth protected and yet unobserved…sometimes she is joined by one elderly female elephant, ‘the midwife’ elephant, who sits with her as she births her calf, protected and guarded by her circle of elephants."
She describes that a birth team for the human mammal is the same. We need a sense of security, no observers, darkness, and warmth. This promotes the most optimum flow of oxytocin hormone for bonding and safe labor.
Ruth speaks about being unobserved during this process, and how modern birth photography could be quite dangerous during labour.
Why don't you recommend birth photography?
I don't recommend it, because through my experience I have seen labours not transition well once the mother realises she was being watched. Birth photography is happening everywhere, and it is great so that we can see the possibilities of birth, although the rates of people having alternative births are not increasing. Ultimately it is up to the mother to decide who she wants in her labouring space.
I compare circulating birth photography images to the porn industry ... some are having this expectation and preparation for how we the birth should look rather than the deep process of how it should unfold naturally, as our deepest expression of self. Like the porn industry, we see it but we know the act of love making in reality is not that.
How do you think we can document this once in a lifetime transition?
What our practice is doing is taking pictures and documenting the process around the labour woman. For instance, I'll take a photo of the midwife knitting in the corner. Documenting the external factors of the birth as it is goes through its process.