2012 Hague Speech

Author: Joyce Hoek-Pula

Dear Conference Participants, Esteemed Panelists and Honoured Guests,

What we have come for here today, is to integrate what we have learned yesterday from the speakers and the discussions into our deliberation over the Dutch birth system. We will dive into many aspects in order to get a full picture of all that is in play in the fast changing organisation of care in childbirth in the Netherlands.

Before we do that, let’s take a step back. Is it clear why we think it is important to reflect on the way we care for pregnant women in the Netherlands. Not just for the Netherlands, but also for the world?

I have to admit, I only realised this was important, for the world, a year ago. In a workshop with Barbara Harper we were talking about the declining rate of homebirth and the rise in pain relief. And how we felt an urge to do something about it. She said at one point: do you realise that the WHOLE world is looking at you and your birth system? Because your system makes home birth a real option for women? That there is in fact no other country, even when there is a system in place, where the homebirth rate is above 3%?

I stood silent. It sank in. And I realized that indeed, Holland is absolutely unique in the way we deal with childbirth. For me, as a Dutch woman, this is the norm. Home birth is normal. Home birth is not exclusively for the hippies or the deprived. It is in our tradition not to be afraid of birth, to consider birth as a life event rather than a potentially life-threatening situation. And yes, all this is changing. Maybe our cultural identity is changing, maybe we are becoming more like ‘the rest of the world’. Maybe we are losing our dutch stubborness – the dutch word for that is : ‘eigenwijsheid,’ which literally means: your own wisdom. But hey, should we just let this happen, and implement far reaching changes, before we even reflect on the how and why all this is happening in the first place?

We have talked and will talk more about why home birth is important, as it teaches us about true physiology of birth, so I won’t go into that. What I will emphasize, is that by looking at our birthsystem, we are looking at ourselves as a nation. It isn’t in the Dutch character to think much of oneself. But we have to look from a broader perspective at what we are. And when Barbara made that comment, there was some hesitation in me to accept it: nah, it cannot be true that what is happening here is actually of importance for other countries, to Europe. To the world.

But in that moment when it sank in, it also kicked in. It ignited the spark in me to actively DO something. Something to make people reflect before the system got washed down the pipelines of agreements and protocols between care givers, insurances, politics and hospitals. Within one month we came together, with 45 women and one man. A diverse group of mothers, doula’s, midwives, and childbirth educators. This was the start of the Geboortebeweging, the Birthmovement. And please raise your hand if you have been at that meeting or other meetings of the BirthMovement. And I am proud to say (and that is maybe not very Dutch) that we helped to give this great initiative of the Bynkershoek Research Center for Reproductive Rights, hands and feet. That together we are adding the missing link to the discussions about changes in the birth system: the role and the human rights of the mother.

I am very humbled that such a big group of international speakers, people from diverse backgrounds, from so many different countries, you, have come here together to put your minds and hearts together to reflect on the Dutch birth system.

Do we Dutch now realize that we matter? See all the speakers from yesterday seated here; all of them stayed for the ‘Dutch day’. Do we realise now that we matter?

And in fact, we are facing a very challenging future, but we have everything in us, our own inner wisdom, our eigenwijsheid, to make those changes that really matter.

In the hours to come, it will be our challenge to seek out what is binding us instead of that which divides us. Let us go beyond our opinions, our convictions of what is right or wrong. Let us do something NEW. Let us be careful in too quickly formulating answers or solutions. Let us listen, and really listen, to the doubts and concerns the other has. And let the mother speak, and through the mother, the child.

I would like to leave you with this extract from a poem by the Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore:

They clamour and fight, they doubt and despair, they know no end to their wranglings.

Let your life come amongst them like a flame of light, my child, unflickering and pure, and delight them into silence.

Let them see your face, my child, and thus know the meaning of all things; let them love you and thus love each other.

Thank you.

Joyce Hoek-Pula is a mother, yoga teacher, doula, and founding leader of the GeboorteBeweging (Birth Movement), a group of mothers, midwives, childbirth educators, doula’s and fathers who are concerned with the changes in the birth culture and system in the Netherlands, and who want to protect and promote the human right for the mother to choose the circumstances of her delivery.