'I was traumatised': Actress Zoe Naylor sparks 'Birth Time' revolution

Photo: Zoe Naylor after the home birth of her son Beau, with partner Aaron Jeffrey, daughter Sophia and her midwife and ...
Photo: Zoe Naylor after the home birth of her son Beau, with partner Aaron Jeffrey, daughter Sophia and her midwife and doula. Photo: Supplied

For actress Zoe Naylor, the birth of her second child in 2016 was a 'revelation'.

The mum-of-two chose to birth with an independent midwife, Jo Hunter, and a doula, Jerusha Sutton, and emerged feeling empowered and with a deep sense of healing

It was, as she explains, a vastly different experience to her first birth.

Photo: Zoe Naylor after giving birth to son Beau at home.
Photo: Zoe Naylor after giving birth to son Beau at home. Photo: Jerusha Sutton Photography

"I went into my first birth completely unprepared," she tells Essential Baby. "I was frightened, overwhelmed and unsupported. Yes, my baby was healthy and by many standards I was one of the lucky ones, but I was emotionally traumatised."

"I just remember feeling so totally alone," she adds through tears.

As her introduction to motherhood, the birth of daughter Sophia set her up for moments of postnatal depression.

"I loved being a mum but really struggled," she admits. "And then, when I had that continuity of midwife care with my son Beau, it changed the experience so palpably.

"It was transformative. There was not one inkling of postnatal depression. I was shocked."

As the former McLeod's Daughter's star reflected on her births, and started chatting further with Jo and Jerusha, Zoe realised just how rampant birth trauma was.

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'Our maternity system is broken'

Together, the women started researching and delving deeper into the Australia's maternity system - and what they discovered, rocked them. 

A 35 per cent caeserean rate, one in three woman reporting birth trauma, skyrocketing intervention rates and talk of a postnatal depression epidemic. 

"Jo had the idea of making a documentary for 15 years and had tossed the concept around with Jerusha, but with my film-making and journalism background it all just crystalised.

Photo: Jerusha, Jo and Zoe decided to start the Birth Time documentary and movement.
Photo: Jerusha, Jo and Zoe decided to start the Birth Time documentary and movement.  Photo: Supplied

"I knew what we had to do to pull it off."

Inspired to create change for all women and their families, the Birth Time documentary and global human rights movement was born. 

Their mission? To discover why an increasing number of women are emerging from their births physically and emotionally traumatised.

And ultimately, to help educate women and instigate change to the face of maternity care in Australia and across the developed world.

The Birth Time revolution

Over the course of four years, Zoe, Jo and Jerusha traversed the country, often with their babies and toddlers in tow, interviewing women and their partners from all walks of life to hear their pregnancy and birth stories.

"I ended up in tears every second interview," says Zoe. "I had no idea how systemic the issues are.

To be clear – there are women around the world who have left their midwifery profession to become professors in order change government policy. That's how bad it is."

The film opens with Zoe's home birth of Beau, before we go on to hear harrowing and heartbreaking stories from others, like mum Yumi, Cherisse the indigenous midwife and teacher Rihanna:

"All of a sudden, they just put me under a general. And the last thing I sort of remember seeing was looking at my student midwife. That was really quite scary for me." 

The opening scene is incredibly powerful, and beautifully cut-together with Zoe's voice over and primal screams and moaning.

"It was a very vulnerable and intimate process to write and edit the opening and share Beau's home birth," she reveals. "I feel very emotional thinking about it."

"And that's the power of film, when a room full of people can sit together watch a woman give birth on a big screen."

She adds: "I can't think of better way to normalise childbirth. We need to be comfortable with it."

One Woman, One Midwife 

Her partner, well-known Australian actor Aaron Jeffrey is alongside her, and speaks out about his own experience, having had three children in three different models of care.

"The first was a private obstetrician in a private hospital, second was in a birthing unit in a public hospital and the third was a home birth," he explains. "My involvement in those three births was very different. In the first birth, I just felt like I was in the way."

However for the home birth, Aaron was included, supported by midwife Jo and felt so much a part of it. 

Photo: Actor Aaron Jeffrey at the home birth of his son Beau

Photo: Supplied

Feeling 'helpless' and 'in the way', is a common sentiment among partners we meet during the documentary.

"I was just sitting there with this baby on my chest more worried about what was happening to my wife. That was the worst moment of my life", says new dad Daniel. 

"They tried forceps, they used the suction, they cut her. There was about 10 people in there. Wanting it to be over is all I could remember thinking," admits Dylan. 

Throughout these interviews a message emerges - One Woman, One Midwife.

"Top-level evidence in the world now says: women need to have a midwife they know provide their care during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period", says Professor Hannah Dahlen

We also hear from other global experts – including midwives, obstetricians, academics and lawyers - who provide evidence about our 'broken system' that is failing women and their insight to fix it. 

"This is a human rights issue," Zoe pleads. "Its the #metoo in childbirth." 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ZOE NAYLOR (@kaftanmama)

Remarkably, the film has already won a slew of international awards and premieres in Australia on February 11.      

"We are thrilled with the recognition we have received so far and the feedback we are getting from around the world," Zoe beams. 

"The message of our film is resonating clearly with people everywhere. At the end of the day, we are doing this to give the power back to the people." 

Photo: SUpplied

Photo: Jerusha Sutton photography

How can you get involved

'Birth Time: the documentary' is not just a film, it's also a movement and campaign for change.

There are six action steps you can take after seeing the film.

1. Host a screening
2. Join the campaign
3. Share your birth story 
4. Buy the t-shirt 
5. Join the Birth Time Hub  
6. Buy the book

Birth Time: the documentary will premiere around the country from February 11 to March 9, 2021, with special screenings followed by panel discussions with the Birth Time team and general admission screenings to follow.

Find out more at birthtime.world