Thursday, March 10, 2011

Birth Conspiracy?

I remember seeing a medical student who was attending his first birth. It was a normal, natural hospital birth. The woman was on the bed, her husband was by her side, I was next to him, there was an intern helping with the delivery, a nurse, the physician in charge, and a young medical student. The baby came out, everyone was happy, the new parents were exhilarated and crying, and then the medical student exclaimed loudly: “Look! Look! Look at its little toes! Look! They’re like real toes. They’re just like real toes!”
The attending physician looked at him and whispered: “Philip, get a grip!”, but I was hoping that that simple amazement and wonder would stay with him throughout his career.
For some people, this story may be full of problems and issues. What do I mean by a “normal, natural hospital birth”? Can a woman have a natural birth in a hospital? I remember hearing from an obstetrician that among some women in our city a “natural” birth was when you didn’t wear much makeup when you gave birth. What is a normal birth? If a hospital has a 90% epidural rate, does that mean getting an epidural is normal?
And certainly, we can’t have trained professionals going gaga over newborn’s toes, can we?

We are living in an age when we are terribly concerned with our health, yet it is an age when human life expectancy is at its highest. We worry and fret endlessly about our children, but have difficulty finding time to spend with them. We are living a life that is far from nature, yet we yearn for the “natural” and the “green”. We are so divorced from our own bodies that a surprising number of pregnant women do not know where their cervix is or how a baby is supposed to come out.
In our world, human life has become so complicated that every simple activity has a huge structure built up around it. This structure is built upon a foundation of information supplied by an army of experts. Simple processes such as eating, healing, making love, giving birth, breastfeeding, caring for children, have all become complicated and institutionalized. When a woman decides she wants to have a child, one of the first things she will encounter is the structure we have built up around birth. She will be met with a mountain of information and much of it will be conflicting.
In the birth world everyone wants to have a little piece of the birth experience. The birth practitioner wants a piece of even the most physical and elemental. Here is an example: It is often very tempting to do a vaginal exam. Why? We want to know what’s going on; if the baby is moving down, if the cervix is opening, where the baby’s head is positioned. What most practitioners will not admit is that this intimate physical connection with a woman is important to them: it is an amazing thing, to feel a baby’s head coming down the birth canal! But how often is it really necessary? Does the laboring woman actually want to have so many exams? How many vaginal exams are done for the sake of the birthing woman, and how many are done for the attendant?
The birth practitioner, or any birth “expert”, also wants a little piece of the bigger picture: we want the woman to have a natural birth, with no epidural and no interventions. Or perhaps we want her to have an epidural so that she can be more comfortable. Or we are convinced that surgery will be less risky. Either way, we want to convince her that we know best. In fact, we do know best: we are more educated, we have seen more births, we have seen more pregnant women and we know what to do.
Or do we?
The Birth Conspiracy is this: It is an understanding, created by all of us, that we cannot function without experts. We cannot give birth without birth experts. We cannot labor without assistance, without classes and checklists. We cannot make our own decisions, or accept consequences for our own actions. It is a way we can avoid responsibility for our lives. Those of us who are experts want and need to control the process. It is very hard to sit on your hands and wait while a woman labors. It is much easier to interfere, to preach, to suggest, and to control.

Interested? You can order your copy of The Birth Conspiracy soon - watch this space!

1 comment:

  1. I was just contemplating today...for something that is normalized in society & expected by most married couples - to have children - why is there so much trepidation & fear surrounding how the babies get here? I find it rather baffling...esp. how many first time mothers are scared of what can go wrong during their first pregnancy rather than simply enjoying the next 9 months. Each pregnancy I have had, I have been reluctant to tell others, because with every happy congratulations the fear follows...people mean well by their words and don't even realize that their comments and assumptions are negative & based in fear.

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