I heard today, as many of us did, that the world's population is estimated to have reached 7 billion people!
Let's not speak of low resources, climate change, and gloom and doom, but let's celebrate this 7 billionth baby's birth with a cheer and a toast, to good health, happiness, and longevity for us humans. I'm sure we can find a way to make it all work.
More interesting to me is the likely fact that this baby was probably born at home, with the attendance of a traditionally trained midwife. I do not advocate going back in time to the days when women died in childbirth, but I do believe that home is the best place to conceive and the best place to give birth. I offer a vision of birthing the future from my book:
My vision is one of most women giving birth at home, with full medical back-up available to them if needed. Midwives would provide prenatal care and accompany the laboring women through labor and birth. They would assist with the postpartum period and help the new mother adjust to life with a new baby. If there were problems, the midwives would refer the woman to a doctor, who may in turn refer her to a specialist, an obstetrician. Full emergency support would be in place for the rare occasion that it is needed, so that the midwife would know that she is covered in the case of an emergency.
The women who chose to give birth in the hospital, in my dream world, would be there because of clear medical or social need. The hospital birthing centers would provide specialized medical care for the few women who need it. Occasionally, there would be a woman who needs the extra emotional support of a doula, but the doula would be well-integrated into the hospital system and would be on call in these situations. Sometimes a woman would want to give birth away from home, and she could go to an independent birthing center which, again, would be fully supported in case of a medical emergency.
I do not believe that this vision is so far off in the future, or that it is out of our reach. For now, however, our reality is that most women in the developed world are giving birth in hospitals, and many of these hospitals have different philosophies about birth than many of the patients they are there to serve. In Canada, the philosophy of any hospital must be to provide the best care for the greatest number of people. This may translate into an epidural for every woman, especially if there are not enough nurses to support each woman individually. In the USA, hospitals are run as profit-making enterprises, so the word philosophy may not apply. We do know, however, that cesarean section rates are skyrocketing, and that the general consensus is that a national rate of about 15% may be optimum. Personally, I believe that the rate for emergency cesarean sections can be held to 5% without putting the mothers or babies at risk.
The doula is the interface between the birthing community and the medical establishment. This puts us in a difficult position. I have spoken to women who thought that I would leave them to give birth alone if they decided to take an epidural (this is beyond cruel). I have been yelled at by a physician who thought I had removed an intravenous drip (the nurse hadn’t had time to put it in). I have been looked upon as a knight in shining armor (I don’t even like horseback riding) by women who had not yet understood that the birth work is done by the birthing woman.I have also been thanked and cherished by hundreds of women who have been happy to have me by their side as they go through the experience of giving birth. My task, our task as doulas, and in a bigger sense, our task as human beings in the 21st century, is to “humanize” birth. To me, that means affirming that all of us are different, and that we all have needs, desires, and histories that cannot and should not be judged. My job as a doula is to create a space in which a woman can reclaim her knowledge of birth and give birth according to her own birthright.