I'm currently reading Ina May Gaskin's Birth Matters. A deep sense of sadness overwhelms me, not because of her writing, but because of WHAT she is writing. She talks about how birth came to be in hospitals and no longer in the home. She talks about all the "safety" measures that seem to have caused the maternal death rate to rise. The spiral is set. As birth becomes more institutionalised, it becomes more complicated; it needs to be made safer. Women are told more and more that they need to be in hospital to ensure the safety of them and their babies. Interventions occur, birth becomes more complicated. And then Ina May delivers the devastating blow… in America you are more likely to die in childbirth than your mother!
But that's America. It couldn't, wouldn't, shouldn't happen to us here. Instead we read in newspapers about the babies born on hospital floors, the emergency caesarean on the ward floor because Mum has been told she's being silly. Babies born in corridors because there's no room. Mothers turned away because no one is listening to them when they say they know the baby is coming. "Don't be silly dear. You're nowhere near ready to give birth. We'll see you in a few more hours". Reliance on machines and gizmos and gadgets. I recall reading about a man who had invented a machine that would prevent unnecessary vaginal exams and allow mums to have the minimum number of interventions. All you had to do was to hook up the wires and probes and monitors.
Then mums are told that breech babies HAVE to be born by caesarean section or at the very least the delivery has to be managed by a doctor, which tends to involve Mum with legs up in stirrups and any number of hands on her body. "Hands off the Breech" says Mary Cronk. Our Midwives are being more and more de-skilled. Hospital midwives, in particular, seem to have to stick to a set of protocols and make sure that the boxes are ticked. No waiting to see, no watching the mother, no reliance on experience and the ability of Mum to birth her baby. Doctors called to fix stalled and failed labours. Whose failure? Mum's? Baby's?
Don't get me wrong. I have a deep respect for Doctors and Midwives. I see the job that they do. I have no desire to be a Midwife because I like the fact that I can be with my ladies from beginning to end. To learn to know them and watch as their stomachs grow and hear the stories of how the baby tossed and turned and hiccoughed the night before. But my heart breaks every time I hear another mother told, 'Of course you're not in labour! As though she wouldn't be so calm if she were in labour. Really? It's impossible for a mother to move calmly through labour? Where does the screaming come from? Who screams? My ladies don't scream. They panic for a wee while, their eyes go wide, they tell me that they want an epidural, a knife, anything to get to the baby out NOW! And then they breathe and they relax and they let go and the baby is born. Midwives that are happy to call for epidurals at 10cm, Doctors that give time limits despite the health and happiness of Mum and Baby.
I'm tired today. Tired of reading about the culture of fear that surrounds birth. Tired of listening to yet another woman on the bus telling her pregnant friend, "It's horrible! Take all the drugs they give you!" Tired of picking up another paper and reading where birth went wrong.
It's time to take back birth. To accept the ones that need interventions, thank God for the interventions, and relax a little and say.. "Hey, the caesarean rate used to be so much lower! What happened? How do we go back to that?"