Warning: This blog contains images of non-sexualized nudity, nevertheless, they may be considered graphic and/or disturbing to some.
A few months ago I was struck with an undeniable, insatiable obsession with Africa. Don’t start thinking about the continent unless you are truly prepared – it sucks you in and doesn’t let go. The first day of classes this semester I made the rash decision to drop Advanced Composition in favor of an eight week crash course on the Modern History of Africa. The experience has been awesome thus far and I have learned a lot, but if there is one thing that stand out above all else, it is that it is impossible to study Africa’s modern social, economic, and political problems without recognizing that these current issues are rooted in a long history of colonialism and exploitation.
I include this because as I realized that it was impossible to disentangle the past from the present in Africa, I noticed that the theory also applied to the current status of women. Often, what is taken for granted as cultural and societal “norms” are actually reflections of public policy and imposed national attitudes of the past, some of which are incredibly damaging to women, both mentally and physically. Therefore, today I am introducing a new series called “Imposed Cultures,” and exploring here in the first installment a subject that has long been of interest to me – the erasure of natural childbirth in America.
My mom has eight children, five of which were natural home births. Although I attended several of these and even experienced an incredible bonding moment at the age of 12 when I was the first to hold my newborn sister, I have always thought my mom’s decision was, to be quite frank with you, incredibly gross and insanely dangerous. Like many of you, I couldn’t imagine a justification for denying oneself and child the comfort and care of a hospital. Then I watched a documentary called “The Business of Being Born,” and my opinion changed drastically.
Get ready for a quick rundown of some mind blowing facts: In 1900, 95% of all births in the United States were attended by midwives in private homes – the 5% of births that took place in hospitals were mostly poverty stricken women, often women of color, who had no relatives, friends, or resources to support a home birth – in the upper class world of the educated and wealthy, babies were born at home, in an environment safer and more comfortable than the dirty, dangerous hospitals of the time. Then, in the early 1900’s, a smear campaign against midwives characterizing them as ignorant and in line with the “old world” was undertaken in Eastern and Southern America. The campaign proclaimed that hospitals were safer, but in reality, maternal and infant mortality rates in institutions were higher than those of home births. Nevertheless, the result was a massive cultural shift in national thought. By 1938, only half of births took place at home, by 1955, that number was down to 1% – where is remains today.
Now for the most shocking figure of all – in Europe and Japan, 70% of all births are currently attended by midwives, who lose fewer women and babies to birth-related complications than we do in U.S. hospitals. There is a proven and accepted system around the world that natural childbirth works, a system that Americans stand alone in rejecting. Why?
The answer is that the information provided to the general public regarding childbirth over the last century has been, at it’s core, a lie, made to support what today has become a billion dollar industry. The fact of the matter is that home births are generally safer, cheaper, and more natural in every day then hospital procedures, but the concern is not about good maternal and infant care. It is all wrapped around the almighty dollar.
When I say that home births are more natural in every way, I feel that some explaining is in order. This information has been hidden or erased in American culture and education, and as a result, many are lacking basic knowledge or even interest in the process of child birth. How many times have you heard someone ask an expectant mother what type of birth she will be having? It doesn’t happen, because it is expected that she is doing it the way every women does it nowadays – flat on her back in a hospital bed.
Flat on her back in a hospital bed. Now there is a gross piece of mis-information. While this is a position that is convenient to the doctor, it actually constricts the pelvis, making it smaller than would be possible if the women was squatting or standing. Lying down also flattens the stomach muscles, limiting their ability to push, and while walking around is rarely suggested in hospitals, this too can help jiggle the baby loose (I’m not kidding!) as it travels down the vaginal canal. Not only are current birthing positions bad for the mother and infant, they are bad medical practices that literally go against what science tells us to be true.
Anti-pain and birth inducing drugs are another area in which medical professionals have not been forthcoming. While a drug that induces labor may speed things up for the doctor, the strong and long contractions it brings on can actually put the baby in duress, while the mother, jacked up on pain medication, does not feel that anything is wrong, This vicious and common cycle is what contributes to one third of all births in the U.S. ending in emergency caesarean, whereas if things had been able to progress naturally, the experience would have likely been positive and healthy. For example, The Farm where my brother was born, a commune that supports and aids women having natural childbirth in Summertown, Tennessee, did not have their first necessary c-section until birth #187; the second was birth #324. How’s that for numbers?
However, according to a post I read from a medical negligence attorney in Chicago, it’s not in the hospital’s best interest to let things “go naturally” – for some women this can mean 20+ hours of labor plus risks and possible side effects (read about side effects of Xarelto and the consequences), while a c-section takes only 20 minutes. In a business where emptying beds means more patients and more money, it is easy to see the temptation on the hospital’s part to take this quick route to financial gain, but we can’t forget that this is at the expense of women and infant healthcare. In addition, here’s a terrible fact to ponder – the greatest influxes of c-sections occur at 4:00 and 10:00 – when doctors are ready to go home and when doctors are ready to go to sleep. It is unthinkable that private concerns would come before good healthcare and that we as a nation would blindly ignore it, but that’s exactly what is happening.
Hospitals are set up to deal with one kind of birth – a traumatic one – and often their “interventions” are what contributes to the very problems they are trained to deal with. Many medical professionals have never seen a truly natural childbirth, and have no idea what that would even look like. Women who go into labor with a specific birth plan in mind are often victim to a rapid change of plans, all imposed on them under the manipulative practice of saying “It’s good for the baby.” As one women in the documentary shared, “They already had an IV in my arm, and I was in a vulnerable position. It was so easy for them.”
Since we’re on the subject of IV, let’s talk for a minute about the drugs being pumped into women. In the 1920’s the first anti-labor pain drugs were invented in Germany and they soon came into practice in the U.S. The important thing to know about these drugs is that they did not actually take away the pain of labor, but the memory of that pain. They created an out of body experience and loss of self-awareness that resulted in women attacking doctors. It became common practice to strap women to beds during childbirth, and wasn’t discovered for nearly a decade that what was actually causing the erratic behavior was the drug. As decades went on some drugs caused children to be born limbless, others blind or with cancer. Today, as children are facing all-time highs of autism/ADD/etc., one has to wonder if these diseases are related to childbirth drugs. There is no way to know, because there is no sustained medical research to go by.
Making matters even more complicated is the fact that wrapped up in all of the lies and propaganda regarding childbirth distributed by the medical community is the image of childbirth in the media. On shows like E.R., A Baby Story, and many more, labor is portrayed as terrifying and dangerous. There is always a breech birth, a prolapsed cord, a lack of oxygen to the brain – some kind of problem that ends up with the women and/or baby owing their lives to the intervention of trained medical professionals. This information based on fear tells women their bodies can’t do it on their own – they need a hospitals’ help.
But why wait through agonizing hours of unnecessary labor when 1/3 of all births end in c-section anyway? Many American women are choosing “elective c-section instead,” and, along with big names in Hollywood like Victoria Beckham and Brittany Spears, penciling in the exact date and time that their child will come into the world alongside hair and nail appointments. The fad of being “too posh to push” is growing, enhanced by the fact that women who choose these “designer births” can elect to have a tummy tuck on the same day. Baby out, belly in.
So what’s the big deal anyway? What’s the value of going through the pain and suffering of natural childbirth? If you could erase the memory or numb the pain, why not do it?
I used to say I wasn’t having a child until Scotty could beam it out, but again, if we look to science, there are proven facts that natural childbirth is a necessary process. The cocktail of hormones that are released during this time in both the mom and baby contribute hugely to their bond of love and affection. Women who have given natural birth say it is an indescribable feeling, a rite of passage, a mix of pleasure and pain that you will never feel at any other time in your life. This is an inherent rite of women, something unique to our humanity that has been stolen for economic gain. One natural birth advocate on the documentary went as far as to ask, “What happens to humanity when this element, these first moments of love are denied to us?”
Furthermore, I think it’s a huge problem that women are being told they can’t give birth naturally, that their bodies can’t do it, when they can! There is an impossible wall that I watched my mom and other women in the video scale, where they reached a place of impassible pain, and somehow find a way within themselves to overcome it. Birthing is not an illness; it does not need to be numbed, and doing it naturally can be massively empowering.
Midwives are highly trained professionals with all the necessary equipment and back up plans for emergency surgical intervention, despite the fact that they have commonly been painted as witches. It costs on average upwards of $8,000 to have a baby in the hospital, and only $4,000 with a midwife – better rates for the consumer with better results in healthcare – but up against an industry giant that has brainwashed an entire population.
I don’t know when or if I will ever have a child, but I know that if the time comes and there is no extenuating circumstances, I will bringing my baby into the world at home surrounded by friends and family and all the people that are going to love it for it’s entire life. I am going to be in my domain where I am in control. If I want to walk around, take a shower, scream, and cry – and my body does this for 20 hours before my baby arrives – I’m going to let it happen. We American women need to take back our right to good healthcare, to self-empowerment, and to safe childbirth before a natural process of our bodies has been completely eradicated from national consciousness.
I apologize for the length of this blog – it’s a little ridiculous but there is a lot that hasn’t been said on the subject that needs to get out there. Help me spread the word – natural childbirth is good childbirth! And look for my next installment of “Imposed Cultures – Why We Wear Bras” – coming soon!