“One of the best-kept secrets in North American culture is that birth can be ecstatic and strengthening. Ecstatic birth gives inner power and wisdom to the woman who experiences it…” – Ina May Gaskin, practicing midwife.
The heavy business aspects of western medicine are no secret. You can’t even sign on to Facebook without seeing countless posts about modern medicine varying in extremity, degree of accuracy, and emotional persuasion. The internet and growing societal awareness have made it extremely easy to access information regarding most things medical, including a slew of opinions about women’s reproductive health and all the choices we may or may not have regarding childbirth.
Unfortunately, the media works in dark ways. Fear-mongering is real, and it’s extremely easy to see stories or videos of pregnant patients who undergo extreme duress during childbirth. There are plenty of expecting parents who turn to television shows “documenting” birth stories for support and guidance, but however real those birth experiences are, what we see has still been edited to fit a reality tv standard. Pregnancies don’t always go smoothly. It’s important to be aware and educated, but there is an enormous difference between education and persuasion, and that difference is not always clear.
Prior to attending my birth doula workshop, I was prompted to watch a documentary on Netflix called The Business of Being Born. It was made to show front and center the difference between childbirth before and after the move to hospitals was made. While it was a bit biased towards midwifery and natural births, the main piece that I took away from it was that those pregnant in North America are largely misguided and/or uneducated when it comes to the process of labor. What should be one of the most instinctual and organic experiences has become an industry that can make some people and hospitals a boatload of money.
Modern medicine comes with countless benefits. Having the option to move childbirth into the hospital along with the improvements in the medical field over the last 100+ years has saved many lives, infant or otherwise. However, the initial move and the formative years of in-hospital births were quite harrowing. Pregnant women opted for doctor attendance at their births trusting that because they had more education, their labors would be safer. The problem with that was not all people had access to the same care to begin with, and not all doctors were honorable in their intentions. From the mega-controversy of “Twilight Sleep” in the 20s, to the current, regular use of Pitocin for elected induction despite the FDA’s notice clearly stating that it is not indicated for this scenario, those carrying children have not always been treated with respect, dignity, or clarity at even the most basic levels.
This is not an article bashing modern medicine. This is an article advocating for women to make informed decisions.
The choice of where and how to give birth should always be made by the woman carrying the baby. Anyone who offers advice based on preference versus evidence does not have in mind the pregnant woman or the infant they’re carrying.
According to a study performed in Canada between January of 2000 and December of 2004, “Planned home birth attended by a registered midwife was associated with very low and comparable rates of perinatal death and reduced rates of obstetric interventions and other adverse perinatal outcomes compared with planned hospital birth attended by a midwife or physician.” The apprehension towards having a baby outside of a hospital is understandable considering the lack of widely dispersed information. Unfortunately, patterns tend to be regional. Asking a random group of 50 people in their 20s in California about what they know about birth centers or water births will undoubtedly yield wildly different results than a random group of 50 people in Mississippi. (Which absolutely speaks to a widely underserving reproductive health care system rather than the people living in either of those places.)
Then there is the accessibility issue. Regardless of any identifiers (class, race, gender, etc), people who are considering pregnancy should have easy, affordable access to the same evidence-based information and the services accompanying that information, and that just isn’t the case. Systemic oppression of any kind is vile and heart-breaking. A society that allows racism, classism, sexism, ageism or any other oppressive tactics to dictate who gets proper health care should be ashamed and should seriously reconsider its priorities.
The Silver Lining
There is a plethora of resources available online when figuring out your plan for birth. A little of your own research can go a long way regarding various forms of support, factual information, educated opinions, and more. If you or someone you know are/is currently pregnant, check out some or all of those links. Find language that works for you. Ideally, a lot of this information would be at least alluded to and at most included in health education classes. Because it isn’t shared more efficiently, information overload and decision fatigue are real issues with real setbacks, so please be mindful of that throughout this journey.
Humans giving birth pre-dates written history. The body is incredibly smart and knows what to do. With such significant advancements in science, medicine, technology, and every other field that might be relevant to childbirth, there is no reason every healthy pregnant person shouldn’t feel confident in their birth choices.