I recently watched The Business of Being Born, a documentary I got from Netflix. This was very interesting not just in an “I love anything related to babies” way but also in a feminist way. Despite my initial skepticism of the gravity of anything produced by Ricki Lake, I found the documentary worth watching. It contained some great information about birthing practices in the US.
One part that did strike a cord with me is that I have pretty much been afraid of giving birth, of being in labor, for my entire life, and apparently I’m not alone. I’m realizing this is largely because of the way that birth is portrayed in the movies and on tv. For me, I also never heard glowing birth stories from my mom – it sounded much more like an unfun experience that resulted in a very worthwhile outcome – a baby. My mother has two children (my older brother and me), and both were born via c-section. I might feel differently about it if the adult women around me had described births as “beautiful,” which is how the mom I now babysit for describes the home birth of her son earlier this year – and with feeling, like she really treasures the experience.
The film showed many powerful images of births in America both a century ago and now. On the one hand, the film showed modern women who gave birth at home, with the assistance of a midwife and their spouses and children, all of whom were close yet comfortable. On the other hand, the film showed doctors who appeared primarily concerned with getting the patients in and out of the hospital in a timely manner, and whose patients appeared, on-film, to be powerless to stop not just pain medications but also labor inducing medications, which have been shown to lead to a higher number of c-sections. At the home births, the moms looked like they were in lots of pain, but that they had support and the comfort of choosing what position to be in and possibly in a tub if they choose. At the hospital births, many of the moms looked both worn-out and uncomfortable, laying on their backs in a skimpy hospital gown. It certainly wasn’t hard to watch the mothers and know which situation seemed like a more comfortable, loving, bonding experience for the birth of a child, although I was left wondering more about birthing centers, which seem like they might be the best of both worlds.
The Huffington Post featured a recent article on the AMA’s response to the documentary:
Ladies, the physicians of America have issued their decree: they don’t want you having your babies at home with midwives.
We can’t imagine why not. Study upon study have shown that planning a home birth with a trained midwife is a great choice if you want to avoid unnecessary medical intervention. Midwives are experts in supporting the physiological birth process: monitoring you and your baby during labor, helping you into positions that help labor progress, protecting your pelvic parts from damage while you push, and “catching” the baby from the position that’s most effective and comfortable for you — hands and knees, squatting, even standing — not the position most comfortable for her.
When healthy women are supported this way, 95% give birth vaginally, with hardly any intervention.
And yet, the American Medical Association doesn’t see the point.
Although I can easily imagine wanting an epidural or some type of painkiller, I wouldn’t want an episiotomy, inducing drug like pitocin, or a c-section unless it was medically necessary. Unfortunately, even just taking an epidural can make you more likely to need any/all of those three. And the c-section and episiotomy both feature weeks to months of recovery which can inhibit your opportunities for baby bonding and for sexual relations with your husband. (Months of sex being painful while the episiotomy heals? No thanks!)
And the information suggests that for women with a low-risk pregnancy, they’ll have a lower incidence of these procedures being performed if they birth at home with a midwife. A study published in 2005 concludes:
Planned home birth for low risk women in North America using certified professional midwives was associated with lower rates of medical intervention but similar intrapartum and neonatal mortality to that of low risk hospital births in the United States.
And then there’s this part, from the blog by the author of the book Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care:
Pitocin, given to more than half of women during labor, is the synthetic preparation of the hormone oxytocin, the driving force of labor that causes the uterus to contract. You know the soft side of oxytocin already: it floods your body during orgasm, when you fall in love, when you get close to a friend, even when you sit down to a shared meal. It is the hormone of connection, closeness — love. And when women give birth, they get the biggest helping of oxytocin that humans ever experience. A “love high,” if you will.
Pitocin replicates oxytocin’s muscle, producing strong uterine contractions, but it does not pass to the brain. You don’t get the warm and fuzzies with the pharmaceutical version. Furthermore, it shuts down your body’s own oxytocin production. That means that when you get Pitocin in your IV — whether you’re being induced or just “augmented” — you’re missing out on the natural oxy-rush.
If any woman is going to go through labor, it certainly sounds like it’d be a lot more enjoyable of an experience with the natural oxytocin rushing through your body and priming you to bond with your baby. Seriously. The most oxytocin humans ever experience? Where do I sign up?!
So, for the moms among my readers – what kind of birth did you have, and how do you feel about the experience?