Ever since I re-watched The Business of Being Born last week, I have been carrying a question around with me that I have been trying to answer for myself. The question was: If we (the human race) continue along the lines of the birthing trends present in developed countries and we do eventually lose the ability to naturally deliver babies, would that be a bad thing?
One of the professionals in the film raised a valid point. Unfortunately, I am only able to partially paraphrase it, but he basically said that if we lose the respect for the most amazing process our human bodies are capable of, i.e. to produce new life, what does that say about us as humans?
The point of respect has been the one to stick with me the most. We as women have been given the power, the gift, the miraculous ability to make new humans. It is the single most incredible thing on this earth. Yet somehow, we have lost sight of what the process of producing new life is all about.
Birth has become something that requires medical attention, monitoring, intervention. It has become something pathological in the hearts and minds of people. It is not understood, it is feared, and it is not respected.
When a woman gives birth to a child, it is not delivered by a doctor, midwife, etc.- it is delivered by the mother who is assisted in her delivery by a doctor, midwife, etc. Women produce new beings within their bodies and then give life to them by birthing them. How absolutely amazing! We should all be in awe of this process. We should all be so fascinated by the miracle of pregnancy and birth that we learn as much as we can about it, that we want to see it for ourselves, that we utterly respect each woman in this time of her life.
Unfortunately, almost the opposite is the case. People only have a very basic knowledge of the pregnancy and birth process and do not usually search for more. Birth is something that only happens in hospitals behind closed doors and people are afraid of seeing it. It is depicted in the media as a gruesome event that only medical professionals can deal with safely.
The fact that births have moved into the hospital has subtly labeled them as a dangerous event. The thousands of years in which humans have successfully multiplied before births were considered a medical emergency are ignored. And so each laboring mother has to feel as though something is not quite right with her when she enters the building for sick and injured people to bring her baby into the world.
Women in labor in an American hospital are typically surrounded by nurses and physicians who are not there primarily to help her and support her during her laboring process, to meet the needs of the mother, but to monitor and intervene in the worst case scenario. Therefore, a laboring woman mainly has the support she has brought with her from outside the hospital. The supporting partners are often just as anxious about the labor process and have little or no experience with helping a laboring woman.
In one of the most expensive maternity care systems in the world, how did it happen that the one person who should be the center of attention is not fully cared for? As someone mentioned in The Business of Being Born, the very first question should be ‘How can we help this woman in labor?’ This does not mean how can she be helped medically. Unless a woman is experiencing complications, no medical help is needed. However, what is needed is real support. That includes a true respect for the mother’s wishes and feelings. It includes emotional guidance to help the woman discover her own strength and confidence.
Today’s hospital births are sterile and unfriendly. There is a certain protocol that must be followed, regardless of the mother’s wishes and feelings. A lot of health care professionals have lost sight of what really matters in the daily trudge that comes with going through the same motions over and over again, of seeing every mother entering their ward as just another birth.
For the laboring woman, this is THE BIRTH. She may have others, it may be her only one. Regardless- for the mother, this is the time she spends bringing her child into the world. It will forever be in her memory and can shape the bond she has with her baby. How did we as a society forget what this process is all about?
I am not suggesting that births should completely move out of the hospital. I am, however, saying that the way things are being done is not right. Something needs to change within society that will bring back the respect that the laboring mother deserves. It would be too easy to blame the health care system- they are only partially at fault. We- the mothers, daughters, husbands, partners, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, etc.- have let this happen. We have put up with care that is not optimal. If we want to ensure that each laboring woman gets the support and respect she needs, we have to demand it! The only way our society will demand it is if it re-discovers what birth really is- it is new beginning, it is promise, it is the best thing our species is capable of doing.