Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Two new articles about unassisted childbirth

For the past month or so I’ve been hearing about a UC article that was published in the UK magazine Junior Pregnancy and Baby. Yesterday someone finally sent me a copy, which I scanned in.

In addition to some nice quotes from me, there were several wonderful quotes from the lovely and talented Veronika Robinson, editor of The Mother magazine, and many excellent comments from our dear Dr. Michel Odent. “For decades, women have been told that they need a guide to tell them what to do and when,” says Odent. “But the basic mammalian need is for privacy. To give birth, women must release the key hormone oxytocin, and it is a shy hormone – if there are people around it doesn’t appear. These women are teaching us what is most important.” Wow! Thanks, Michel! British mum, Julia Wilson spoke beautifully about UC, once again. Julia is one of the women that appeared with me on the Richard and Judy Show last summer.

Another nice UC article was just posted on the iparenting web site. I enjoyed talking to writer Kelly Burgess, and felt she accurately stated my views on the subject. But of course there were the usual quotes from a doctor and midwife (as there were in the British article). It’s too bad they don’t have a place for comments, as I would have liked to comment on this one.

Dr. Ronald Librizzi, chief of maternal-fetal medicine for Virtua Health says that “even in a population that appears to be glowingly healthy, in about 20 percent of all pregnancies something will go seriously wrong and require medical intervention. Only a trained professional, he says, can recognize those at high risk.” Of course I question this statistic. It was also cited in the New York Times article on UC in 2002. Jack Travis, M.D. disputed this figure in a letter he wrote to the Times which was never published. I did, however, post it on my site.

Mairi Breen Rothman, a certified nurse-midwife and a consultant with the American College of Nurse Midwives was more understanding of women who choose unassisted birth, but likens it (says the writer of the article) to “swimming in the ocean without a lifeguard. You don't have to pay any attention to the lifeguard while you're swimming, but it's nice to have someone on the beach watching for dorsal fins.” I like Mairi, and corresponded with her briefly after we co-hosted a discussion on the Washington Post web site last July.

But the “lifeguard” analogy doesn’t sit right with me. Swimming is generally a social activity. Most swimmers are comfortable having other people around, and an occasional glance from a lifeguard isn’t an intrusion. But birth is an intimate, private act. How comfortable would most of us feel having sex in front of a lifeguard? Chances are a couple that wanted to have sex on the beach would find a secluded location.

I agree with Mairi when she says "If you give birth in the natural, normal way and Mom is completely relaxed she'll go to a place I like to call the 'birth planet' where you're just being your animal self” but she loses me when she goes on to say, “and you shouldn't be thinking about things like tying off the cord, or maybe wondering if you should call 911. Even coyotes have a midwife in the pack that stands outside the hole to keep the other animals away. Bringing in a professional is something that's perfectly natural in our birthing history."

When I was in labor I never thought about tying off the cord. What’s to think about? It's a very simple procedure that can be performed by anyone with a pair of scissors and a string. I did think briefly about calling 911 when my second baby was coming out feet first, but decided against it. I relaxed, didn't interfere physically or psychologically, and everything turned out beautifully.

However, had a midwife been there I certainly would have been transported to the hospital, as midwives in Colorado aren’t allowed to do breech births. Of course, a midwife might have detected the baby’s position prior to the birth and either tried to turn him (which I wouldn’t have wanted) or told me I needed to give birth in a hospital. As far as coyotes having midwives, another member of the pack may indeed keep other animals away, but how does this apply to women giving birth today in the safety of their homes?

Besides, midwives generally don't stand "outside the hole." In Colorado, not only aren't they allowed to leave the mother's side, they must do vaginal exams in labor (which puts them literally in "the hole"), take the mother's temperature and blood pressure on a regular basis, and check the baby's heart tones every 5 to 10 minutes during the second stage of labor (among other things). Many women find it difficult to go to the "birth planet" (i.e. relax into an altered state of consciousness) when they're continually checked and monitored.

Regarding Mairi's comment that bringing in a professional is something that's perfectly natural in our birthing history, this simply isn't true. Judith Goldsmith writes in her extensively researched book Childbirth Wisdom From the World's Oldest Societies that midwives are actually a recent phenomenon. "Many students of childbirth, however, speak of the midwife as woman's first helper. In reality, though, even the midwife is a relative newcomer on the scene. In those tribal communities where birth is aided, the assistant is most commonly the woman's own mother.....A casual reading of anthropology does not always make these close family ties apparent, because often the European writer, seeing things in the light of his own background, referred to the person assisting the mother as the ‘midwife’ whether or not she was called this or considered as such by her own society. Further examination, however, reveals that the so-called midwife was very often a close relative of the mother, with no more special knowledge of birth than any other mother in the tribe. This underlines an important point: in a large part of the world, except in difficult cases, a birth required no more specialized help than the members of a woman’s own family could provide."

I'm not anti-midwife, and I understand that most midwives genuinely have a woman's best interest in mind. But when midwives claim women in labor need "lifeguards" or use phrases “keeping other animals away” they perpetuate the idea that birth is dangerous and women need protection.


The Head Surgeon said...

I have to throw my 2 pence into the pot here.

Whenever these medical practitioners comment about the "peril" that is "inherent" in childbirth, I wonder if they realize how much of that "peril" is brought on by "medical" interventions.

A woman's body isn't meant to be forced into submission during birth, it is supposed to be guide a woman through!

I recently posted in's community asking what those women thought of homebirth (not freebirth, just at home) I received responses from, "I'm sorry but giving birth in your house is not safer than in a hospital" (to which I replied by citing Denmark's great statistics of infant and maternal health) to a woman claiming she had hemmorhaged (sp?) after her most recent birth and "Would have died if not in a hospital" (to which I ask if they had pulled her placenta out or if it came out on it's own, she affirmed they HAD pulled it out {THAT WOULD cause a hemmorhage})

My point is Doctor, Physician, Midwife, they did not bring this baby to life. What role do they really fulfill? My body knows what to do, I just need listen to my body.


Laura Shanley said...

Thanks for your excellent comment, Eveanyn! I agree completely!