American Childbirth Needs Change
The Birth Experience As Empowering
Childbirth in America needs to change. America has the highest infant and mortality rates of any industrialized nation. Additionally, women are scared of birth and being scared into making fear based decisions about childbirth, rather than being respectfully informed and supported in their birth decisions.
We need to start acting like birth is valuable. We know full well it gives rise to our entire future. There is power in a woman’s ability to give birth to that future.
As women, we need to reclaim that power. As women, we have given up that power and allowed ourselves to be pushed into a corner. That corner is an operating room where birth is a procedure. Birth is a beautiful life enriching rite for the women who choose the road less traveled.
Giving Birth in the USA is Disempowering
Birth is not a pathologic event. It is a natural rite of passage. Birth is not a sterile, capitalistic business owned by hospitals and medical professions from which to generate profit. Birth is the private, nurturing business of women and belongs in the hands of women.
Unfortunately, prenatal care and hospital birth are an astoundingly profitable business for ob/gyns and hospitals. For the mother, hospital births are very expensive, between $5000 – $10,000 for a simple vaginal delivery. The cost of a midwife, in contrast, is a fraction of that. (Plus, when my I gave birth to my first child [in 2005], my midwife stayed with me throughout my labor). In addition, I knew that when using an ob/gyn, my chances for a c-section would increase to 33%, roughly, or 1 in 3. Most of my friends who ended up with c-sections labored a fraction of the time I did (about 1/3) before their ob/gyns emphatically stated they must have a c-section because of “failure to progress.” Additionally, many hospitals still have antiquated policies in place, such as requiring lithotomy position for birth or blocking mothers from using alternative methods for pain relief.
Obstetricians are trained as surgeons and should attend high risk, not low risk, births. Midwifes have all privileges and training that a physician has, except to perform major surgery. We are taxing an already burdened health care system by using health care providers who are not needed. Obstetricians are stretched extremely thin and are responsible for more work and more liability (and higher malpractice costs) than any other physician subspecialty. We need to utilize ob/gyn’s only when they are needed, so they may attend to higher risk births and provide the critical care that is needed for those high-risk expectant mothers.
The Value of An Empowered Birth Experience
We could ensure a future generation of women who will be strong, empowered mothers who trust their own bodies. Our views on birth are being shaped by an overly technocratic maternity system, when what we really need is a humanistic return to holistic birth. If we do not act, the next generation may completely lose the experience of birth.
Robbie Davis-Floyd, in her book Birth as an American Rite of Passage describes birth as it can be, as “wholistic” women’s health, rather than the medicalized “technocratic” process that currently defined birth in America. Women should be fully educated and informed about all of their birth choices, and not scared into making decisions based out of fear or belittlement.
Improving the Status of Women in America
We have only an illusion of control and choice when we birth in a hospital.
There are serious cultural implications for women’s social status if women reclaim the right to birth on their own terms. Women gave up their rights to birth in the early 20th century. Instead, they fought for medical intervention as a way to liberate themselves from the biology of giving birth. However, what happened was the opposite of liberation.
Now, 100 years later, the medical establishment owns birth. Hospitals require FM (fetal monitoring) and other medical interventions and insurance companies refuse to allow women to try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) or to cover costs associated with VBAC’s.
We have only an illusion of control and choice when we birth in a hospital. I had a hospital birth, and had to drive 2 hours to get to a hospital which would even “allow” me to use a birthing ball or a midwife whose hands weren’t “tied” by antiquated hospital policy.
When we give up our rights to birth the way we choose, we devalue birth, which is the ultimate feminine act. We thus simultaneously devalue ourselves. Millions of women through all of history have been strong and confident enough to trust their bodies. We can return to that place of trust.
Modern medicine saves lives during truly high risk births, and ob/gyn’s are an absolutely necessary and very valuable part of the process; however the fact remains that the majority of births are low risk.
If we can reestablish ownership of our own bodies, then we can foster improved social status for women in every way: physically, financially, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and intellectually.