Monday, November 23, 2009

Do women in America fear birth?

Recently, a well known childbirth magazine published a question about birth in America and invited feedback from health care professionals and readers. The question: Why do women in America fear birth?

I immediately responded to this question because I believe we are in danger of losing the birth experience in America today.

Medical intervention during birth is at an all time high, with surgical birth rates (C-sections) at 33% (three times higher than recommended) and medicated births at over 80%. Despite medical intervention, still, America's infant mortality rate is the 2nd highest of all industrialized nations. The truth is medical intervention birth does not automatically mean a safer or better birth.

Here is my answer to Midwifery Today:

Fear of birth is common, if not universal, among pregnant women. I believe the main reason women fear birth in this country is because there are not enough natural birth examples to guide expectant mothers.

As a health care professional and mother, I try to lead by example. However, in my own childbirth experiences, both personal and professional, there are two few women helping women give birth. There are too few mothers who give birth with women by their side, nurturing them, caring for them, and respecting their choices. There are too few examples of supportive, loving partners who learn pain management techniques to help their mate. And, there are even fewer examples of health care professionals who create a compassionate environment for a natural birth experience.

The reason for a paucity of "leadership by example" is multi-faceted.
Many childbirth experts believe the loss of childbirth empowerment and experience began in the early 1900's with the introduction of medicalized birth. As medical intervention has increased, fewer examples exist of women who are giving birth with little medical intervention. Birth has now become a major medical event that provides hospitals with almost 60% of their profits. Birth has become a medical diagnosis that, more than 80% of the time, "requires" hospitalization.
Birth is fast losing its cultural importance as a rite of passage. In addition, fear arises because women have been taught to depend on medicine to birth their babies. As a result, women no longer know how to trust their bodies in birth. It is fear and distrust of the birth experience which will eventually cause us to completely lose the birth experience in America.
Women have historically given up, but now are fighting to regain, the basic human right of being allowed to birth and care for their child in the manner they see fit. In many states women are unable to have home births, professional midwives, or even use birthing balls or choose which way they lay down to give birth. I had to drive 2 hours (during labor, mind you!) in order to birth with a midwife in a facility that allowed me to use holistic methods. Because I am a part of the medical establishment and also a mother who has experienced the loss of rights during pregnancy and birth (before I found my wonderful midwife), I can strongly say it is time for women to finally return to giving birth on their own terms.
Women need to, arm in arm, help each other give birth. We must help dispel this fear based mentality & alarmist attitude surrounding pregnancy & birth. Only then can we reclaim birth as a rite of passage.
This blog and my future book on pregnancy, birth, and postpartum fitness will help women re-frame birth in a context of strength and courage. I believe every woman should have the chance to be fit and confident before, during, and after birth.
In the future I imagine a beautiful, blossoming, organic garden of new mothers and experienced mothers, together with their caring supporters, giving birth in all of its magnificence and mystery. This portrait, not the current one that has been hung far too long in the collective gallery of mother’s minds, is the portrait of birth that needs to be repainted in America.
*photo with my oldest son taken during my second pregnancy, a few days before I gave birth

No comments:

Post a Comment