When did birth become something that women looked towards fearfully? When did American women start to look outward for confirmation about their body and baby (doctors/midwives) instead of looking within and using their intuition and innate knowledge of their bodies? Why have we been taught to fear our bodies and not understand them as women? We teach girls that their periods are an inconvenience, and that they just need to insert a tampon and pretend it’s not happening. We tell them how to avoid getting pregnant, but never teach them about the cycles of their bodies, and the sheer power that they have as bringers of life. When and why did women give away their power to birth all on their own, to somebody that didn’t know their baby or body as much as they did? After all, the woman carrying the baby knows her body and baby best. As I started to dig deep back into the past I was shocked to find out what I have. There has been such an element of fear injected into women and men since an early age regarding childbirth. Girls are not taught about their bodies in a healthy and empowering way. I remember being a little girl and watching women give birth on the television. How awful! I thought. Why in the world would any woman want to go through such pain? Also the fact that the woman was in the hospital hooked up to all of these machines, made it look like she was potentially going to die and good thing that modern medicine was there to save her. Oh how backwards this is! Birth is not a medical event. Of course there are pregnancies that are high risk, and monitoring is important in those cases, but not every woman’s pregnancy is high risk. In fact most aren’t. Do cows need midwives/doctors, and constant monitoring? Do cats? Do dogs? Some might argue that humans are different, but why are we the only mammals that seem to have forgotten how to birth?
Today most births in America are attended by a doctor (obstetrician) in a hospital setting, but let’s consider a quick history of birth in America. In the 1700′s most births were attended by midwives. American Indians had their own midwifery traditions as well. In America midwifery, laws varied greatly from state to state, and still do to this day. In some states it is illegal for a midwife to attend a home-birth. In the last half of the 1800′s medicine was becoming “professionalized” in the U.S. This then brought competition. At the beginning of the 20th century midwives attended only half of all births, and the doctors attended the other half. Two reports were published (1910 and 1912) stating that obstetricians were poorly trained, and in order to improve their knowledge they recommended all births be moved to the hospital. Thus began the gradual abolition of the midwife. (yeah! that totally makes sense) Poor women were urged to attend charity hospitals which would serve as training grounds for new doctors, and this is when women gave their power away, and let their bodies be used as test subjects. Of course they were hearing this advice from “expert doctors” and subsequently ignored their intuition.
Twilight sleep was introduced in 1914. Twilight sleep was a combination of morphine (for relief of pain) and scopolamine, which acted as an amnesiac so the woman would have no memories of the rape…I mean “birth”. Wealthy women opted for twilight sleep frequently as it was a sign of “medical progress”. This later proved extremely detrimental to mothers and babies.
How empowering! Yes, that is a lifeless looking baby that he is holding up. The drugs given to the mom pass through to the baby.
1915- Joseph DeLee described in the most important obstetric textbook of it’s time that birth was a pathological process that damages mother’s and their babies “often and much”. He urged people to view birth properly as a “destructive pathology” and not a normal function. He wanted to save women from “evils nature to labor”. He recommended the use of sedatives, ether, episiotomies (the cutting of the perineum and vagina) and the use of forceps.
GRAPHIC IMAGE (Sorry guys, it’s terrible but people need to know what is being done to our women)
Many doctors will perform episiotomies without even telling the woman (after all, she’s numb right?). These can leave lasting problems for the woman, they can become infected, and even cause a fistula, which makes her incontinent, and subsequently ruins her life (unless she can get fistula surgery) Not to mention the traumatic mental, and emotional scars.
Some might argue that the medicalization of birth made things safer because of all the stories we hear about women dying in childbirth years ago. What they are forgetting to look at is the state of those pregnant women’s lives that were dying. Many lower class women were overworked, and underfed, which led to complications in childbirth. For a higher status woman, the use of corsets from age 11 deformed the development of the pelvis, along with the fact that higher status women were told to stay inside all day because they didn’t want to get sun on their pale white skin (not much walking or fresh air). Shame, fear, and guilt were also infected into the minds of young women, which, yes, you guessed it! Screws things to completely.
Don’t worry ladies, they make them for pregnant women too! Yeah, that’s healthy.
American hospital birth is still operating under the paradigm set up by Dr. DeLee (scary!) 66% of hospital revenue is from childbirth. 66%!!!!! Fear can really be good for making money. Just a little stat: Between 1915 and 1929 infant mortality increased 41% after the obstetrical interference of birth. Hmmmmm. Yeah, that totally makes sense. They are just making things “safer”. Yeah, awesome! Not to mention the trauma experienced by mother and baby, which is NEVER forgotten, even on the deepest subconscious levels.
A typical hospital birth:
The woman will come into the hospital in the early stages of labor and will be told to undress and wear a hospital gown. Why the hell does she need to go to the hospital, let alone wear a hospital gown? She has now assumed the role as “patient” and this effects the way the woman is viewing her birthing experience from the get go. She is usually wheeled in a wheelchair into her laboring room where she is then hooked up to IV’s monitors and can only usually lie on her back because of all of the machines she is hooked up to. This is telling the woman that her labor is not “safe” that she needs to be monitored because childbirth is unsafe and things could go horribly wrong. She is then subjected to vaginal exams from a complete stranger that can be painful and extremely invasive. They need to check “how far along she is”. This solidifies for the woman that her body is not her own and that she can be poked and prodded whenever the “professionals” see fit. The “medical experts” then leave the room until things “progress”. If things are not “progressing on time”, then pitocin (a synthetic from of oxytocin that stimulates contractions, or as I like to call them “rushes”), is added to her IV. The rushes now are coming on very strong, hard, and close together. This becomes overwhelming to the woman and painful. She then might ask for an epidural because the pain is so intense. The epidural has many side effects. It can cause a fever, or a woman can have an allergic reaction to it. For many women it will numb the pain but also numbs them from the waist down so they are unable to feel anything. They are checked again, and when dilated to 10cm (cervix has opened all the way) are told to start pushing. This proves to be very difficult for the woman because she can’t feel anything!!! This pushing phase can last a long time, and again if the woman does not progress in the way that hospital guidelines state, she is either given an episiotomy and the baby is pulled out by a vacuum, or she is sent in for a C-section, a completely unnecessary C-section. C-sections are major surgery. Major surgery means a long hospital stay which means lots of money the hospital can bill, and don’t we all know how hospitals love to bill. ($200 for a Tylenol, really?) A lot of the times at a hospital birth, the baby is taken away from the mother to be put under a warmer and tested, poked, and prodded. If the mother has had a C-section she will sometimes have her baby taken away and put in a nursery while she recovers. Since the baby has no one to bond with, they bond to the machines. Maybe this why we see so many machine-like people walking around.
It is vital that the baby go right to the mothers warm chest right after birth, not a damn warmer! They both need to get each others scent, and bond. This is the most crucial time for baby and mother bonding. The baby can then find the breast and begin to suckle, which is beneficial for both mother and baby. I recently witnessed a hospital birth, and felt so badly for the way the mother was treated. The doctor didn’t do anything! The baby was coming on its own. The mother and baby were doing all of the work. He just stood their and caught the baby, bravo!
This leads me to an epiphany I had recently, and many other women are starting to see this too. Birth is normal! It is not a medical event! Many women have been giving birth in their homes, with only the people they feel most comfortable present. Most home-birth midwives are there contractually and a woman is not able to form a close bond with this woman (this isn’t the case for all midwives). For a woman to feel a level of intimacy in her birthing space, she must feel comfortable with everyone who is there. Birth is a sexual experience! This is how the baby got in there. How is it sexual? These common components can be found with almost all births: erotic sounds, body positions/postures, women instinctively wanting to ‘touch’ themselves, after glow, arch of the body, the shape the woman’s mouth makes, heavy breathing/panting, eyes rolling back, body scent, hormones, intimate contact with partner, kissing, as well as the ejection reflex which is similar to the orgasmic reflex.
The people a woman wants at her birth is different for every woman. Every woman has their own unique comfort level. For me personally I wouldn’t want someone I didn’t have a close bond with to be present while I am giving birth. This actually can hinder the birth process, and labor can be stalled (See: Ina May Gaskin: Sphincter Law). I feel it is so important that we are there for each other as women, and as friends, knowledgeable about the beautiful process of birth, and are there to support each other in this life changing time. Women all over have been birthing babies at home, without a doctor or midwife present for thousands of years, and still are. It’s just not very mainstream.
Of course there’s money to be made, especially if you scare a woman. I truly believe that if women were taught from a young age that birth is completely normal, and is not some agonizing terrible process, that the number of women who report pain/trauma in childbirth would diminish significantly. I’d like to leave you with these two beautiful videos. What if we were shown these videos as girls? What if we were encouraged to develop a loving, and understanding relationship with our bodies. I feel that we all have forgotten how to understand and have an intimate relationship with our bodies, as we have abandoned them for our heads. Women! Stop giving your power away. Our bodies have been designed to birth babies, and this is your power. This is your rite of passage. Women, it’s time to take back birth. We are the birthkeepers.