Whenever I hear women say, “I am so thankful for doctors, because without them, I (or my baby) would have died in childbirth,” I’m left with mixed emotions. While, on one hand, I’m, of course, very glad that mother and baby are doing well, on the other hand, I wonder if something could have been done earlier that would have made the doctor’s help unnecessary. Simple things like being in a labor-enhancing position, being helped and enabled to relax, and allowing labor to follow its own time schedule can make a big difference in how a woman’s labor progresses. Even something as simple as having a support person knowledgeable in labor at the laboring woman’s side (such as a doula) the whole time can make a huge difference!
So, when I hear a woman relay her childbirth story, and when part of that story is that she was in a hospital with her husband (and perhaps other nervous family members), she had a number of different nurses throughout her labor, her labor didn’t follow the “correct” timetable, and that she spent the majority of her laboring time on the bed, I think to myself: “No wonder you needed medication and/or assistance from the doctor!” But yet, the way the mother remembers the story, it was the doctor or the anesthesiologist that saved her, that saved a bad problem from getting worse.
Those active in the worlds of midwifery, doula-ing, and natural childbirth know that, sadly, sometimes modern medicine follows a paradigm that creates problems it then needs to solve. Now, this isn’t the case all of the time. I realize that. But, I also know enough about natural childbirth and how it works, as well as statistics about medicated childbirth, to know that it’s true too much of the time. Childbirth interventions can easily be a slippery slope, when once one intervention is used, another intervention becomes necessary. Before long, the entire birth is being medically managed, and the beauty and earthiness and personal triumph of the childbirth experience has been taken away from the mother, rendering her simply a patient upon which prodecures are performed and a baby is extracted.
I am always happy when a mother and baby make it through labor safely. This is always a blessing. I also realize that in a sin-infected world, nothing will be perfect. Unfortunately, being a person with perfectionistic tendencies, it’s hard for me to not want to make perfection as my goal. So, when people, especially family members, tell with me that “if it wasn’t for the doctor, I would have died/baby would have died/some other bad thing would have happened,” there’s nothing I can say in response except for, “I’m so glad everything turned out well.” Because if I argue against the procedures and interventions done to the woman, there’s no way for me to not end up looking like the bad guy and sounding like I hate doctors and modern medicine. I DON’T hate doctors, and neither do I hate modern medicine. Futhermore, I know that in some circumstances, procedures done by the doctors and nurses DO save the lives of mother and baby. But, that’s not always true.
I feel that, in a natural process like childbirth, a process that is not a disease, not an illness and is something women are built to do, modern medicine often makes it more complicated than it needs to be. Doctors mean well, want to help, and give much of their time and energy to helping other. But, sometimes I wonder if they’re working from a specific template of “Childbirth As Crisis,” and I wonder if, in some circumstances, the template might not be the best.
It’s hard. I end up sounding cranky and mean, and then people think I’m wacko. It’s small comfort that most original thinkers were hailed as idiots and/or heretics in their lifetime, because I don’t like being thought ill of, nor do I particularly like going against popular opinion. But other smart people feel the same way as me. For example, check out Henci Goer’s book: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth. In it, she cites studies and statistics that back up the ideas about which I have written here. It’s definitely food for thought when you, or a woman you love, is pregnant.
Also, check out the movie The Business of Being Born. Similar thoughts are shared much more eloquently in that documentary.