The norm for birth today, in the US and most industrialized countries, is going to a hospital to give birth. Yet not so long ago many people were born at home. In 1919 my father was born at home, as were most of his brothers and his sister. He still recalls the midwife tossing the baby to his mother through the air wrapped tightly in a blanket. He has memories of birth. Most of us don’t. Only 1%–2% of us choose to have a home birth. I chose to have a home birth with my daughter and son. Those two births were the most important and incredible events in my life.
All forms of treatment — be they alternative or western medicine — have the potential to cause harm. We must carefully evaluate their effects on our health and well-being through risk analysis. This process is critically important during conception, pregnancy, birth and the first few months of life. Yet, when pregnant and giving birth many of our choices unknowingly cause harm. We forget how important it is to make decisions based on our heart, mind and our gut. Instead of trusting our innate inner wisdom we often turn ourselves over to “the experts” without enough consideration. We do not question the efficacy of routine practices and procedures. What are the risks vs possible benefits? Ultimately, we are the ones who will have to live with the consequences.
Our prevailing cultural belief is that birth is a dangerous process that is best handled by medical experts. The majority of typical westernized births involve some kind of surgical procedure. Many parents want to have the highest level of technology easily available to them without realizing that in the vast majority of births these things should not be necessary. We believe in medical technology more than we trust our own bodies. This way of giving birth is accepted by most industrialized cultures.
The US is second to last in infant mortality in the list of industrialized nations. Pregnancy and birth have become very clinical and over medicalized to the detriment of our health and well-being. We forget that women have been giving birth for centuries. Birth was attended by midwives, friends and family members. Midwives and mothers trusted the birth process and women’s bodies. Currently the majority of births are attended by obstetricians who are surgeons trained to deal with birth problems or complications. Interestingly, one industrialized country with a high home birth rate, the Netherlands at 82%, also has the best infant mortality rates in the world.
There are many factors contributing to the way we give birth in the US. When we allow the use of medical procedures, done routinely instead of when medically indicated, outcomes for mothers and babies are not as good. OB’s pay higher malpractice rates than any other doctor. More parents are suing than at any other time in history. Is this the mindful, caring, compassionate, and loving environment we want to bring our children into their first days of life? We are grateful for medical care that is truly life-saving and causes no harm. Too many of the practices and procedures used during pregnancy, labor and birth are not evidence based or proven safe.
If we look at the statistics we notice that we have the highest C-section rates in the history of our country. Thirty percent of mothers give birth by cesarean on average. This means that in some hospitals the rate is even higher. C-section has become so common that it is accepted as a norm. Some countries have much higher averages. Yet this is major abdominal surgery and comes with much higher risk to both mother and baby than vaginal birth. Parents are not educating themselves about the risks of typical hospital birth. The norm is no longer the normal physiological process of birth.
Undisturbed birth involves far less risk than medications or surgery for both baby and mom. Birth pain that is manageable for a majority of mothers with consistent support. If you are in a place where you feel comfortable and safe, and you are surrounded by people you love and support your choices, the pain will be far less. Choose practitioners that understand and support the normal birth process. Most often they will be midwives and doulas. The hard work and pain of labor assist in the bonding process. Birth is a hormonal process. Love is a hormonal process. If medications are present at birth what happens to the love? If fear is present at birth what happens to birth process? Some cultures don’t believe that birth is painful and do not experience any pain during birth!
How can parents educate themselves?
Ask questions and trust your own inner knowing. If you don’t feel respected and honored in your pregnancy and birth process keep looking for options that will. Keep educating yourself until any and all fears have been relieved. There are many different kinds of birth options and practitioners who attend birth at all levels of intervention. Learn about all your options starting with where you can give birth and explore all of them in depth until you can discern the differences.
Parents almost always choose less intervention oriented options with each child. Choosing the mindful way of birth will take time. There are so many things to learn. Consider this part of your parenting journey. Parenting brings supreme challenges and rewards. Mindful birth includes immediate uninterrupted bonding, and breastfeeding as part of the best beginning for babies. How we treat families during the birth process is an indicator of how much we value human life as a culture. If it takes a village to raise a child — it takes a village to birth a child.
Jo Anne Lindberg is president and founder of BirthLink which gives Chicagoland parents access to practitioners who support undisturbed birth, bonding and breastfeeding. She also offers private consults for parents. Visit BirthLink.com or call 847-733-8050.