Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Business of Being Born

The other day I watched “The Business of Being Born”, thank you very much Mr. Netflix! I really liked it, with a few objections. If you don’t know of it, it’s a documentary about the way the US culture perceives/handles birth, and the reasons that a natural, midwife-assisted birth is better than a managed, medicated, hospital birth.

I am a strange bird who feels strongly that natural is best, but who has only had births full of interventions – and I’m ok with my births. I do wish things had been different with Kori & Rian but not so much that I suffer guilt or serious regret over their births. For that I’m thankful, because I know of many women who had heavy-intervention births and suffer from trauma/remorse/anger over what happened.

Also, while I wish anyone who has the option of doing a totally natural birth would, and would opt for a more midwife-assisted birth (simply because midwives do things differently that tend to mean less interventions), I would never, never, never tell someone they are doing the wrong thing if they chose to get induced or schedule a c-section for whatever reason. That doesn’t mean I might not think what they’re doing is totally stupid – I might, depending on the circumstance! However, if they ask my opinion, I will talk to them about it, and let them know what my experiences were like and the experiences of people I really know, and I know people with a wide range of birth experiences. If they want my advice, I try to help them learn about the various options and possible outcomes, while letting them know that no matter what, I support them as a friend. I can’t stand when people ruin relationships over stuff like this. This isn’t a dealbreaker issue for me the way it is for others.

I’m thinking about this stuff a bit more right now because I’m surrounded by people at work & in my personal life who are pregnant right now. The people in my personal life are already experienced with birth or leaning toward as natural a birth as possible so there isn’t tons of birthing talk going on . . . my co-workers are first-timers, not sure what they want or what is best. I have shared a pregnancy/childbirth book I love and a website I love, and warned them that both (book & site) “lean natural” but that I had very non-natural births and am more interested in helping them learn about their options than seeing them choose one thing or another. And that I’m available to talk at any time about this stuff because I really love it. They have been pretty receptive to this. One is in her 20s, just found out she’s pregnant, and they are going to get married as a result. She’s in a long-term relationship so hopefully marriage will be the right choice, but she’s obviously still a little freaked. Though she’s older than I was and more established (and her dude is way established, I think), I still know what it was like to be unmarried and accidentally pregnant. It is terrifying.

Anyway, back to the movie. I really liked most of it, and having studied so much of this already, it wasn’t shocking to me the way it would have been 4 or 5 years ago. However, something I didn’t like about the movie is the way they argued that by having anything other than a natural birth – especially a c-section – there would be serious problems with Mom & baby bonding, that there would be a lack of the intense hormones (they call them “love” hormones) that cause Mom to be seriously in love with her babies and fiercely protect them and provide for them.

This may very well be the case with some women – many women, maybe. But this was not my experience at all. With Kori I was pumped full of Pitocin, whatever drug was used for the epidural, and who knows what else. With Bennett I had whatever was in the epidural plus serious pain meds afterward (he was my first c-section). Same thing with Rian, my second c-section. I had different types of births each time (induction, pre-term emergency c-section and scheduled c-section though I wanted a VBAC), all of which were heavily super-duper medicated, yet I had absolutely NO problem whatsoever with feeling intense love, bond and need to protect and care for each of my babies. The movie made it sound like Moms who had medicated births were all like “That’s cool, you can just lay the baby on the cold tile floor. Try not to step on it. I’m going to sleep.”

I do think it’s likely that my difficulty breastfeeding was due to the medications and how they affected me and the babies. The medication + stress, exhaustion and just not being as adamant about breastfeeding meant that my kids got very little breastfeeding, I didn’t try hard after a few days, and quickly moved to formula. Again this is an issue where I 100% believe breastfeeding is best for Mom and baby and it should be attempted – yet if a Mom doesn’t want to for ANY reason, and I mean ANY reason, my opinion is that formula is fine and I wish women wouldn’t feel guilty about it.

I think that the movie was wonderfully balanced when you compare it to the overwhelming cultural belief here in the US that birth is a horrible, scary thing that needs to be managed and medicated and feared. But within the movie itself I don’t think it was balanced, I don’t think it allowed for women to be flawed or scared or weak, didn’t leave much room for women who had been raised to trust doctors, who had husbands who were freaked out by the idea of not having the safety net of a hospital/doctor or who maybe wanted to go halfway – wanted what they felt was the security of a hospital, possibility of an epidural, but still wanted to give a totally natural birth a real try. I felt that their opinion of you was that if you weren’t 100% on board with a completely natural birth (assuming there weren’t complications) and probably a home birth, well, you must not have a functioning brain.

It’s tricky. It’s important that people know what the truth about birth is and how our culture turned the way it has (i.e. it wasn’t always this way), and WHY we’ve turned this way. It’s important that people know there are other options, if only for the very practical reasons of the lower costs, lower mortality rates (for both Mom & baby), lower chances of complications that will lead to physical & emotional scars and further complications later in life . . . people need to know that 1 out of every 3 births in the US is a c-section! And we’re moving toward 1 out of every 2! People need to know that sure, 100 years ago more Moms/babies were dying in childbirth more than they are today, but that’s what hospitals are for today - to help the small percentage of Moms who have complications. People need to the know that the pendulum has swung back too far.

Yet I don’t feel that this movie will be palatable for those who are far on the other side of the argument, who don’t have people around them having home births and birth center births and natural hospital births. For the super young mom who isn’t mature enough yet to know she should do the research for herself and understandably listens to her mom/sister/aunt/nurse/doctor, this movie may be too far for her to be able to give it a chance.

I watched it critically on purpose – took note of the music, the illustrations (like of pitocin flowing from IVs, colored bright green like transmission fluid), the obvious clips of doctors who were in mid-sentence when the scene/clip ended . . . not to pick it apart but I wondered, going in, whether this would be a movie that the Ashley who was pregnant with Kori, age 21, scared out of her mind, not knowing anyone her age who’d had a kid, who was told by everyone she met that her doctor was the best ob/gyn in the city, who watched hours of A Baby Story EVERY DAY and was given What To Expect books – whether this movie would have changed her mind. I don’t think so. I would have felt like that was nice and all but that I was sure my doctor had my best interests at heart and that I wouldn’t know where to begin to try and find anyone who’d had a natural or home birth. I would have felt even more bewildered because even if I did see sense in what they were saying, I had absolutely no way to go about getting that kind of birth.

Now, that doesn’t mean that they should not present the facts because it will be hard for some people to take or carry out. I’m just saying that they have to understand that the way they present certain parts of the movie WILL totally mean that some people will not receive it well, and I’m not talking about the “evil” doctors, I’m talking about the women they’re trying to persuade to give natural birth a try. And that’s too bad. I wish, after watching this, that there was a slightly milder version – a version with the hard facts of the original, but with less judgment – with less self-righteousness and more understanding that they’re asking women to stand against a tidal wave. The movie makes an argument that our culture is completely overrun with the current way birth is perceived and handled, that there is no real balance. Well, consider that the same force that makes this perception so pervasive is one that is extremely hard to push against, and that it doesn’t help that fight when you feel like those who are right think you’re dumb if you don’t do it completely their way.

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