Tuesday, November 29, 2011
On Why We Fear
I was hanging out on my new absolute most favorite blog, The Feminist Breeder (hi, Gina!), and read her most recent post, Things I Would Say to the Hospital Staff if I Saw Them Today... It was a pretty moving post, because it reminds me of some of the things I experienced while I was in the hospital, and my varying but overall moderately unpleasant experiences. While I know that what I went through was nothing compared to some moms, and while I wouldn't go as far as calling it "birth rape" (which by the way is a very real and incredibly harmful experience for a mom), I know that the things I was put through will stick with me through the end of time. There are things that were said and done that I will never, never forget.
That being said, she opened up the post to encourage others to vent their frustrations and bad experiences, in hopes of helping to relieve some of the tensions and pressure that many moms who have had negative births carry with them for years. Everyone was sharing and very supportive, until one user, "landdrn", popped in and had this gem to share:
"To every mother who has their child alive and in their arms: Stop being so negative towards hospital births. Yes, while many C-Sections are preformed in hospitals, doctors and nurses are making decisions only with the best interest of the patient and the baby. Not one patient I have cared for has wanted a csection, including myself, but sometimes it is the only way a baby can come safely and healthy. Unfortunately there is no way to see into the future and tell if a baby will be born vaginally or not. People do give natural child birth every last effort, including pushing for many many hours not making any progress, but at the end of the day the goal is healthy baby and healthy mom. Its easy to look back and say that your CSection was unnecessary, but you have no way of knowing that it wasn't. You dont KNOW that if you had not had a c section the baby would have been born vaginally, or ALIVE. Each and everyone of you may have had a "horrible" experience, but it is what you make of it. You should all just be thankful that you have happy and healthy children in your arms, and stop harping on the fact that it didnt go your way. Welcome to parenthood. Nothing goes as planned."
I have to admit I felt a few different things when I first read her (I assume female) response. The first thing I felt was, well.. Stupid. I mean, in a way, at least to me, she's right - my experiences, while unfortunately "typical" for a hospital birth, weren't necessarily horrible. Sure, I felt off and was upset by some of the things that were said and how I was treated, but I DID end up with two otherwise healthy, awesome kids. I didn't even have to have a c-section! I'm lucky in that regard. It at least never got THAT bad. Who am I to be complaining, to be upset about what happened, to have any ill will toward ANYONE who attended my birth?
The second thing I felt was pretty much unadulterated fury. How DARE she?! How could she possibly belittle and invalidate the feelings and experiences of hundreds, even thousands of women in one fell swoop? How on earth could someone actually think that way, someone who was part of the "big medical conspiracy" to ruin the birth experiences of women by forcing them through inductions and "unnecessarians" just to avoid lawsuits saying that more could have been done?
And then it hit me.
Because, well, that's what she has been taught to do.
It's incredibly difficult for me to back off for a moment and look at her position without the judgment of someone who has "been there", especially when my feelings are so very muted compared to others who have been through hell during birth and who are actually afraid of having more children, or who suffer from PTSD episodes by just walking into a hospital or doctor's office. While I think I have a healthy bunch of salt with me at all times to toss over my shoulder when a medical professional tells me something, I know too why they do what they do. Yes, some of it is money - but some of it is also the unfortunate and very legitimate point that we are a sue-happy society. Hell, there are people here who have sued fast food joints for serving hot coffee - it doesn't get much worse than that, does it? We jump to the conclusion that even when it's fairly obvious things were done "properly" that something was missed somewhere, or was overlooked. A single lawsuit can change how an entire profession functions, permanently. That has to be a pretty terrifying thought, especially for someone whose occupation and the laws surrounding it allow them to more or less do as they please, as long as what they do follows the hospital's rules, and still be home for dinner or head out on vacation while not missing a single high-paying birth. Losing a position at a hospital can take an individual's income from $100k+ a year down to basically nil in a matter of a few seconds, and when your lifestyle reflects your income, losing a position like that just isn't an option.
In protecting ourselves, our bodies, and our children, we have inadvertently made it nearly impossible to defend ourselves and ensure our rights to a safe, healthy birth. It's a terrifying realization, but it's true.
Cesarean sections used to be relatively rare. Back when most of our country was rural, doctors rarely attended birth - instead, family members or local midwives would attend. Unfortunately, because these midwives often didn't have the experience, tools, or ability to perform c-sections when they were needed, more moms and babies DID pass away because the surgical option simply wasn't present. When cities became the norm during the Industrial Revolution, and more people had access to a hospital instead of a rural doctor, things began to change and women gave birth in hospitals. Cue the 1940s - 1960s, when it became the norm for women to be completely knocked out or given medications that left them virtually unable to participate in or remember their births. It was a time when women stayed in the hospital for upwards of two weeks, where breastfeeding became a nuisance and formula became the socially accepted norm. Thanks to modern medicine at the time, there was also a positive aspect: more women who would have died or lost their babies without access to a c-section not only survived, but had healthy kids. It was considered a huge medical revolution.
Then things went to hell.
Lawsuits started when doctors hesitated to perform c-sections. I'm sure you can see where it went from there, but this situation goes hand-in-hand with the current tendencies of parents and moms wanting to return to our "roots" and birth children without the interventions of medicine if they aren't necessary. Obviously, because of the difficulty of staying within insurable guidelines and because of the need to avoid lawsuits that could cost a professional their job, they often lean toward the more predictable birth process: a c-section scheduled long before birth is expected.
But women deserve better. Knowing that birth is a pretty predictable state in and of itself, with changes here and there, should be enough - and with today's technology available, it's easy to foresee a number of potential complications ahead of time. Complications that would necessitate the care of a high risk OB, or birthing at a hospital, or even a scheduled c-section. There will always be that measure of unpredictable situations, but when it comes down to it, a trained professional - be it an OB, a doula, a nurse, or a midwife - should have an idea of how to handle those situations, even if it means transferring to a hospital for further assistance. Birthing in any situation should not automatically guarantee that a mom has given up all rights to her baby, her body, and her own ability to make decisions. It shouldn't mean that a mom has scrapped autonomy for the sake of what other people think is right, unless it is truly an emergency.
Childbirth is the one thing that we women have all to ourselves, and even then it's something that not all of us are blessed to ever experience should we choose to. It should be a memorable experience because it was positive and because it made us feel empowered, because we were making our own choices and informed decisions - not because we mourn the experience.