Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Business of Being Born

I have a lot of friends who have recently had babies or who are pregnant now, so this subject matter is at the front of my mind a lot. Plus, I literally work at a hospital, so I see all sorts o reminders of people being sick and situations that I don't want to be in, so the whole act of "having a baby" is something that has always fascinated me. The premise of this movie is that the majority of births in the Unites States occur in hospitals, which has effectively put the midwife out of business. Ricki Lake and colleagues follow around a prominent midwife to multiple home births and make the point that if you're a healthy mom and you have a normal pregnancy, then hospital birth may make things more complicated than you realize. The female body knows precisely how to have a baby and interventions normally used in the hospital can affect everything, from the progress of labor to the type of birth that ends up happening. The documentary attempts to show normal, natural birth at home as a way of normalizing home birth and introducing the general public to the art of midwifery. I have never given birth, so my first-hand knowledge of this is null, but I am a scientist and I do understand statistics. I do know that if you begin interventions (labor induction, epidural, etc) your chances of having a C-section are significantly increased. From personal experience, I do know that your brain will act totally wacko when you are in situations of pain or extreme discomfort - making you kind of "high", for lack of a better word. And I do know that women have been having children for thousands of years, so, theoretically, we should know what we are doing. I really enjoyed this movie. I thought it was well done, and I thought it did shed some light on the act of home birth in trying to normalize the idea for people. I do think that it's likely an unrealistic choice for most people who do not live in a large, urban area. I think the best thing about New York (and Philly, too) is that there are hospitals within close proximity to most residences. Such that, if a complication occurs, you head to the hospital as soon as you can and you and the baby are likely OK. I do think that, if faced with the prospect of giving birth, I would likely employ a midwife as the midwives I have met have had a certain personality, a confidence, which I think would be comforting and soothing in extreme situations. Doctors with a good bedside manner, with patience? I have met few. I think the documentary is quite one-sided, but I did enjoy the idea that women should feel empowered to have their children as they want to - that birth plans should not be changed to suit the needs of the doctor or nurses. However, I don't think the film fully explored rational thought and the risks involved. While there were statistics involved in hospital births, there were few statistics involved in home birth - what are the risks? While, of course, the midwife shows up with equipment - for example, does she have the ability to stop maternal hemorrhage? While the documentary says that the US has the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the developed world, is this actually due to hospital births? Or the loss of the art of midwifery? Or horrible prenatal care? Or the lack of healthcare for poor people? I mean, I can't imagine that people giving birth in hospitals are more likely to die, right? I guess a lot of this I just don't know. The home births were stunningly beautiful and really amazing. I cried at each one. I love the idea of being home, recovering at home, and just staying there, without interventions. I love the idea of letting my body take over, letting it do what it needs to (easier said than done, I am sure) and I love the idea of midwifery, which has been practiced and passed on for thousands of years. Altogether, this film made me think a lot about birth in general, birth on a personal level, and all of the physiologic processes that occur at birth that we don't even understand. I am glad for the knowledge, and I think that's the best thing a documentary can provide.


Coodence said...

I read the book (or parts of it) while I was knocked up. It's totally helpful for the reasons you say - empowering to women and a nice reminder that we do know what we're doing and we're ultimately totally able to have babies.

Especially in the end, when I was having sonograms every two days because I was two weeks "late" (a falsehood, too), I was like DUDE NEXT TIME I AM GETTING A MIDWIFE!

But, my doctor had a terrific bedside manner, was calm and patient and lovely and my birth story was beautiful and unforgettable.

Also, it's really more about the nurses anyways in big hospitals. Would love to talk with you more about it.

Randi said...

I had a great hospital experience and the epidural was quite frankly the best thing that ever happened to me during the childbirth process. Cod's right, though, you mainly deal with nurses. My doctor was literally there for half an hour. Afterward, when I was bleeding like a geyser, I was glad I wasn't at home. I guess it all basically depends on personal preference.