“My most fervent prayer for all pregnant women is that they read this book and heed its wisdom. In doing so, they will remember their women’s wisdom and never forget it. Thank you, Ina May, from the bottom of my heart for writing this guide to natural childbirth. This information can change the world” Christine Northrup M.D.
By the fifth month of my first pregnancy Ina May’s book had made its way into my hands, but I had not yet found a midwife. When I finally did come into contact with the last remaining independent midwife in this rural area, she was everything she was supposed to be. I was twenty four, and she fulfilled her unwritten job description with grace, with a special emphasis on “mothering the mother-to-be”. Midwifery is surely a calling.
In patriarchal society such women risk their livelihoods, their reputations and even their lives. Incarceration is a risk they take with every birth they attend. They consciously fight the patriarchal medical machine in order to be allowed access to birthing women at all, without male interference. One mistake is all it takes for them to be shut down for good.
In the past, millions of midwives were accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. Their ‘crime’ was that they helped women during childbirth. Trying to relieve women’s suffering meant that they were evil because, according to Christianity, labour was women’s payback, for… eating an apple. Labour pain couldn’t possibly be there to inform the birthing woman on how to best position her body in order to get the baby out… Definitely not. Clearly it exists because women were born to be punished by a fairy that lives in the sky. (Yes, it bears repeating: men are insane)
These very special women practice the oldest profession out of love, which means that when they are left to manage their craft independently (i.e when they are not subordinate to a doctor) they rarely, if ever, make mistakes. By contrast, their brothers, the Ob/Gyns, are taught at medical school that the birth process is, by definition, pathology, one big mistake waiting to happen. Women’s bodies are—according to their textbooks— faulty machines, liable to breaking down, and require firm guidance by male hands before they can even get to first base.
A good midwife sees a potential problem long before it has time to escalate. A midwife worth her salt will also focus on diet during pregnancy; whereas Ob/Gyns are taught that diet does not influence pregnancy and birth, and that the baby ‘takes all it needs from the mother’s body’. As incongruous as it sounds, this is indeed what men teach each other about women’s bodies.
At one point in my first pregnancy I showed signs of the potentially lethal toxemia (protein in the urine). Whereas with an OB/Gyn I would have been put on the “at risk” register, and wheeled in for a C-section, my midwife sat me down very sternly and told me, ‘We’re going to go through your diet with a fine tooth comb. What are you eating?’
She made me write a list. It turns out I had been adding soy sauce (which is full of sodium) to salted fish in the morning, and this had affected the urine samples (I was too embarrassed to mention the Big Mac and coke I sometimes ate en route to my check-ups!). She forced me to cut out certain other foods as well, and within a week the signs of the potentially deadly toxemia had disappeared.
I will write the story of that first birth another time, maybe in my next post, but suffice it to say, it was beautiful. But I would never have taken that step of trusting my own body had it not been for Ina May Gaskin.
Over thirty years of experience as a midwife have not lessened my awe and respect for the efficiency and beautiful design of the female body as expressed in labour and birth. In fact, the years only increase my sense of wonder about how well our bodies can work—given the right circumstances. The outcomes of our births at The Farm Midwifery Centre demonstrate how rare it is for complications and difficulties to occur when women are properly prepared for birth and when technological interventions are kept to a minimum—that is, only used when necessary. Ninety-four percent of women gave birth at home or at our birth center. Fewer than two percent had cesarians. Fewer than one percent had their babies delivered by forceps or vacuum extraction. (Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth.)
Her book is scientific and detailed. Topics include how drugs disrupt hormone regulation during childbirth, and how this increases a woman’s pain because the body’s natural painkiller (endorphins) isn’t able to function properly. Fear also plays an important factor in this:
We need to remember that mothers who are afraid tend to secrete the hormones that delay or inhibit birth. This is true of all mammals and is part of nature’s design. Those who are not terrified are more likely to secrete in abundance the hormones that make labor and birth easier and less painful—sometimes even pleasurable. [Page 149]
It stands to reason that if you sense a predator in your midst, your body shuts down and refuses to give birth. Women’s labours will be stalled in any hospital where male professionals, or any male at all for that matter, including receptionists, janitors, or husbands, are allowed contact with birthing women. When the labour stalls, it is declared by the hospital that she is not “progressing” quickly enough. This ‘failure to progress’ takes place because she (correctly) senses that her life is in danger. That’s when the surgeon’s knives get whipped out.
The media also teaches women to fear birth, through hospital dramas. Dramatic tension in a movie plot requires a mishap or a death. Deaths do occur in birth, and North America does indeed have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world— higher than so-called developing countries such as Kenya (California has a particularly high maternal mortality rate!), but those deaths take place in hospital, when the birth has been presided over by a male ob/gyn. If he has followed protocol to the rote (i.e carried out as much medical intervention as possible) then he will not be held responsible for her death.
As a rule of thumb, midwives tend to not let their women die.
It is the height of irony that many women submit themselves to the hospitals because they are frightened of labour pain, and have not only been misinformed about their bodies’ capabilities, but also about the ‘skills’ and ‘knowledge’ of the medical institutions and professionals that purport to save them from themselves. They are never told, for example, that:
Labour pain is a special type of pain: It almost always happens without causing any damage to the body.
When avoidance of pain becomes the major emphasis of childbirth care, the paradoxical effect is that more women have to deal with pain after their babies are born. Frequent use of epidural anesthesia drives up the rates of C-section and vacuum-extractor and forceps births. Epidurals cause long-term back-ache ain approximately one woman in every five. Sometimes the use of forceps and vacuum extractors results in injury to the baby or the mother. Intravenous lines are often painful as long as they are in place and for a couple of days after they are removed. The more you move and disturb that plastic in your vein, the more it hurts. Women who have cesarian operations must have a catheter inserted in their urethra before the surgery is performed. This hollow tube will be kept in place for at least twenty four hours. While the catheter is in place, many women experience a constant urge to urinate. Of course, since they are constantly ‘peeing’ there is no way to satisfy this urge. Cesarians usually involve the placement of a surgical drain sewed in the part of the wound most likely to efficiently drain away blood and lymph from the abdominal cavity Women find the removal of this drain on the third day particularly painful…. Finally, the formation of intestinal gas after any abdominal surgery (including caesarean operation) is acutely painful for women. Postsurgery soreness can interfere with her handling of her newborn baby. Each of the procedures and conditions I have mentioned above involves pain after birth.
The woman who gives birth without pain interventions, on the other hand, is more apt to be through with pain when her baby is born. Often she is euphoric, buoyed on the hormones released after the birth of her baby. Oxytocin, the love hormone, is released with the final stretch of the perineum around the baby’s head and body….Pain, if present seconds earlier, is often erased…
This is just the tip of the iceberg of how medical interventions destroy women’s chances of a decent, safe and calm labour. Read Ina May’s book and weep. Drugs such as Cytotec, designed to induce labour, can cause haemorrhage and extreme pain because the contractions run too close together (leading to the inevitable C-section, and often, death). Ob/Gyns have freely admitted in writing that they prefer to induce women for the simple reason that labours often start at night, which is inconvenient for them because it interrupts their life schedules.
Episiotomy is still routinely carried out in many countries, when research shows that women are more likely to suffer third degree tears upon receiving one. In other words, the episiotomy (supposedly done in order to “help get the baby out”) encourages the skin to tear all the way up inside, sometimes right through to the bowel, causing incontinence. The woman will be told afterwards that her episiotomy was necessary, and that it saved her baby’s life, but of course there is no evidence at all to show that this is the case: in other words, her baby could well have been fine without it. There is, however, plenty of evidence to show that the procedure causes unnecessary health problems for the mother… whereas if the birth attendant had been patient, they might have witnessed the perineum open slowly like a flower with each push of the baby’s head. No need for cutting and tearing at all. No need for meddlesome interference in the birth process. No need for anything, except patience.
The list is endless. After the baby is out, many ob/gyns are likely to pull on the chord, which is still inside the mother. This sort of meddlesome interference can cause haemorrhage because the chord is still attached to the placenta inside the woman’s body. All that is needed is for the woman to breastfeed her newborn. When she does so, her womb contracts which pushes the placenta out naturally. No need for the drugs that are often given to “encourage” the placenta to come out. In fact, each time she breastfeeds, her womb contracts further, actively preventing haemorrhage. However, in many hospitals the woman is not allowed to breastfeed immediately after birth, and the infant may be whisked away to the nursery, or for tests.
In cases where the mother does haemorrhage, pertinent questions such as “Did you allow her to breastfeed to help her womb to close?” will not be asked of her Ob/Gyn. He will be let off scot free for his ignorance.
Women’s wisdom tells us that in 2013 it is safer for a woman to give birth in the woods, than it is for her to go to those large houses where the genocide of women is taking place. Women can look at the evidence themselves and draw their own conclusions, but all I’ll say is that when the time came for me to birth my babies I put my money where my mouth was, by staying far far away from hospitals.
Part 2 next week