Industrial Childbirth

"Revisiting my son's birth has made me angry."

Industrial Childbirth

My experience of childbirth was not an unusually traumatic one. In medical parlance I had an NVD: a Normal Vaginal Delivery. The midwives were pleasant. I was given an epidural. I was admitted to hospital at 2pm and delivered a healthy baby boy ( 8lb 7oz ) eleven hours later. This is the essential information, is it not? This is the only kind of information that we ever really hear about other women’s experiences with childbirth.

But there is more to it than that. It took me a while to sort out my feelings after the birth – the elation you feel at the presence of a new life combined with your physical exhaustion leave room for little else. And I never really experienced the hopeless grief of the flippantly named "baby blues" in the weeks or months that followed. What I felt – when I was finally able to identify the reasons for my confusion – was anger.

Is anger only blame and self-pity? Or can it be illuminating? For me it can – anger has traveled beyond blame, beyond the individuals involved and my personal experience, and shocked me into changing my whole outlook on life.

I wasn't angry during my pregnancy at the lack of options for childbirth. I never knew what else I could expect. I wasn't angry during any stage of my labor. As soon as I was admitted, I was told that I was two centimeters dilated and my waters were to be broken with something resembling a crochet hook. "Okay." After that I wandered the halls and breathed through contractions for a few hours. When I was re-examined, I hadn't "progressed" enough. I was told this was dangerous for the baby, and I needed an Oxytocin drip to speed up and strengthen the contractions. "Okay." Now, these heightened contractions would be very painful so I'd probably be requiring pain-relief. "Okay." The epidural is probably the most effective "Okay."

I gritted my teeth but I wasn't angry as the drip was repeatedly and painfully inserted incorrectly into my hand, or as the epidural took 20 minutes to stick into my spine. I wasn't angry that I wasn't allowed to eat anything even though I was very hungry. And I wasn't angry that my parents weren't allowed to see me in the delivery ward after driving for hours to be there.

As I watched the clock pass midnight into Halloween, fireworks cracked and flared outside the hospital. I smiled knowing that my baby would have great birthday parties to come. And for this next hour, I shivered in freezing shock, immobilized on the delivery table, uncaring and unangered as the drugs wore off so I could finally push. I wasn't angry because the hospital staff was just doing their jobs and it seemed so normal for them. I was moving towards having my baby and this is what every mother went through.

The point at which I started to feel a twinge of anger was when, after the delivery, I wasn't allowed to feed my baby. It was only then that my instinct was strong enough to say, "No. This is really wrong." There is a period of about an hour after the birth where the newborn is alert and breastfeeding can be established. However, after a brief hold, he was taken away as I was given a Syntometrine injection and his placenta was delivered (by tugging on the cord). He remained away as I was stitched and examined and had to wait for a doctor to examine me.

By the time I was given the all clear (in tears at this point asking, "Can I feed him now?"), I had to be moved from the delivery ward and down to the post-natal ward. It was now 2 am, so friends and family in the waiting room were told to go home without ever having seen the baby or me. The baby's dad had been present at the birth but was also sent home. Yet again I asked, "Please, can I try to feed my baby?" but he had to be taken away again – this time for a Vitamin K injection and for the nurse to bathe him and put his first vest and Baby Gro on.

When she brought him back he was tired and wanted to sleep. The nurse asked if I still wanted to feed and gave a little perfunctory hold of him up to one breast and then the other and said, incredibly, "No. He's not a boob man is he?" She then put him down to sleep in the cot beside me, told me to sleep too and that I could try again when he woke up. I spent that first night wide awake, watching every twitch my new son made, desperate to hold him, horrified that I hadn't managed to take him to my breast after he was born.

When he finally did wake up, I remember ringing for the nurse – looking for her permission to pick him up! This same nurse was the one who would throw back the curtains from around the beds at night if anyone dared to wish for some privacy.

Thankfully, my baby started to feed hungrily the next day. The rest of my stay in hospital was a blur of no sleep, noise, crying babies, feeding times, masses of visitors for two hours and then being left completely on my own. On the second day I remember being allowed to meet my teary mom at the end of the corridor as she passed me some supplies. Later that day I finally managed to have the baby fed and sleepy at a time when there was a lull in hospital activity. I was just dropping off – for the first time in about 70 hours – when I was woken up to bring the baby in for a BCG injection. I did so in floods of exhausted tears.

I gave birth to my son at the Holles Street National Maternity Hospital, in Dublin. Obstetricians at Holles Street have pioneered a policy of "active management" – an obstetrician-led intervention process that speeds up hospital labor. It begins with ARM – artificial rupture of the membrane of the amniotic sac or "breaking the waters" – though this may leave the fetus unprotected and vulnerable to pressure and infection. It continues with monitoring the birthing women and administering to them if they aren't progressing "correctly." In Holles Street, for example, the decided-upon correct rate of cervical dilation is 1cm/hour. If the mother "fails to progress" at this rate, she is hooked up to an Oxytocin drip which causes the onset of sudden intense contractions. In 2004 (the year I gave birth), 55 percent of first-time mothers at Holles Street were told they had "failed to progress" and needed to be sped up in this way (unsurprisingly, a slightly larger percentage opted for an epidural to ease the pain). Active management is currently used widely throughout the world.

The most oft-stated defense for the prevalence of today's medicalized births is that in pre-hospital years gone by, childbirth could be a death sentence. The reality, though, is that most complications during pregnancy and childbirth occurred due to poor maternal nutrition and infections that are now easily treatable or preventable with better hygiene. The high-tech medical interventions available today certainly save some lives but in many cases – especially where active management is practiced – these interventions are often used unnecessarily.

There is also an often noted "cascade of intervention" where once one medical procedure has been carried out, another follows, and then another – leading to more invasive and traumatic interventions and often culminating in a caesarean section. In Ireland, the average rate of C-section is one of the highest in Europe at 25 percent. The midwife-endorsed alternative to this policy of aggressive intervention is "wait and see." Strangely enough, this usually works out just fine.

In theory, a woman has the right to refuse any of the interventions offered to her. In practice, the normality of intervention and the culture of risk minimization (read: liability minimization) mean that women do not feel empowered to say "no." I certainly never thought about saying "no" or asking what the alternatives were. I blame myself for this – that I was not more informed and proactive. But I am also angry at the bullying system in place. It is hurried and overwhelming so there is never time or space to question the "professional" medical opinion as to what is really right for you and your baby. So we become numbers, subject to routine interventions.

At Holles Street membrane rupture is carried out routinely. A "managed" third stage of labor is also routinely administered – with hormone injections and cord tugging to deliver the placenta. This is justified by saying that it reduces the risk of postpartum hemorrhage – a fact disputed by many midwives who argue that the early cord clamping involved is potentially injurious for the newborn and that the third stage of a normal birth should never be managed.

Until recently, episiotomy (cutting the perineum to allow more room for the baby) was routine. It is now being shown to be usually unnecessary and at worst a mutilation. Until recently, if a woman had one caesarean section, she could not expect to be allowed to try for a vaginal delivery in subsequent births (this is now slowly changing). At Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Drogheda, Dr. Michael Neary carried out unnecessary routine hysterectomies, post-caesarean-section, over the course of 25 years before it was brought to light in 1998. At the same hospital (and at Holles Street, the Coombe and others around the country) between the 1950s and the 1980s, hundreds of women underwent a procedure known as a symphysiotomy. Here, a woman's pelvis was literally sawn apart during childbirth, as an alternative to a cesarean-section. The justification seemed to be a good catholic one – the pelvis would heal widened and the woman would be able to bear more children – even though most were never even told what procedure had been carried out on them and many suffered life-long pain, incontinence, problems walking and arthritis. This is the history of routine interventions by those who know what's best for us.

Our collective idea of childbirth is pretty nasty – blood and fluid, panting and screaming, stretched anatomy, the emergent gooey greyish-purple alien… horrible! Remember when you first heard about sex? Remember how horrible that seemed? But sex isn't horrible, is it? What's missing – and indescribable to a virgin child – is the emotional element. Sex is a natural and beautiful process, all entangled with love and passion. So too, and a million times more, is birth. In essence, our modern patriarchal institutionalized world has a childish view of childbirth. It can't imagine that something that looks so gruesome could be anything but a horrendous experience and one that should be shortened and medicated. But childbirth is not a medical procedure any more than sex is.

Now, I'm not saying that every woman should have a pain-free, blissful, complication-free birth. I am saying that fear has no place in the process. Fear causes adrenaline production. This initiates the "flight or fight" response where blood drains from the uterus to the limbs, slowing the process of labor until the primeval woman escapes to a safe place to give birth. Meditation and relaxation techniques during childbirth – which are often described to women as methods for coping with pain – can in fact be methods of preventing pain by preventing fear. As with sexual intercourse, if a woman does not feel safe, relaxed and preferably loved, she will experience tension and pain during childbirth.

Without ever taking a single deep breath or doing a second's meditation, what woman wouldn't feel more relaxed anywhere but on a table in a hospital delivery "suite"? Looking back on it, it seems like the most ridiculous place to try to give birth. As with sex, your body wants a darkened, intimate, safe and private place to give itself over to its natural urges and processes. Instead, we retain bizarre postures under the bright lights and the ready interference and stares of strangers. Could you orgasm under the same conditions? Are you surprised then that our labors "fail to progress," with fear and adrenaline coursing through every vein in our bodies? Overcome it with drugs. Pull, drag and cut those children out of us. Then tell us to be thankful. Mothers, partners, sisters and doctors tell us we are endangering lives, we are taking risks. Fill us with fear. No woman wants to endanger her child's life so almost every woman does what she's told and gets hospitalized.

Is it shocking to hear that many women liken the experience of "normal" hospital childbirth to being sexually assaulted? Aside from the obvious – the exposure of your most intimate areas to complete strangers – there is an utter lack of control over what is being done to your body. Your consent may never be sought for certain procedures – or it may be sought in the coercive manner of institutions that count on your fear for your cooperation. The feelings that may be experienced afterwards are those of shame and guilt that you weren't able to give birth naturally, that you didn't ask the right questions, that you gave up control and weren't strong enough to resist certain things being done. These feelings can be particularly strong if the mother is separated from her newborn – for example, after an emergency C-section or if a baby is incubated. In some of these cases, mothers can experience bonding problems with the infant. Even once bonding is achieved, the guilt that accompanies this can be life-long.

But surely many mothers experience hospital births without mental trauma? Surely the fact that there is a healthy infant in your arms makes up for anything you went through? Aren't you safe? Shouldn't you be grateful to the hospital for delivering your baby? (Do women ever get to feel grateful to themselves, to feel the power and ability of their own bodies?) Won't questioning the event just cause unnecessary pain and distress for women – shouldn't they just forget about it and move on with their lives? Like survivors of sexual assault, survivors may live years, or their whole lives, unconscious of feeling anguish or anger about their experiences. But this doesn't mean they are unaffected by them.

It is my belief that at some deep level, we all feel that we have been robbed. We pass through our childbirth initiation to become disempowered, disconnected, long-suffering, patriarchal mothers. We tell our horror stories as just that, or we say nothing at all. But it doesn't have to be this way. If I ever have another child, it will not be in the same way. And it doesn't stop there. I will never again blindly place my trust in authoritarian professionals and institutions. I will recognize all capitalist patriarchy for what it is and I will do my best to speak out against it.

Every day, in every way, my son is a wonderful gift. I would go through ten more hospital births just to keep him. I am sorry for his shabby entrance into this world but I am thankful to this little person for helping me to see something: the bald, blatant, oppressive, damaging, misogynistic forces at play in the most vital aspects of women's lives. Revisiting his birth has made me angry, but that has made so much else clear: how blinded we can be by the guise of protection, how crippled we can be made by fear.

I wish that we talked about it. That we could stop reveling in horror stories and better place our fingers on the reason for our traumatic births – not the curse of Eve medicated to by our benevolent system – but the systematic violence that delivers our babies for fear that we might give birth to them ourselves. For in the process we might begin to understand our own strength and find words for our anger. We might begin to disobey.

282 comments on the article “Industrial Childbirth”

Displaying 51 - 60 of 282

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Cortez

Agriculture has been around for thousands of years, and so has civilized behavior. You simply ignore much of history and choose to define the current mode of civilization as the only option and you are wrong! Read 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' by Jared Diamond, and 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' by Michael Pollan. You will find that the current mode of agriculture is insane and unhealthy to the point of toxic.
I simply cannot believe you would describe our current society as civilized with as much murder and social depravity that exists? What about the rates of depression? You know what, I bet YOU are depressed? Tell the truth, how many times have you been prescribed Prozac or Zolaft? Did prevoius civilization have depression? You might argue that they did and that it was just undiagnosed. I would argue that people were living more "naturally" (whatever that means) and had nothing to be depressed about. They might have worries as everyone does, but the medical field, western medicine, has constucted all our needs for ailments that would not exist had we been living a more 'natural' lifestyle.

Cortez

Agriculture has been around for thousands of years, and so has civilized behavior. You simply ignore much of history and choose to define the current mode of civilization as the only option and you are wrong! Read 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' by Jared Diamond, and 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' by Michael Pollan. You will find that the current mode of agriculture is insane and unhealthy to the point of toxic.
I simply cannot believe you would describe our current society as civilized with as much murder and social depravity that exists? What about the rates of depression? You know what, I bet YOU are depressed? Tell the truth, how many times have you been prescribed Prozac or Zolaft? Did prevoius civilization have depression? You might argue that they did and that it was just undiagnosed. I would argue that people were living more "naturally" (whatever that means) and had nothing to be depressed about. They might have worries as everyone does, but the medical field, western medicine, has constucted all our needs for ailments that would not exist had we been living a more 'natural' lifestyle.

I am so wise

"Agriculture has been around for thousands of years, and so has civilized behavior. You simply ignore much of history and choose to define the current mode of civilization as the only option and you are wrong! Read 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' by Jared Diamond, and 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' by Michael Pollan. You will find that the current mode of agriculture is insane and unhealthy to the point of toxic."

Yes, this form of agriculture has created numerous diseases of affluence. Rather than starvation, we die of heart disease. Rather than Malnutrition, we have obesity.

"I simply cannot believe you would describe our current society as civilized with as much murder and social depravity that exists"

Not really, I study and my focus is on violence so I am well aware that levels of violence have declined massive since the Middle Ages, back when everyone was indigenous, back when humanity began. Hell, warfare, w

See, the reason we have so much murder, is we have so many more people than in the past. Read John Mueller's Remnants of War, Keeley's War before civilization, and a 11th grade math textbook dealing with the per capita concept. It'll make you far less stupid.

"You know what, I bet YOU are depressed? Tell the truth, how many times have you been prescribed Prozac or Zolaft?"

None. Even if I did it would be irrelevant to the debate.

"Did prevoius civilization have depression"

Probably, they had all manner of other mental illness. Now, were they smart enough to detect or open like America in dealing with it? I doubt it.

"I would argue that people were living more "naturally" (whatever that means) and had nothing to be depressed about"

Except massive warfare, horrific levels of violence that make modern Detriot look a paradigm of peace, infectious disease, a 15% infant mortality rate, lack of food, and numerous other joys that modern life has ended or reduced. Jesus, you're a textbook example of the Progress Paradox and the historically ill-informed American.

"They might have worries as everyone does, but the medical field, western medicine, has constucted all our needs for ailments that would not exist had we been living a more 'natural' lifestyle."

Except "Western medicine" has this nasty tendency to bogart what works in nature and in other cultures. Lots of drugs have natural origins and obstetrians got the C-Section from the Middle East.

I am so wise

"Agriculture has been around for thousands of years, and so has civilized behavior. You simply ignore much of history and choose to define the current mode of civilization as the only option and you are wrong! Read 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' by Jared Diamond, and 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' by Michael Pollan. You will find that the current mode of agriculture is insane and unhealthy to the point of toxic."

Yes, this form of agriculture has created numerous diseases of affluence. Rather than starvation, we die of heart disease. Rather than Malnutrition, we have obesity.

"I simply cannot believe you would describe our current society as civilized with as much murder and social depravity that exists"

Not really, I study and my focus is on violence so I am well aware that levels of violence have declined massive since the Middle Ages, back when everyone was indigenous, back when humanity began. Hell, warfare, w

See, the reason we have so much murder, is we have so many more people than in the past. Read John Mueller's Remnants of War, Keeley's War before civilization, and a 11th grade math textbook dealing with the per capita concept. It'll make you far less stupid.

"You know what, I bet YOU are depressed? Tell the truth, how many times have you been prescribed Prozac or Zolaft?"

None. Even if I did it would be irrelevant to the debate.

"Did prevoius civilization have depression"

Probably, they had all manner of other mental illness. Now, were they smart enough to detect or open like America in dealing with it? I doubt it.

"I would argue that people were living more "naturally" (whatever that means) and had nothing to be depressed about"

Except massive warfare, horrific levels of violence that make modern Detriot look a paradigm of peace, infectious disease, a 15% infant mortality rate, lack of food, and numerous other joys that modern life has ended or reduced. Jesus, you're a textbook example of the Progress Paradox and the historically ill-informed American.

"They might have worries as everyone does, but the medical field, western medicine, has constucted all our needs for ailments that would not exist had we been living a more 'natural' lifestyle."

Except "Western medicine" has this nasty tendency to bogart what works in nature and in other cultures. Lots of drugs have natural origins and obstetrians got the C-Section from the Middle East.

Anonymous

I'm just wondering why you're taking such a violent view to this articile? And in many ways twisting some of what she is saying? From what I can see this woman has had a poor experiance during her first child birth because of the intervention of hospital staff and modern medicines, and a very good experiance with a more natural birth. She is in no way saying that people should put their lives and their newborns at risk, but to simlpy be aware, and correctly informed of the alternatives. She has now dedicated her life to informing women of these alternatives, making sure people are properly educted abut them, and to be sensible about all aproaches to childbirth, learning from nautral and mordern experiances. It is impossible and obsrd to believe that we have reached medical perfection in childbirth, and that it is a natural process, but equally absurd to believe that we could do it as safely without our modern practices. I'm sure that she, and other women, could not have had a safe natural birth without the benifits of modern hygiene, knowledge and medicines at hand. But that certainly doesn't mean we have to be drowned in it.

Anonymous

I'm just wondering why you're taking such a violent view to this articile? And in many ways twisting some of what she is saying? From what I can see this woman has had a poor experiance during her first child birth because of the intervention of hospital staff and modern medicines, and a very good experiance with a more natural birth. She is in no way saying that people should put their lives and their newborns at risk, but to simlpy be aware, and correctly informed of the alternatives. She has now dedicated her life to informing women of these alternatives, making sure people are properly educted abut them, and to be sensible about all aproaches to childbirth, learning from nautral and mordern experiances. It is impossible and obsrd to believe that we have reached medical perfection in childbirth, and that it is a natural process, but equally absurd to believe that we could do it as safely without our modern practices. I'm sure that she, and other women, could not have had a safe natural birth without the benifits of modern hygiene, knowledge and medicines at hand. But that certainly doesn't mean we have to be drowned in it.

I am so wise

What makes this article particularly amusing is the author's ignorance of how things developed. Women, particularly the wealthy elite drove things forward. They demanded Drug and Drag method of delivery. Obstetricians were forced to adopt. Hospital births were demanded as well because women thought of them was pleasant and superior to the home births they had previously endored.

Of course, Drug and drag, Twilight sleep, and others also became popular because women thought they were natural.

I am so wise

What makes this article particularly amusing is the author's ignorance of how things developed. Women, particularly the wealthy elite drove things forward. They demanded Drug and Drag method of delivery. Obstetricians were forced to adopt. Hospital births were demanded as well because women thought of them was pleasant and superior to the home births they had previously endored.

Of course, Drug and drag, Twilight sleep, and others also became popular because women thought they were natural.

Cortez

What's truly amusing is YOU'RE selective view of history! Women did not choose (as you say) to birth in this way. Midwifery was doing fine until the Christians decided that midwives must be witches because they are able to help women have a reletively pleasant birthing experience (no pain, no screaming etc...). This is directly contradictory to the bible which invokes the 'curse of Eve' as evidence that childbirthing is SUPPOSED to hurt. Many midwives were labeled witches and were executed by the church, many others quite practacing for fear of their own safety. After this, MEN took over the role of midwives in birthing and with the 'curse of Eve', and the backing of the church, they used fear to force women to become dependent on them for drugs and intervention.

Fear is the key! Women are told as children to be fearful and so they are. When they have fear, their muscles tighten and this causes women to have difficulties in labor. If the woman were without fear, and were guided into relaxation, there would be less difficulty and less need for interventions.

I agree with you that 'natural birthing' is a construct, but the birthing in hospitals today is truly obscene! You're 'rampant ignorance' of birthing shines brightly, and I just hope that you think about this before you put your foot in your mouth again. You also said that the Mongan method is just popular for leftists and new agers, but did you ever ask yourself why? Depending on how you label these groups of people, it might have more to do with a hightened ability to see the benefit in compassion and kindness, than being a radical counterculture fad - as I think you are suggesting in your prior statement. You should read "Hypnobirthing, The Mongan Method".

I know many of these things to be true by experience. My wife had a successful VBAC and many of the events the author describes in the article are the same as the birthing of our first child. Like the author, after the first child, we got pissed off and upon the 2nd, we empowered ourselves with knowledge and thus confidence, so that we could not be manipulated by hospital staff again. My wife learned relaxation techniques, and used her powerful mind to overcome a lifetime of fear mongering - all of this resulted in a VBAC with NO medication and NO pain.

I am NOT a femenist, but I think you / we need to understand that the female body is capable of childbirthing without intervention. Every part of our body is capable of doing what it is intended to do. Your lungs, your heart, your feet, your eyes, your brain (in most cases) --why not a woman's vagina? My point is,the femenist doctrine may not be all powerful in childbirthing, but it is really fucking important and if you and your wife do have children, you both had better be paying attention!

~CtK~

Cortez

What's truly amusing is YOU'RE selective view of history! Women did not choose (as you say) to birth in this way. Midwifery was doing fine until the Christians decided that midwives must be witches because they are able to help women have a reletively pleasant birthing experience (no pain, no screaming etc...). This is directly contradictory to the bible which invokes the 'curse of Eve' as evidence that childbirthing is SUPPOSED to hurt. Many midwives were labeled witches and were executed by the church, many others quite practacing for fear of their own safety. After this, MEN took over the role of midwives in birthing and with the 'curse of Eve', and the backing of the church, they used fear to force women to become dependent on them for drugs and intervention.

Fear is the key! Women are told as children to be fearful and so they are. When they have fear, their muscles tighten and this causes women to have difficulties in labor. If the woman were without fear, and were guided into relaxation, there would be less difficulty and less need for interventions.

I agree with you that 'natural birthing' is a construct, but the birthing in hospitals today is truly obscene! You're 'rampant ignorance' of birthing shines brightly, and I just hope that you think about this before you put your foot in your mouth again. You also said that the Mongan method is just popular for leftists and new agers, but did you ever ask yourself why? Depending on how you label these groups of people, it might have more to do with a hightened ability to see the benefit in compassion and kindness, than being a radical counterculture fad - as I think you are suggesting in your prior statement. You should read "Hypnobirthing, The Mongan Method".

I know many of these things to be true by experience. My wife had a successful VBAC and many of the events the author describes in the article are the same as the birthing of our first child. Like the author, after the first child, we got pissed off and upon the 2nd, we empowered ourselves with knowledge and thus confidence, so that we could not be manipulated by hospital staff again. My wife learned relaxation techniques, and used her powerful mind to overcome a lifetime of fear mongering - all of this resulted in a VBAC with NO medication and NO pain.

I am NOT a femenist, but I think you / we need to understand that the female body is capable of childbirthing without intervention. Every part of our body is capable of doing what it is intended to do. Your lungs, your heart, your feet, your eyes, your brain (in most cases) --why not a woman's vagina? My point is,the femenist doctrine may not be all powerful in childbirthing, but it is really fucking important and if you and your wife do have children, you both had better be paying attention!

~CtK~

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