Monday, June 27, 2011

Philosophy Series: Pregnancy and Childbirth

I started writing this post in August 2010 but never got around to posting it, and now that I've come across it again I realize that it fits perfectly into my philosophy series. The original post focused on Cesarean sections, since it was based on a piece I heard on the radio and that was their topic, but what I want to talk about now is much more broad.

My stance:
My thoughts about pregnancy--like my thoughts on pretty much everything else in life--are that it should be as natural a process as possible. My ideal childbirth would take place at home, not at a hospital; with a midwife instead of a doctor; and without any drugs.

This is a particularly sensitive issue for women, so let me first say that I am not criticizing anyone's choice. I understand how mystifying the whole process can feel, and I understand how terrifying it is to think about something happening to your baby. I understand that everyone's body and experiences are different, and that your views about childbirth depend greatly on the way your parents dealt with it. 

So to give you background about my views: My mother had six children, all at home with a midwife (except for one, where I think I maybe remember something about the labor going so fast that the midwife didn't even make it there in time). My siblings and I didn't go to doctors when we were sick growing up; we jammed our immune systems with vitamin C, echinacea, and goldenseal, were sick for about three days, and got over it (and then had trouble getting an excused absence from school because of our lack of doctor's note). As near as I can count, I have set foot in a hospital six times in my life (three as a patient and three as a visitor). The only times I ever remember going to the doctor were for a physical before Girl's Camp and to get immunizations for school (and no, I wasn't immunized as a baby; none of us were). 

I believe that the best environment for a baby to come into the world is the baby's home, where the mother is comfortable and has the full attention of her midwife. I've always hated the atmosphere in a hospital, where everything is freezing cold and sterile and full of strangers. I honestly think I might choose giving birth outside over doing it in a hospital--although if we're being honest, I don't know that I'd agree with myself when it really came down to it. :)

I also believe that most women are perfectly capable of having a baby at home, if they decide to do some research and educate themselves about what needs to happen. Midwives are capable, well-educated and usually certified professionals, and they are trained to handle things like breech births, twins, and other things that women often think are deadly if encountered outside a hospital. (My mom can attest to this, as I myself was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck twice.) This quote is one I came across when I was writing the original post last year, and I love the sentiment it expresses:

"How you view childbirth is a reflection of your philosophy of life. One of the things I feel really sad about is our culture where the message is that women can't have a good childbirth experience without turning themselves over to the control and interventions of the medical community. Starting parenthood with the notion that somebody else has to manage the process is not empowering. This is something that I think about, but I suspect many of my colleagues would say, 'What is she talking about?' I was really proud of my own ability to birth my 9-pound 13-ounce son vaginally without anesthesia. I remember touching his head at my vaginal opening and holding him on the delivery table and being in love. I was his mother. I am not opposed to C-sections, but I'm pretty sure a 30 to 40 percent rate is not justified."

-Marcie K. Richardson, OB and instructor at Harvard Medical School

Women have been having babies for thousands of years, and I believe that we are fully capable of handling the process without medical intervention. This is not to say that I think it's wrong to have a baby in a hospital, or anything like that; I just believe that it's not necessary, and I would never choose to do it myself. Childbirth is a beautiful, natural process--something that can be approached with excitement and confidence, not fear. 

I should also say that I do know there are some circumstances under which a doctor and a hospital might be necessary. Women have been having babies for thousands of years, and in that time there have also been a lot of birth-related deaths. (Many of them were caused by the inferior living conditions, not complications inherent to childbirth, but it's still a valid point.) Sometimes there is a serious complication, and in that case, the intervention of modern medicine is a wonderful thing that could save the life of a child or mother that may have been lost in a different time. I definitely understand that. 

But I do believe that those are rare circumstances. I believe that in preparation for childbirth, parents don't need to be thinking about all the things that can go wrong. I think parents should have a plan in case something serious does happen--and after having made that plan, do everything they can to educate themselves and become comfortable with the process. Childbirth is one of the most basic functions of nature, and we are qualified to deal with it.