Monday, April 4, 2011

Ina May Seminar: Birth Matters

I'm on a birth kick after attending a seminar with Ina May Gaskin last weekend, and we are coming up to Archer's 2nd birthday, so the memories of birth are reflective and fresh.  Ina is indeed a star and being in her presence renewed my subtle feminist ways and views.  She spoke the truth - that birth should be empowering, sacred, and that our perceptions of pregnancy, labour and birth, and its model of care needs to change.

"Birth matters.  It matters because it is the way we all begin our lives outside our source, our mother's bodies.  It's the means through which we enter and feel our first impressions of the wider world.  For each mother, it is an event that shakes and shapes her to the innermost core.  Women's perceptions about their bodies and their babies' capabilities will be deeply influenced by the care they receive around the time of birth"

This is the opening paragraph to Ina May Gaskin's new book, Birth Matters:  A Midwife's Manifesta.  It gives me chills every time I read it.  These words are common sense truth about birth for both the mother and baby.  I recall every detail of my 'birth' day as though it happened this morning!!  Cellular memory is powerful.

Birth brings up not only very personal issues but social ones as well.  No matter what society wants us to believe, pregnancy and birth produce very powerful changes in women's bodies, emotions and lives, no matter how that baby is born - natural or surgical.  It follows then that the way birth care is organized and carried out will have a powerful effect on human society.  Good beginnings make a positive difference in the world, so it is worth while to provide the best possible experience and care to mother and babies during this influential part of life.

Every birth is unique, and if left alone, every woman can experience that uniqueness.  Birth is also instinctive - a woman's body has an innate capacity to birth her baby just like it has the innate capacity to heal a cut, or mount an immune response against a virus.  Every woman will find her right way to give birth, if allowed the space, privacy and openness to do so.  This last statement is important because today there is a sense of RUSH for a baby to be born.  Time is a frequently unnamed and unacknowledged medical complication plaguing most births currently taking place in a medical setting.  I get frequent calls from woman wanting acupuncture to save them from a medical induction - an induction that is suggested by their doctor before their due date, or only shortly thereafter.  I guess it's to be expected given the fast paced nature of modern North American culture, however, in most cases when the mother and baby are not in danger, a darkened quiet room, a warm shower, some soft music, a simple position change, and just giving the labouring woman room to BREATHE, mom can work through her labour and deliver her baby with no intervention.  Modern medicine needs to respect the natural or personal pace of birth.  The best analogy applies sphincter law of nature to birth - the cervix behaves like a sphincter, just like the urethra and the anus,  and it will open when the body is relaxed and calm, and close under stress.  So, can you take a poop when a stranger is watching, or you are late for an appointment?  Likely the answer is no.  Apply this common sense to birth and you quickly understand why women stop having contractions when they get to the hospital, or cervical dilation slows down and/or regresses because the woman feels under pressure either from herself or medical staff to 'get the job done'!  Impatience and electronic monitoring does not emphasize human connection.

There are 5000 species of mammals on this planet, why are we the only one that needs technology to give birth?  Women who share the natural birth philosophy want the opportunity to labour in a way that emphasizes human connection rather than monitoring by a machine.  I completely understand that surgeons and medical technology are necessary, but they are not infallible.  Do you elephants need forceps to birth their calves?  What a bunch of warriors that would take! Did you know that breech babies exist in nature too?   Baby elephants are naturally a footling breech.  We saw pictures of a vaginal breech home birth - it was amazing!!  This birth story is documented in Birth Matters.

Check out this link of an elephant giving birth:

Ina May discussed some of the history of maternal and newborn care.  The same models still apply today:  there is a wellness patient-centred model and a disease centred model.  The wellness model is exemplified by midwives.  The medical model in those days was truly a male dominated profession, so the foundation of maternity care is embedded in a patriarchal system.  My 'aha' moment came on the drive home when I realized that this patriarchy continues to creep into our decisions in how we birth.  I have heard plenty of women say: "I would really love to experience a home birth.  I would feel safe and comfortable with this option, but my husband thinks we should go to the hospital".  Sometimes its not the husband, maybe a parent, or good friend, but it is a very subtle, quiet voice coming from a place of concern and love, but its still that voice of doubt, that birth should be medicalized because its safer to do so.  I also remember hearing this 'voice of reason' in frequent conversations with my husband, going back and forth between home or hospital birth.  As it turns out, divine intervention stepped in, and in the end I had a beautiful, albeit long, home birth, and Rick agrees that for us that was the best decision we ever made.  Those first postpartum moments snuggled with my fresh baby in my cozy bed, surrounded by our doula and midwives, was a once in a lifetime, priceless experience.

There is a passage in Birth Matters that speaks to this principle of natural birth:  "Humanized birth means putting the woman giving birth in the centre and in control so that she, not the doctors or anyone else, makes ALL the decisions about what will happen."

It is becoming increasingly rare to see a normal birth in hospital, normal meaning without intervention of any kind.  It is a difficult period of changing this.  Modern medicine needs thorough grounding in normal before they see pathology, and a return to nature to watch animals giving birth should be our experience of childbirth and provide the basis of prenatal and child birth 'classes'.

Let us start to apply common sense of how nature knows best and see where that will lead us.

Birth is a human rights issue.  To spark your own inner feminist, please watch the following documentary about a midwife in Hungary who takes on a male dominated medical profession in an effort to change approaches to childbirth.

Dr. Kate