Why is it safer to give birth in Cuba than in the United States? Why is the maternal death rate in the U.S. higher than in 40 other countries?
These questions took center stage at the nationwide Improving Birth Rally for Change held, appropriately enough, on Labor Day. Santa Rosa's own rally, at the intersection of Mendocino and Bicentennial near Kaiser, was much like a newborn baby: small but potent. Mothers (lots), fathers (too few), mid-wives, doctors, children, and concerned citizens gathered on Monday at 10 am with water, sun-shades, and plenty of placards urging "Evidence-based Maternity Care," which means, simply, that birth practices should reflect proven, reliable research. Sadly, for too many mothers and babies, they do not.
The statistics are grim. 1 out of every 3 deliveries in this country is now done by Cesarean, twice as high as recommended by the World Health Organization. According to the UN, the U.S. ranks number 34 in infant mortality. If we are spending more money than ever on health care, why this crisis in birth?
One reasons is an adherence to out-dated, unsupported birth practices like elective induction without medical indication, Pitocin augmentation, continuous fetal monitoring, restricted movement during labor, and insistence on back-lying or semi-sitting positions during labor and birth. Instead of "watchful waiting" until 41 or 42 weeks, many doctors induce labor, which in turn produces more powerful contractions, which can lead to harder labors, C-sections, and preventable complications.
As a mother who gave birth a mere six months ago, I will always be grateful to Santa Rosa's Birth Center, run by Rosanne Gephart, for providing me with the knowledge and compassion to have a beautiful (if incredibly tough) birth. Although nearly 2 weeks past my due date, there was no medical induction. (I opted to take castor oil to get things moving myself. And move they did.)
I was encouraged to walk around and labor in the bath-tub, made possible by the intermittent monitoring with a handheld doppler instead of a fetal monitor. I labored with the support of my husband and doula (a godsend) in an environment that was comfortable and safe. When things got stuck (which can happen when you're trying to squeeze a watermelon out of an opening the size of a lime) my highly-skilled and experienced mid-wives worked with the wisdom of my own body instead of employing forceps or surgery. After 22 hours of hard labor, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
Of course there are times when medical interventions and surgeries are necessary, and we should be grateful that such techniques exist. But when the medicalization of birth becomes standard, when hospitals reflect that most births conveniently happen during business hours, when women are pressured and scared into unnecessary interventions, then we have a problem.
Thanks to the enthusiasm and passion of everyone at the rally, who shared facts and anecdotes with anyone who cared to listen, more people now understand that birth is not an emergency. It's an emergence, see?