As American women are well aware, there has been a great deal of controversy lately about birth control and the freedom of women to make decisions about their reproductive health. Ina May Gaskin, founder of the Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee and author of numerous books about how to achieve a safe home birth, argues that womenís choices are limited when they decide to deliver a child, as well.
In†this interview with reporter Amy Goodman, Gaskin explains that, in the United States, nearly two-thirds of maternal deaths are not reported to the CDC. According to the measurement used, Gaskin says, the U.S. ranks fortieth or fiftieth in maternal deaths.† She argues that this is the case because the American medical system views labor as a medical emergency where the goal, she says, is just to get the infant out of the woman.† Mainstream medicine, she says, fails to take into account the profundity of the experience or the emotional and psychological state of the woman.† As a result, doctors approach labor from a cold and distanced perspective that lacks the innate wisdom of someone like a midwife.† Without this wisdom, doctors may overlook signs that could give them insight into the womanís condition.† This leads to mistakes like unnecessary caesarean sections and, in turn, maternal death, Gaskin suggests.
Gaskin makes a powerful argument.† Indeed, the practice of delivering a baby in a hospital equates the experience with illness and injury. Doctors and nurses often approach labor as something dangerous. Of course, medical complications can occur during delivery, but childbirth is a natural, routine part of life.† Unless there are complications, childbirth is nothing to be afraid of, though many women have been taught by our media and our medical system to fear it.
The medical industry often disregards intuitive wisdom and treats healthcare as something coldly scientific. It is for this reason that many natural remedies and relatively minor treatments like changes in diet are often looked down upon by mainstream medicine. Furthermore, many doctors have so little time with their patients that they are unable to discuss the patientís insights, which often reveal an intuitive wisdom that may point to a more effective course of treatment.
To be sure, scientific knowledge and expertise are extremely important when it comes to practicing medicine.† But medical practitioners must understand that they are working with complex human beings, not androids.† Treating an illness should be seen as gaining a holistic understanding of that illnessís root causes, not just prescribing drugs or surgery to treat the symptoms.† Likewise, childbirth should not be seen as simply coaxing the infant out of the womb.† And it certainly should not be equated with a medical emergency.† It should be understood as a wonderful, life-affirming experience that should be celebrated, not feared.
Midwifery, on the other hand, views childbirth not as something frightening, but as a beautiful part of normal life.† Delivering a child at home may also put the woman at ease, as she is in a familiar setting. Finally, taking childbirth out of a medical setting and returning it to the home demonstrates to other women who may be present that the experience is not an emergency.† In turn, those women may be less likely to fear their own childbirth experiences.
Furthermore, many women are now preparing for†orgasmic births. Because delivering a baby stimulates the vagina in a manner similar to sexual stimulation, some women experience orgasm at the moment of delivery Ė if they are not wracked with anxiety.† Bringing a child into the world is a joyous experience, and it is appropriate that it would be accompanied by pleasure.† Certainly, orgasmic births are not always pain-free, but pleasure is experienced at the moment when the infant emerges.† Of course, a woman cannot plan to have an orgasm during delivery.† But she can create an environment that will make it more likely.† This includes delivering in a location that does not feel foreign or frightening and taking steps to create a feeling of calmness, rather than fear.
Childbirth is one of the most natural experiences in life. But by equating it with medical emergencies and treating it as something to be endured rather than celebrated, and plowed through as quickly as possible, we cause women to be irrationally fearful of it and to be emotionally detached from the experience as it happens.
The process of deciding where to deliver oneís child is highly personal. Many women are comforted by the presence of medical professionals. The question, therefore, should not be whether it is better to deliver at home or in a hospital.† Rather, we should be asking medical professionals what they can do to change their perspectives on childbirth and create more natural, comforting environments for women during labor.