One of my friends (and the wife of one of the students in the Urban Cultures school) just gave birth to a beautiful, amazingly tiny-- yet absolutely healthy-- baby boy last Wednesday. I had the opportunity of talking to her about birth a number of times during her pregnancy, the intensely challenging yet wonderfully incomparable experience that it is. While she had some fears about her capacity to give birth, her husband and her decided to go to La Maison de Naissance, or Birthing Center. Unfortunately, 3 1/2 weeks before her due date, she was told that the baby was too small and there was not enough amniotic fluid: they would have to send her to the hospital for an induction. Reporting to the hospital, they found out that the fluid had doubled (??), but the baby was still too small, so they would keep the induction scheduled (too small of a baby= take the baby early???!). When I heard that she had given birth vaginally and had only labored from 6 am- 2 pm in such an environment, I was proud, ecstatic, amazed. Her statistics were beat the odds/ beat the system kind of statistics. Sounded great, but hearing her story of her experience I realized it was anything but.
She arrived at the labor ward to hear screaming; yes, screaming. Like in the movies kind of screaming. Doors would not be closed- nurses wanted the doors left open so they could enter and exit at will (without the strain of opening the door?)-, bright lights everywhere (too difficult for a nurse to work in a dimly-lit room: let's make sure to accommodate the nurses...). Because she was being induced and monitored, no movement was allowed-- not even to turn on her side. She was lucky enough to be in labor while a group of students were following the nurses and doctors around... there were actually FIFTEEN people in her room during the birth. She was asked the same questions repeatedly-- during contractions-- and was given an epidural when she was fully dilated because there was no doctor around to check her and they just went ahead with it, not knowing. She had reached that point of "I just can't go on"-- and little did she know she was at 10 cm and the baby would be out after 6 pushes. I could go on and on...
This all took place at a NICE hospital in Montreal. In fact, one of the best hospitals. I know that many, many women experience this every day-- it's normal. And it doesn't really matter anyways, right, because the baby is healthy... or does it?? I want to make sure and say that I DO NOT believe that birth is the say all, end all experience: if you have a traumatizing birth experience, you are not necessarily going to be scarred for life, nor is your baby. The health of the baby truly is the most important thing. However, I DO believe that birth has the potential to be an incredible, spiritual, formative rite of passage for a women. It carries the potential of being an incomparably empowering experience in a woman's life, and can be an extremely gratifying way of beginning a lifetime of parenting, for both the woman and the man.
The fact that the situation I portrayed is completely normal tells me that something is horribly wrong with the way we see and treat a birthing woman. A birthing woman is not sick. She is not (usually) suffering. Often, a birthing woman is not even in need of anyone or anything except an extremely strong support person and people. A birthing woman is intuitive and powerful, not the opposite. I would as far as saying that the situation described can be degrading and abusive. I really do hope I am not offending anybody, but I truly believe that women, especially those about to be the mothers of the next generation, need to be shown respect, treated gently, and empowered as women, as mothers, and as people. How can we strap a woman to a bed, turn on the brightest of lights, bring in strangers to look at all regions of her body, ask her annoying questions during labor, tell her when and how to push, keep her up at all hours after the most trying of physical activities, and then send her out and say 'Good luck!' ?
I'm very thankful that many hospitals around the country who are working hard to change maternity care and bring dignity into the labor ward. Not all hospitals are still treating women like this, but it is still very common.
Sooo...I'm goin' into the warzone. =) Being a doula will put me right there in the hospital next to these strong, capable women. I hope I can help to slowly change our birthing culture in the US and Canada, one beautiful birth at a time. Let me know what you think, and be gentle (or not-- I suppose I wasn't). =)