A Short History of How Obstetricians Replaced Midwives

A midwife measures the height of the mother's fundus at about 26 weeks to determine the probable gestational age of the fetus Author:eyeliam (licensed under the Creative Commons At tribution 2.0 Generic license)

Why do women give birth lying on their back?

Sounds like some sort of a stupid riddle, right? We all know that (at least in movies and most hospitals) women always give birth on their back (while screaming their lungs out and cursing the guy whose sperm led to the unfortunate event). The actual answer might surprise some of you. In most medical institutions women give birth on their back because it’s the position which is most comfortable for the attending doctor! A women lying on her back with her legs in stirrups gives the doctor an easy access to where the action is. Significantly, the majority of doctors examining the birthing woman will have gained all their knowledge about birth from books and hospitals and may have absolutely no idea that this position can be the most painful and inappropriate for birth (gravity, anyone?).

Currently, the average American obstetrician is male (in 2001 only 38% of obstetricians were female), has only seen medicated childbirth, and firmly believes that birth is a life-threatening condition and not a natural process. Ahem …they’re wrong! For comparison’s sake: according to The National Geographic, the lifetime risk of dying of heart disease is 1 in 5, cancer is 1 in 7, in a motor vehicle it’s 1 in 84 and due to a fall is 1 in 214! Pregnancy is far behind all these. The lifetime risk of a woman dying from childbirth  is 1 in 3,750 in North America! (That calculation includes dying of complications during pregnancy, birth, or abortion, not just birth itself.) You don’t need to be a math whiz to see that’s pretty slim. What’s more, it’s even lower in Europe, e.g. in Sweden (1 in 11,400 according to the UN) and the Netherlands (1 in 7,100 according to the UN).

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What Can the Octomom Teach Us About Choice?

octo-momGuest writer Shanman is a queer trans boi working on a PhD in Women’s Studies. He is interested in constructions of motherhood, queer theory, and Wii Punch Out. His dog is his best friend. Shanman regularly blogs at Transgrad.

What does choice mean? When we talk about choice are we only speaking about abortion or does choice encompass more than access to abortion? I believe that reproductive choice not only means that female-bodied people can terminate a pregnancy if they desire to but also includes the right to reproduce.

Commentary about the recent Octomom documentary about Nadya Suleman suggests that the decision to reproduce is one that only certain (read: economically stable, responsible, and mentally “healthy”) people should be able to make. In response to the question “What do you think of the ‘Octomom’ documentary?” one Los Angeles Times reader responded, “I did not watch and I do not care! Everybody knows that she’s a loser and all of her kids should be fostered out to some good families, sorry to say. But for their future, it has to be done. They have no future staying with this woman!” This comment and the many others like it suggests that reproductive freedom is about much more than abortion.

Francis Kissling expressed a similar sentiment earlier this month in a Salon.com article where she argues that it is better morally for a poor ignorant woman to have an abortion then to have a baby (I am paraphrasing, of course). She does not tell her readers what a poor smart woman or rich ignorant woman should do with an unintended pregnancy, perhaps for Kissling these kinds of women do not exist. [Read more...]

Pregnancy Stories: Why I Chose a Doula

This story comes from Freddi Jo Bruschke in California. She’s an MIT graduate and bad ass mom and grassroots activist. These are her words. . .

1. Why did you decide to use a doula for your pregnancies?
During my first pregnancy, I initially look for doula because we were unable to get our insurance to pay for a midwife (most won’t). Having a doula seemed to be a way to soften the hospital experience and insure that we would have an advocate. We wanted someone who was experienced with birth and would know what was happening. We wanted a third-party who wouldn’t be emotionally involved in the birth and could remain calm and collected when we weren’t. I had also read the research about improved birth outcomes when doulas were involved. Our doula for Milo’s birth, Kym, was very experienced; I think she had attended over 100 births. We hired a doula for Shea’s birth because of the incredible experience we had with Kym. We also realized the advantages of having another set of helping hands so Jon could have some breaks. And, honestly, taking care of a woman in labor is at least a two-person job. Since we believed that the birth would be routine and we knew what to expect, we hired a beginner doula.

2. What wold you say were the benefits of having a doula?
I think I covered those above. You’ve read the research on decreased incidence of medical interventions and lower rates of complications. I think the best thing about Kym was the way she stood up for us at the hospital. We did not anticipate that we would be intimidated (who would?) as it turned out we were. When the nurses (and later the doctor) pressured us to succumb to their wishes, Kym was assertive enough to argue with them. I don’t think Jon was quite up to it at the time. It was all pretty ridiculous, but these are the important things. One nurse wanted me to have an IV, despite what my doctor had agreed to in our birth plan, and continued to argue that I was going to get dehydrated. So while I was in transition, Kym and the nurse had an argument about whether one could stave off dehydration by drinking water. And the doctor, whom we had never met as it was a weekend, actually picked up scissors to give me an episiotomy before Kym, and I think, Jon stopped him. [Read more...]

Watch List: Orgasmic Birth

orgasmicbirthcoverOrgasmic Birth
Directed by Debra Pascali-Bonaro
Produced by Debra Pascali-Bonaro and Kris Liem

Women of earth, take back your birth!
- Lonnie C. Morris, CNM, ND

As an aspiring doula and having grown up with a mother who was a licensed midwife, I have seen a myriad of birth videos. I would honestly say, however, that Orgasmic Birth is the best and most enjoyable birth video I have ever seen.

The overall purpose of the film is to encourage women to view birth as an organic process in which they are able to exercise complete control. Stories of several couples are presented to provide proof that this is indeed a possibility. Orgasmic Birth does a wonderful job of including stories and labor experiences that are as intriguing as the title. The first couple we meet is having their baby in their backyard. In the post-labor interview the father explains how much he enjoyed telling his friends that his baby was born “On the deck, 3:00 p.m., on a Sunday.”  I was instantly intrigued.

Although the birth scenes in the film were idealized in that they happened in pleasant circumstances (imagine that), I appreciated that the filmmakers did not hide the reality of the process; it can often be long and yes, painful. Despite these dynamics, birth is nothing that every woman is not capable of.
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