March 11, 2013

The Business of Being Born

I'm not actually sure this blog post is ready to be posted.  If I were a good writer, I'd plan this out thoughtfully and structure it, but really...for a pregnant lady with a short attention span and a full-time job, that's a lot to ask, so I'm just gonna stick with my usual stream-of-consciousness blogging style and word-vomit out what I'm thinking.  If it veers off, let's just hope it comes back around, ok?

A couple of Facebook friends posted that they had watched the documentary "The Business of Being Born" on Netflix.  Just in reading the synopsis offered on Netflix, I was immediately skeptical.  I don't watch a lot of documentaries, because they tend to be pretty one-sided (though, I'm already a hypocrite because my Instant Queue includes a documentary on how awesome pit bulls are, and I will hear no arguments to the contrary!), but I thought that, since I'll be delivering a baby in the next few months, I should give this one a shot.

Let me pause for a moment and direct you to a friend's blog.  Lindsay wrote about this documentary just this morning, and she and I, while alike in a lot of our thoughts, had very different reactions to this documentary.  Neither are wrong, neither are absolutely right.  But I wanted to point you in the direction of someone who LOVED it, as I found myself generally annoyed by huge sections of it.

However, I think one thing that we both can agree on from jump street is that we as women have a responsibility to educate ourselves and be advocates for ourselves and make choices that work the best for us and for our bodies and circumstances.  A lot of the statistics offered up in the first half hour or so of the documentary regarding OB/GYNs, hospitals, C-sections, etc. in America, in my opinion are because a large percentage of American women just assume that birth is a terrible, scary, painful thing that only the mighty hospital doctor can help us through.  The documentary even mentions (and I agree) that the media (movies and television) has done nothing to change this view of labor and delivery. Think about it...what do you see in TV and movies?  Women screaming bloody murder until the mighty doctor comes in with his epidural and makes everything all better and hands you a fat pink baby wrapped up in a blanket.

I also agreed with the documentary that scheduled C-sections and "designer births" made popular by celebrities are a terribly selfish (not to mention unnatural) way to go.  Now, before you hang me up on a cross for that statement, let me amend to say that I know that there are many circumstances under which a woman needs a C-section.  Even a scheduled one.  My own sweet cousin is scheduled to have one on April 2nd, and I know it's not for "convenience" or to avoid the pain of a vaginal birth.  Every woman's situation is different.

However...the documentary spends a good half hour (at least) at the beginning of the film basically making hospitals and OB/GYN doctors out to be money-grubbing crooks who are just waiting, scalpel in hand, to give us drugs and cut us open and charge us ridiculous amounts of money for their time and facilities (hence the use of "business" in the film's title). One of the women interviewed actually said that OBs should just "only focus on surgery because they have no idea what they're doing with natural births."


I hate blanket statements, just for the record.  Just like "not all midwives are uneducated hippies" (which nobody *I* know ever said but is probably a fairly common thought), neither are all OBs butchers who care nothing about what a woman wants. 

So, suffice it to say I felt compelled to turn off the film several times, because I really didn't want to sit through another 70 minutes of anti-hospital/OB lectures.  But I'm glad I watched the whole thing.

I got to watch some actual, filmed live home-births (at which I waffled between covering my eyes and gagging a little [hey, I never needed to see that much of Ricki Lake naked or get that up close and personal with someone's baby crowning], and getting teary-eyed at the true miracle of giving birth), and I learned a lot about how far we actually have come as a nation regarding the medical interventions given to women in the past decades.

The parts about the "Twilight Sleep," for example, would scare anyone off of drugs during delivery.  Women having to be tied down to tables because they were trying to claw up the walls because of the drugs and then remembering none of it and being handed a baby that they had no recollection of birthing? HOLY CRAP NO THANK YOU.  And a fairly good point was made about how there really hasn't been enough time passed since the introduction of epidurals and Pitocin and other medications to see what the true long-term effects of these drugs could be.

Also I learned that I want to stay far, far away from Pitocin, but that's a personal choice I made, and one with which I plan to discuss with my OB (who, for the record, is completely on board with a natural birth and avoiding a C-section -- he said himself that it's the best overall and the easiest from which to recover).  One of my favorite little nuggets of trivia had something to do with the fact that (like that? this is where I should go look up the research and the exact statement, but whatever) if monkeys were given the drugs we women are given during childbirth, they would have nothing to do with their babies.  The drugs prevent (or manufacture) the natural oxytocin produced when we give birth, which is what helps us to forget the pain we just went through and produce strong endorphines helpful in bonding with our babies.  Pretty interesting, huh?

Also also, I was glad to see that there was a documented instance in which a woman (Ricki Lake's fellow filmmaker, actually) who had every plan and intention to give birth at home found that she had a medical need to get to a hospital and have an eventual C-section.  Her baby was premature, breech, and had the cord wrapped around his neck.  An intervention was necessary, and her doctor was on board from jump street with her plans for a home-birth and promised her no judgment or finger-wagging should she end up at the hospital.  I think that I would've written off this documentary completely had it not been for that particular OB (who seemed awesome, BTW) and this woman's situation.  The midwife knew when it wasn't working, and they did what was necessary to ensure the most successful birth for mother and baby.

(I did feel like Ricki was totally looking judgy and disappointed when she was talking to her fellow filmmaker, asked her if she was disappointed that she couldn't have a home birth, and heard the answer, "Not really" from her partner in crime.  But maybe that was just me projecting Ricki's pretty obvious bias onto her facial expressions. Heh.)

So I learned a lot. I'm glad I watched it, just because I know some things I didn't know before and I now have some questions ready for when Michael and I start childbirth classes next month and for my next OB appointment. 

Lindsay's blog (linked up in an earlier paragraph) talks a lot about our choices as women: choices to get pregnant, to stay pregnant, to choose what works best for us and our babies when we deliver, but also our tendency as women to judge other women's choices. 

So I want to offer up the big ol' disclaimer that I don't judge a woman's choice to deliver at a hospital, a birth center, or in a kiddie pool in her own home.  I don't judge a woman's choice to have an epidural or not.  I don't judge a woman because I see her preparing formula for her baby as opposed to attaching said baby to a boob.  However...

I do judge one choice: the choice not to research and educate oneself. To be spoonfed and accept everything we hear as Scripture and to ignore what may be a nagging feeling to ask questions and even make some hard decisions, such as switching doctors (or choosing not to have a doctor) or deciding that, despite all of your plans and wishes, you really do need that episiotomy you didn't want to have. Any decision which puts you or your unborn child in danger because of a lack of research and/or knowledge is just something I can't get on board with.

We were blessed with brains and with intuition, and we are fortunate to live in a country where we have many options.  It's our responsibility to use those gifts and those options to the best advantage of our bodies and our families.  We owe it to ourselves and to future generations of women to set examples of being advocates for ourselves.

I owe it to myself to know what's best for me and for my baby and my body.  So, in conclusion, I'm glad I watched this film (as biased as I felt it was at times), because I learned things.  And I feel even more secure in my decisions to hopefully deliver without the use of drugs or interventions, in a hospital room, with an OB I trust and respect one hundred percent.  And I feel pride and intense respect for any woman who uses her education and knowledge to make the decision to give birth in a tub, in the arms of her husband and to the sounds of soothing encouragement of a midwife in her own home. 

Women are amazing creatures, and I'm proud to be one of them.  I'm honored to have the ability to experience childbirth in whichever way I decide. 

Maybe I am starting to feel like a "sacred vessel" after all...

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