The Bad Science Behind Having a Baby September 24, 2009

The Bad Science Behind Having a Baby

Dean Cameron‘s wife (“The bride”) gave birth to their first baby (Duncan) six weeks ago. (Congrats!)

Along the way, though, the couple had to deal with all sorts of falsehoods about childbirth. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything this skeptical couple couldn’t handle:

The [Lamaze] instructor hinted, quite strongly, that it’s better for the baby if it’s “natural” but wouldn’t come out and say as much (because it’s not true). She made the claim that medical students today aren’t shown “natural” child births. When I questioned her about this; pressing her for a source for her claim, she said she learned the med student facts from “articles.” The larger subtext was that women who chose to receive epidurals were “less woman” than those who went without because they weren’t completely experiencing the delivery. Not only that; it is somehow better for the child if it’s “natural.”

Yep, after a full term of pregnancy what’s really going to have an affect on junior is that final few hours.

We were told “don’t let them give her any drugs!!!” a couple of times. One of the drugs that the bride was given was Pitocin, a drug that induces labor.

Dean’s wife used Pitocin. She had an epidural. The baby’s doing just fine. But what’s with the anti-science overload?

Just wait till it’s time for the baby to get vaccines…

As for the baby being born “naturally,” Dean writes:

[The wife] made the point that people now use bleeding edge science to get pregnant; in vitro pregnancies are so common now, and that is, rightfully, considered a beautiful and excellent thing. BUT, using science for the delivery cheapens the experience. If someone is of the mind that “nature knows best” then why take the shortcut around nature and go in vitro?

Have any of you who have had children had to deal with other false beliefs, superstitions, or mothers who claimed to be “experts” when in fact they only knew pseudoscience?

How did you handle it?

What other bad science is involved with childbirth?

What “rumors” actually have some truth to them?

(Thanks to Julie for the link!)

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  • Wendy

    oh man. You went there? This could get ugly. These subjects (natural birth, no vax, c-section, etc) are the epitome of the “mommy wars”. Shoot throw circumcision in there and you’d have all out nuclear war.

    To the subject at hand. I had both a natural birth and and epi and each one ended up with the same result. A healthy baby. I’ve been given grief for the epi birth, but I tend to ignore assholes. 🙂 I think a lot of it stems from unnecessary medical intervention (inducement for comforts sake before full term, etc)

    Man this is a lot of rambling. No mother is less of a mother for having an induction, a c-section, an epidural, whatever. As long as there’s thought and education behind her choices, it’s alllllllll good.

  • Catherine

    I had my son 2 months ago and like the previous poster said, ended up smack dab in the middle of the mommy wars. I belong to a moms message board community where 95% of the moms are stay at home christian moms who are pro natural childbirth, anti vaccination, anti circumcision and pretty much anti everything else. They are very hard on working mothers because they say that we value money more than our children and that the purpose of being a woman is to take care of our children and our husbands because that’s basically the only thing we were put on this earth for. I had one mother call me selfish for working outside the home, another mother call me a child abuser for getting my son circumcised and another mother say that I “circumvented the natural order” by having my son in a hospital using an epidural and pitocin. They are quite militant about these things as well as strange things, like that it is wrong to find out the gender because “it is as if you are questioning god”. When they find out that I’m an atheist I get the feeling that they want to contact child protective services immediately.

    I thought that politics and religion were the two main divisions in society, until I got pregnant and went on the internet to learn that you always either belong to one “faction” or another with no in between.

  • Jessica

    The thing about the anti-science people are they are all about childbirth as an “experience” rather than a means to an end, which would be the healthy baby. In other words, it’s all about aesthetics. It gives you a title (if you’ve ever been on a mommy chat board, their signature titles give them away. “Anti-vaxxing, home-birthing, no drugs, baby-wearing, breast-feeding, cloth diapering, co-sleeping mommy to two intact baby boys!!!” Rather obnoxious, I think). I’ve had two c-sections, and while for a while, especially after my first, I was a little disappointed I didn’t get the “experience” I finally realized I have two beautiful healthy boys, and the way they got here doesn’t really matter.

  • Microbiologychick

    This is a really sticky subject for any skeptic. The thing is that there are hospitals with 50% and higher c-section rates, doctors who induce at the slightest provocation, doctors who do episiotomies on practically every woman, and doctors who overuse pitocin. These things exist, and they are not science and evidence-based.

    However, many midwives and homebirthers are so entrenched in woo that it’s hard to even talk about what might be wrong with medical maternity care because you’ll get associated with the “crunchy” people.

    I don’t plan on having kids for a few years, but I bet we’ll still be having these mommy wars then. 🙁

  • RySites

    My wife did a completely natural birth but afterwards accepted medication for complications. My son was born very healthy.
    I think the big thing being missed in the natural vs medically-assisted birth argument is the need for women to know all their options. When my wife was first pregnant it was taken as a given she would get an epi. It was only with a lot of research on her own did she learn that pregnancy in most cases isn’t intolerable. For too long, women have been told by the media that they should dread giving birth.
    Natural or not, please ensure you have thoroughly researched your options and have a plan before giving birth.

  • ColinSFX

    The writer equates hospital birth with science and home/natural birth with superstitious woo, and that’s inappropriate. Much research and good science has gone into showing that birth should be treated as a natural phenomenon as much as a medical procedure, as long as (as in every situation) everyone involved is educated and responsible.

    Let women give birth the way they want to. Taking drugs (among other things) isn’t science, and it isn’t necessary, nor should women who prefer it be thought of as “less than” by anyone. I’m happy for him that the kid is here, big Congratulations!

  • Mother of Three

    I ask the natural birth crowd: Would you be disappointed if you (or your spouse) did not have the experience of a natural, unmedicated root canal? Or the joy of an unmedicated broken arm, so you can be alert to all of the wonderful ways that your body can heal itself? Bones heal naturally too. Just take a few deep breaths and relax.

    Seriously, some people really need to get a grip. If natural childbirth was really healthier for everyone, then countries with very little maternal health care would have much better rates of mother/baby survival.

  • Bekka

    As to what ‘rumors’ are true, I would just say that there is a serious problem with the lack of availability of midwives in this country and the lack of alternatives to hospital births FOR LOW RISK PREGNANCIES. This isn’t an aesthetic issue, it’s a practical consideration. Not only do studies show that the rates of complications are as low or lower than for hospital births, it’s part of the problem of overburdening of OBGYNs in the US. In Canada and the UK, for instance, many if not most low risk births take place in childbirth centers affiliated with hospitals in case of complications, meaning that there is more time and attention for each expectant mother and, for instance, women are much less likely to be stuck with the standard lying on the back, legs in the air situation – the most convenient for a hospital doctor who needs to get in and out but one of the least efficient positions for, you know, the one who’s pushing the damn kid out. The lack of regulation and training support for midwives in the US means that too many of those who are left ARE woo, superstitious, whatever – however, that’s a direct result of our countries policies, NOT of midwifery itself.

    http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/healthday/2009/08/31/home-birth-with-midwife-as-safe-as-hospital-birth.html

  • Erica

    So interesting. I have had 2 pregnancies. Both were through IVF. My first was twins, that were delivered via c-section, and results in two beautiful healthy babies. I had a c-section due to the position of the twins. My second pregnancy was not mine. I was a surrogate for my sister. Again, I carried twins, and again delivered via c-section.

    So, I am a natural birth promoters nightmare! Both pregnancies would not have existed if not for our amazing reproductive technological advances. And both births were surgery!

    I have no idea why anyone would feel the need to judge another person on the way they choose to bring their children into this world. I’ve come across too many people that have judged me for being an atheist, yet had no problem themselves using science to get pregnant. You see it a lot on the multiples board I’m on. They are outspoken Christians who talk about God’s will, yet have no issue swinging into their RE to get pregnant. Hmm, God’s will?

    Anyway, I’m probably going off topic, but if you are going to use science for your own good sometimes, why put people down for using science for THEIR own good?

  • beckster

    If I had given birth one hundred years ago, me and my son would have died. I won’t go into the details, but I am glad the option of proven medical science exists.

    Labor is different for every woman. I know women who say their labor wasn’t that painful and women who passed out from the pain. Until you have experienced it, you have no idea how your body will react! I kept my options open and about six hours into my labor I opted for pain medication. I certainly had a different experience than my mother who was knocked out and had my sister pulled from her womb while unconscious when she gave birth in the early 1970’s. We’ve come a long way since then.

    Women should be told their options and should be able to decide for themselves what kind of birth experience they want without being guilted into soemthing they are not sure about or are uncomfortable with. For me, I decided a non-hospital birth was not for me and it turned out I was right. (and I knew I am a giant wuss so that played into my decision:) I still feel like a “real” woman, whatever that means.

  • Randy

    I have to add my thoughts even though I’m a lowly guy. When my wife had our twins (natural, no fertility treatment) we were going for natural with drugs. As the night progressed the doctor started watching Nikita’s heartrate and how it would drop when my wife had a contraction. It happened 3 times and he ordered a c-section. First I must add this was facinating to watch. Anyway, turns out Daniel’s cord was wrapped around Nikita’s neck. Moral of my ramble, science and a quick acting doc saved my son.

  • Derek

    As a Family Medicine physician who practices OB, I encounter these issues often. My usual discussion throughout the course of pregnancy is “you can’t choreograph life.” I (and the vast majority of my colleagues) prefer the least intervention possible, within the parameter of “healthy mom, healthy baby.” Sometimes things happen which require intervention. It is at best negligent to preclude an intervention as an endpoint which supercedes the endpoint of a healthy outcome.

    I can’t count the number of times I encounter women with post partum depression who are “failures” because they couldn’t deliver vaginally, couldn’t go without an epidural, couldn’t breast feed, need some ‘adult time’ or find work/career/other activity a necessary part of their lives: everyone fails the standard of anothers perfection.

  • Pete

    This is definitely a complex issue and should be considered accordingly. It is not simply an issue of good or bad science. How were people born 150k years ago before we had modern medicine? Natural childbirth is much more common in Europe than in American (they also have a lower infant mortality rate than we do). I think our aversion to natural childbirth is related to our “medical industrial complex”. It would ultimately mean less $$ for hospitals and drug companies. We should be equally skeptical of the modern practices as well. I highly recommend watching “The science of being born”.

  • Shannon

    Let me just nod and agree with Microbiologychick on both points. The point about the midwives *and* the point about OBs. I live in one of those states with a very high C-section rate. So go ahead and tell me that one hospital has a high rate because all the high risk moms go there, but an entire state? So the whole country ships high risk moms over here? Yeah. Right.

    I went to a doctor with my first birth and (because I was so unhappy with the “experience” – sorry if that bugs anyone, lol!) I went to a midwife the second time. I had a healthy baby both times. That’s what we’re going for right?

    Eh, whatever. I don’t blast anyone who doesn’t do as I do but yeah, I know plenty on both sides who do (just ask what many people think of me for staying home and -*gasp*- homeschooling!). Seriously, it can be from both sides.

    You know what though? The “mommy wars” thing is not just moms. It’s a part of human nature to divide into groups and declare yourself better than the other. We try to overcome it (well, some of us do), but it’s there. The mommy stuff is no worse than anything else. A few weeks ago I even commented to my husband that the atheist vs. religious and the science vs. woo stuff I was reading online really reminded me of some mommy war stuff . Some of the comments on blogs are just so nasty and full of themselves. Either think the way they do or you are an idiot – that sort of stuff. I really don’t like when people try to say that it’s only us wacky, unreasonable moms who act like this.

  • My wife has fairly narrow hips and if it wasn’t for some tugging with some forceps for child #1 and a C-section with child #2, I would now find myself widowed without any children. I’m all for having a qualified medical professional present and my wife would be the first to say “give me drugs!”.

  • theBlakKat

    And while you’re at it, stop taking tylenol, advil, and aleve. It’s god’s will to make you suffer through headaches and arthritis! Just like women are supposed to suffer through childbirth. Quit trying to avoid pain…

  • It can be difficult and confusing to know what drugs and how much of them affect the baby, and to what degree.

    It is a certainty that zero painkillers will have zero effect on the baby. This was our goal with both our sons. We achieved it.

    We attended Bradley training before our first boy was born. Much of it was practical, but some of it was clearly woo. The main point is relaxation techniques to control pain.

    As for the pitocin/epidural, it seems we read that the pitocin causes a total contraction of the uterus, not a top down contraction, so is less effective at pushing out the baby and also hurts like hell.

    Then, the way to treat that pain is with the epidural, which then has the effect of making pushing less effective because of reduced muscle control in the lower body.

    I don’t have our Bradley material any more, but seem to remember this sort of slippery slope contributes greatly to the 25% C-section rate (at least in the US).

    A C-section is not to be taken lightly, it is a serious surgery that comes with it’s own risks to both the child and the mother.

    I’m no biologist, but I wonder if our species would be around with a 25% fatality rate from childbirth. This makes me strongly question the necessity of the amount of intervention common during childbirth.

    Outcome: It hurt my wife like hell to deliver our boys without drugs. But, they were born healthy and there were no complications at either of their births. As I remember, the first time my oldest boy cried was when they peeled off a temperature sensor they stuck on him while he was under a “baby roaster” heat lamp while being weighed.

  • My wife didn’t have pitocin, but had demerol at one point that “takes the edge off” (which didn’t do much for her) and an epidural.

    My daughter came out healthy and awake and has developed into a wonderful 8-year-old who I delight in spending time with.

    I don’t think the epidural or the demerol had any negative effects… and if you ask my wife, they had huge positive effects. 😉

  • vivian

    The funny thing is no one mentions what happens to the moms directly after they give birth.

    The birth of my first daughter was crazy, people running around, me screaming and afterwards I was so exhausted I just wanted everyone to leave, including the baby.

    But for my second daughter I asked for the largest amount of drugs they could give me. It was so much calmer, easier and just a more enjoyable experience (well, as much as giving birth can be). And I got her about 5 minutes after she was born and had her until we left the hospital.

    Since there was considerably less stress, I think I healed soooo much faster than with my first daughter. And those early moments with my second daughter seems to have greatly affected our relationship (she has the worst case of “mommy’s girl” that I’ve ever seen).

  • Brian

    My wife had a natural homebirth, and we have a healthy son. Having our son at home was a fantastic experience. My wife was up and about within a couple of hours. Without having had any unnecessary surgery, she recovered very quickly. The three of us were all at home and comfortable instead of in hospital waiting rooms. That said, at the first indication of complication, we would have been off to the hospital. I am a firm believer in modern medicine when it is medically necessary. But many doctors will cut women open just because it’s more expedient. That isn’t a decision grounded in sound science. That’s a decision made for the doctor’s convenience, and leads to a more difficult recovery for the mother.

    There are anti-science loonies out there on all fronts of the mommy wars. Please be careful about lumping all people who choose to try natural births and home births in with the crazies.

  • I’m all for science.

    I think, in this subject, that there is a lot of unnecessary intervention in what would otherwise be routine childbirths.

    Vivian, I didn’t read your name before I read your post, I thought you were the father saying you wanted all the drugs you could get.

    But in truth, my wife was on board with the idea of drug free childbirth. If she had wanted modern relief of pain, a real test of finding the truth would be to see how well we could argue the other position.

  • SeekingDuck

    Earlier comments have covered things pretty well, but yeah, be careful about painting with too broad a brush — of course the anti-medicine crazies will gravitate to natural childbirth, but that doesn’t mean everyone who makes that choice is crazy. A lot of birth practices in the US are more about making the process efficient and predictable and lawsuit-proof from the doctor’s perspective than finishing with healthy mom and baby. The c-section rate is the obvious example, but there are others.

    My wife had a natural childbirth, and our experience with the doctors since then has been terrible, since they keep treating us like idiots and pleading with us to vaccinate our child and everything — and OF COURSE we vaccinated her, and we were clear about that from the beginning, because we ACTUALLY researched the risks and probable outcomes. But that doesn’t matter, because we’ve already been categorized in our doctors’ minds as superstitious crazies, and so they keep warning us about the horrible death our child will suffer if we don’t do exactly what they say. As parents who actually do know what we’re doing, it’s insulting, and honestly? If we actually were anti-medicine crazies, I don’t think the way they’ve been dealing with us would be doing anything to change our minds. There are a lot of sociological complications in American medicine that keep this issue from being a simple pro-science / anti-science dichotomy.

    That said: people who question whether someone is a “real” woman or a good mother or anything else based on how they give birth are asshats. It’s really creepy to me the way all of society suddenly thinks a woman’s body is their business as soon as she gets pregnant.

  • Kate

    I think the other item not discussed here is the Doctors who sometime buy into the whole “natural birth is better” camp. When my step mother became pregnant, she knew from the start a c-section would be necessary. She is a very short woman (on the verge of dwarfism), with very squat, shallow hips that forced my sister out, and forward of the birth canal.

    The doctors only gave my step mom dilation drugs, and insisted that she try to pass my sister vaginally. After nearly 3 days of (fairly intense) labor, and my father screaming at the doctors, my step mom was finally taken in and cut open. My sister today is a hyper-active child and healthy as can be.

    Do your research, and try to make sure that your doctor is present for the delivery. Had my step mom’s OBGYN been present, he would have insisted on a c-section immediately. He later called the attending that delivered my sister and gave him a real ear-full.

  • Claudia

    I don’t understand why people who opt for “natural” childbirth and those who prefer or require more intervention need to be at odds with one another. A mother needs to be educated as to her choices and the risks involved in each one. If she opts for no drugs that’s her call, and if she wants to be induced and drugged and dilated that is too. As long as you aren’t in any way risking the health of the baby and you are properly informed of the risks and/or discomfort of a given choice, it’s no one’s damn business but yours.

    However I put the brutal and unnecessary practice of circumcision in a whole different category. I know that many of the same people who look down on drugs during delivery are the same ones who are against circumcision, but in this case they happen to be right. Genital mutilation is deeply immoral when it is done without the informed consent of the person getting it and when it is done with exactly zero medical necessity (as in the INMENSE majority of circumcision cases). A small percentage of baby boys suffer botched circumcisions that permanently damage them; an unacceptable number given that circumcision is done for no good medical reason in almost all cases.

  • mystmaiden

    I’ve had four children via c-section….two girls and two boys….both boys are cerc’d….they were all formula fed….all are up to date on their vaxinations….I did not wear them 24/7….AND I put them in a baby cage (crib)….Despite all of that I have four happy and healthy children….go figure. 🙂

  • WayBeyondSoccerMom

    Two births; two completely different experiences. First delivery: epidural, c-section. Second delivery: no meds and a vaginal birth after c-section (VBAC, – no longer allowed in the US).

    My experiences are less about the delivery but more about who helped me along the way.

    With my first pregnancy, my male Ob/Gyn seemed to treat all his patients like idiots, and expected them to follow him like sheep. (All my girlfriends used him.) I went along, not knowing any difference. He was fly-fishing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming when I went into labor, so I got his backup doctor who had the bedside manner of a gnat. I saw him less than five minutes every hour, where all he did was stick his finger in me and tell me how dilated I was. Labor stalled since I had laid on my back for eight hours with an epidural. C-section followed.

    2nd birth: I used a midwife in a hospital, with a doctor on standby. She was at my side the entire time, I moved around a lot, and had the baby in no time with no drugs. (And, it’s true: whatever the body kicks in to make you forget labor is amazing. Unfortunately for me, my husband didn’t have those same endorphins so he gets to remind me of how much I yelled.)

    I’m a big fan of science. But, with modern medicine, the idea of “convenience” has creeped in. Why let a labor take its own time when a doctor can induce and be home by 6:00 PM? Why not schedule a c-section for a Friday, so it doesn’t interfere with anyone’s weekend plans. Let’s do an episiotomy because it takes less time to sew up.

    But, for me, it’s not the drugs or the medicine. It’s plain old-fashioned “being treated like a human being” by the medical staff.

  • Hannah

    I find the idea that childbirth is an “experience” that every woman should treasure absolutely degrading to women. Childbirth is almost always painful, to varying degrees. To say we should enjoy it and that we should suck it up and deal with the pain because it’s “better for the baby” (clearly not true – millions of healthy children and adults were born with the aid of pain medicine) is just sadistic. A while back I bookmarked this very interesting article on the idea that pain in childbirth is good for women, and on our cultural tendency to take men’s pain more seriously than women’s pain in general: http://skepticalob.blogspot.com/2009/07/updating-sexist-claim-that-pain-is-good.html

    I’ve also heard the claim that childbirth is not actually supposed to be painful, and that our current childbirth process is what makes it painful. Again I believe this is just a way of sweeping aside and disbelieving women’s pain – essentially saying, “It’s not really that bad.” Many people (though not all) who advocate birth outside of hospitals claim that the birth process is not painful. This is utterly untrue – birth is painful because of human anatomy and has nothing to do with the hospital setting. Telling an expectant mother that she is not supposed to feel much or any pain is sure to make her feel like she is doing something wrong when she inevitably experiences a lot of pain.

    As far as the claim that OB/GYNs perform C-sections because it is more “convenient” for them – that is absolutely untrue. Why would it be more “convenient”? That doesn’t make sense. Being an OB/GYN is a full-time job. It’s not like they are trying to rush through the birth as fast as possible so they can go home. In any group of obstetricians, one is always on call. If a baby does not get born during one doctor’s shift, they will let the next doctor take care of it. My mother is an OB/GYN, and I think the idea that she and her partners would ever sacrifice a woman’s and a baby’s health for their own convenience is absurd. Doctors are trained to do what is best for their patients, and with the exception of some bad doctors, they use their best judgment to determine what’s safe.

    However, I do think that the threat of medical malpractice lawsuits comes into play here. OB/GYNs are one of the most sued specialties. My mother in fact pays $75,000 every year on malpractice insurance, and she’s never been sued and barely even been threatened. Many times in cases in which a jury hears the very sad story of a couple who has lost their baby, or whose baby is handicapped due to complications during the delivery, they want to blame the doctor. The fact that a doctor opted for a vaginal delivery rather than a c-section (and yes, c-sections are certainly safer for both mother and infant) because s/he failed to think some small warning sign was worth putting the mother through surgery – that could be a decision that could cost the doctor everything s/he owns.

    So I think we certainly need to be having a conversation around the things that doctors of all specialties do in order to avoid being sued. Another part of this discussion is the fact that inducing labor is one thing (unlike epidurals or c-sections!) that has been shown to actually affect health of the baby. Inducing even a few days before the due date increases chances of health complications associated with prematurity. But again, the reason inducements are so common is not that it is more convenient for the doctor. Many women request an inducement, either because they want their child born on a certain day, they are having a slow labor process and want to go ahead and deliver, or they want their child born while the obstetrician who has been caring for them throughout the pregnancy is on call (rather than another doctor in their group) – my mother gets this request all the time. Doctors need to warn their patients that inducements are usually not a good idea unless really necessary. Yet that is a decision that is ultimately up to the patient.

    And I agree with other posters here – what we should be concerned about it whether the delivery produces a healthy mother and child, NOT whether the mother has endured enough pain to be a “real mom”!

  • mystmaiden

    I’ve had four children via c-section….two boys and two girls….both my boys are circumcised….they were all formula fed….they are all up to date on their vaccinations….I did not wear them 24/7….I put them in a baby cage (crib)….and DESPITE all of that I have four happy and healthy children….go figure. 🙂

    *my reasons for any of the above are not important….what is important is the outcome. 🙂

  • Gwenny

    I’m the mother of 4 adults and an atheist. I’m just going tell you what I did.

    I had all four of my children “naturally”. Although I’m far from anti-science, I just make it a practice to use as few drugs and chemicals as I can. My feeling at the time was that there was evidence that some of the drugs used in the childbirth process could have adverse effects on the newborn and my doctor agreed we could hold off and see how I tolerated the pain. Turned out it was easy for me, as I give birth like a cat . . the last one was born in two pushes after a few hours of playing Scrabble with my birthing coach.

    I would never presume to tell another woman how much pain she should endure or how she should run her pregnancy. Each woman has to evaluate this for herself.

    Both my sons are circumcised. That was a very difficult decision for me, but I wasultimately swayed by hygiene and the fact that their father was circumcised. (And probably by the fact that my abuser for a decade wasn’t and I thought it was disgusting . . .so, yes, I ended up being irrational about it.) I have since apologized to my sons, who were bemused, because if I had it to do over, I would leave them intact and let them choose for themselves.

    I breastfed. I’m lazy. Breastfeeding is the easiest, cleanest and most sanitary way to deal with issue. Plus, the chemicals are nice. 😀

    I was a stay at home mom when I had the option. Well, I ran a home childcare for the infancies of the first two. If I had it to do over, I would not have children if I could not stay home them. I believe deeply that being a parent is a career decision and that children benefit greatly by a stable, secure upbringing . . .something they will seldom get when they spend their days in one care facility or another.

    Okay, there’s my input.

  • WayBeyondSoccerMom

    Hannah, I’m glad your mom is a thoughtful Ob/Gyn, but I also come from an Ob/Gyn family, and I hear different things.

    Yes, there are a lot of women who want “convenient” delivery dates, but doctors buy right into it.

    And, doctors in US residency programs for the last 10 years don’t even know what a pregnancy looks like, after 40 weeks. They don’t have any practical knowledge of treating a woman past her due date, even by a day. Doctors induce as soon as they hear, “my due date was….” in the past tense.

    A side note: the malpractice issue is horrendous, and terribly unfair to doctors.

  • cathy

    Okay, here I go.

    Hannah, C-sections have longer recovery rates than vaginal births. And epidurals come with a host of complications which often prolong post delivery recovery. I do not think poorly of women who use these options, but let’s not pretend that these things do not have major health effects on the woman delivering.

    Another point on C-sections is that the US has a freakishly high C-section rate, even for a developed country. Also, part of the fight for VBAC and natural birth is a fight against coerced C-section. Women have been charged with child abuse and even murder for refusing C-sections (yes, murder, it was in Utah). While we of course need to respect women who look over their options and choose C-sections, we have to remember that hospitals very often force C-sections without consent. The notion that it is at all acceptable to forcibly medicate someone and give them surgery without thier consent is bullshit. Pregnant women have also been held prisoner in hospitals under court order to ‘protect the health of the fetus’. Respecting that pregnant women still own their bodies and have the right to make their own medical decisions would encourage women to be more trustful of hospitals.

    A note on midwives, in my state a certified midwife has to be at minimum an RN. In hospital births, these are the people who are there for all but the last five minutes or so. The midwife from my area who just retired had more in-hospital delivery expericence than the OBGYN who was supposed to deliver my neice, was trained in breach birth, had over a decade experience in the neonatal unit, and had a lower complication rate than the local hospital. We have the idea of home birth=medically unsupervised birth when in most cases this is untrue. Also, in the event of complications, as long as you live within thirty minutes (drive) of the hospital, your long term injury and mortality rates are no higher than if you started in the hospital.

  • Siamang

    I think there’s far too much “you’re doing it wrong” going on in the mommy wars.

    Sorry, we listened to our doctor. Don’t like what we did? Have your own kid.

    For our part, we were epidural and bottle. We tried breast, we wound up going bottle.

    We didn’t have really any trouble with the “mommy wars” of people telling us how we should do things differently. We don’t need to please any of those jerks.

    Healthy baby, healthy mom. That’s all that I could hope for.

  • Sanity

    Here in the netherlands, almost everyone gives birth at home unless:
    – You live to far from a hospital to rush you there in case of emergency
    – There’s something abnormal about the baby
    – You’re very old/very young
    – family history of problems
    – you ask for it

    hardly anyone asks for it, as 4 out 5 births are at home, almost always with a midwife or other profesional.

    As for my personal opinion… Well, if you have no medical reason to go to a hospital, I think you shouldn’t, but being a guy that’s an easy thing for me to say.

  • AnonyMouse

    Sebastian Flynn Loughman Hewlett was born via emergency Cesarean section. Had he not been extracted, he would have strangled in his own umbilical cord. I will fight to the death any woman who says that his mother should have had him “naturally.”

    And that’s really my final say on the matter. I don’t care who you are, what your opinions are on medicine, or what your religion is. It is the woman who should decide what happens to herself and her child, not some hoity-toity self-righteous “SuperMommies” who have convinced themselves that since they have successfully birthed and raised a child or two, they know exactly how it should be done for every baby EVER.

  • Siamang

    Respecting that pregnant women still own their bodies and have the right to make their own medical decisions would encourage women to be more trustful of hospitals.

    Researching the hospital you’re going to use is important here. You are lumping together all hospitals as if they all are one entity: ‘the problem.’

    That isn’t going to cause trust in hospitals, which I don’t think you really want anyway.

    Folks, do research. Talk to your doctor.

  • CJ

    I had two boys drug free. Circumcised them both. Worked all their lives. Sent them to public school. Let them play video games and gave them toy guns.

    Neither of them hate me. Neither of them are axe murderers. Neither of them are disabled or unhealthy in any way.

    Oh yeah – and I taught them how to think.

    Whatever.

  • Amber

    I’m a woman who’s in the final stages of pregnancy – at 8 months I’m experiencing these “mommy wars” like nothing else. Lately it’s been a whirlwind of information. I’m very fortunate that my childbirth classes are science based and balanced. The doula (labor support) who teaches our class does emphasize natural pain relief, but she stresses that not everybody can cope with the pain and the medication is there for those that need it. (I’m not sure how relevant it is, but I am a Canadian and this is how I’ve experienced things). I’ve done a TON of research when it comes to childbirth and pregnancy in general and have made my own decisions based on that. I recognize that even though I want to go through it as “naturally” as possible (for personal reasons), I’m certainly open to the idea of relief. It’s there for a reason and if I need to I will take advantage of it.

    My OB/GYN is an amazing woman. She’s been through it all personally and knows just how much support a laboring woman needs. There’s more to birth than pain and babies – women need comfort and encouragement. They call it labor for a reason 🙂 For this reason I can understand why some people choose to do it at home… hospitals can be terrifying places and when you’re in that much pain and experiencing that much emotion, you need to feel as much comfort as possible.

    Okay, sorry for the rambling..

  • Hannah

    Cathy,

    While obviously a surgery is going to have a longer recovery time than a vaginal birth, I would hardly say that either c-sections or epidurals have “major health effects” on women delivering. And I was arguing against people who claim that epidurals and c-sections are bad for the baby, which they are not.

    That being said, I think the point is that women should be able to weigh the options and make the best decisions for themselves based on sound scientific fact, and never on myths, superstitions, or pressure from society. I absolutely agree that a woman should never be coerced into making a decision about her own body, not by doctors or hospitals or even, as you mention, the justice system.

    I’ve never heard about women being forced into undergoing procedures for the health of their fetus before. That seems consistent with the law that abortions can’t be performed after the point of viability. I am avidly pro-choice but certainly feel that abortions should not be performed after a certain point in development. And I feel that when parents’ personal superstitions about medicine lead them to deny treatment for their children, that constitutes child abuse. Yet forcing a woman to undergo a c-section for the health of her child seems absurd. I’d have to know the details of the case, but even if there was 100% certainty that the child would die during a natural delivery as opposed to c-section, it is still fundamentally wrong to force someone to undergo a procedure on their own body.

    It’s a tricky issue. Thinking about expectant mothers who drink or do drugs during pregnancy and thus leave their children with serious health problems forever really makes me angry. But the idea of controlling women’s behavior in the name of protecting their fetuses smacks of the ideology that a woman’s purpose is for childbearing and that her health and freedom is second to her child’s.

  • Sandylein

    Because my husband and I adopted, I always joke that I could drink during my pregnancy. We totally missed the hoo-ha over “natural” versus “drugged.” We didn’t however, escape the fertility circus, or the Breastfeeding Nazis. It seemed that everyone, strangers in the street even, felt it their duty to tell me a story about a couple who adopted and got pregnant immediately after, or that I, too, could breastfeed if I just stayed in bed for a month pumping my breasts before our baby came home. Opinions are, indeed, like assholes…

    It’s the result that matters in becoming a parent, and we all have to educate ourselves so that we can make the best choice for us and our family. Except for the fact that my daughter is of Chinese heritage, no one could examine her and tell me if she was birthed “naturally” or not, breast- or bottle-fed, or as much my daughter as a biological child. And it’s no one’s business but ours.

  • Delphine

    Cathy, thanks so much! I was going to say that.

    I’m not saying some cases don’t warrant C-sections, but US hospitals have an average of 25~30% c-section rate, some hospitals give as many as 50% of their women c-sections during labor.

    Don’t you think that’s a bit high for something women are born to do? Do we really need THAT much help giving birth?

    I’m all for feeling less pain during labor, but not at the cost of someone cutting through all of my major muscles on my stomach, peel through my organs, my stomach, get to my womb, cut it open, take the baby out, sew it together, put my organs back at their rightful places, then sew me back together.

    C-section is a MAJOR operation and should only be used in situations where they are absolutely necessary. We don’t give random people heart surgeries just to see what will happen. If someone has an ulcer where we can fix with medicines, we don’t cut him open to sew his ulcer back so he’ll heal faster, so why do we so readily cut women open?

    Do women that chose Cesarean sections really don’t care that they won’t be feeling much in the lower half of their stomachs, ever again? Were they told after one Cesarean section they won’t be able to give birth without another one? This woman I know had three C-sections (she actually needed them, her body rejects fetuses, making her pregnancies very dangerous). She showed me her scar and said she couldn’t feel anything below the scar. THAT. Permanently changed how I feel about Cesarean sections. I’m more afraid of them than I am afraid of labor, and I’m quite afraid of labor.

    I plan to use a birthing center when I’m pregnant. It seems most countries that don’t have US’s freakishly high c-section rate use birthing centers. I intend to avoid a c-section at all cost. Unless if the baby or I am dying, I would not be authorizing any cutting of my body for the sake of convenience.

  • You don’t need a doctor, a midwife, any medical equipment or any drugs to give birth It is very handy to have trained professionals with the right tools available in case anything goes wrong. If it weren’t for the nurses and doctors I might possibly have no children instead of four so I’m a bit of a supporter of the medical profession. My eldest, Beth, had low blood sugar at birth which could have led to fits or even death. Cait had an asthma attack at 3 years old and needed hospitalization and a nebulizer, Alex and Tasha were born five weeks early and spent a week in ICU.

    All through the power of SCIENCE.

    That said I would fully support any woman who wanted or did not want medical intervention to make her delivery easier. That is the job of midwifes after all. It must be easy to lose track of that though and I suggest a gentle reminder from any expectant mother will be more than enough to set them straight.

  • bill

    I’ve also heard the claim that childbirth is not actually supposed to be painful, and that our current childbirth process is what makes it painful. Again I believe this is just a way of sweeping aside and disbelieving women’s pain – essentially saying, “It’s not really that bad.” Many people (though not all) who advocate birth outside of hospitals claim that the birth process is not painful. This is utterly untrue – birth is painful because of human anatomy and has nothing to do with the hospital setting. Telling an expectant mother that she is not supposed to feel much or any pain is sure to make her feel like she is doing something wrong when she inevitably experiences a lot of pain.

    i’m a 20 year old male with no kids (and won’t have any for a long time), but i do have some knowledge about human evolution. the human pelvis shaped in a way that balances between functionality for upright walking and being wide enough for child birth. also, humans (as well as primates) have very long periods of pregnancy compared to others animals, and combined with larger brains makes a human baby a difficult one to birth out of a pelvis trying to be functional in multiple ways. basically, birth for humans is very difficult and painful because of upright walking and very developed offspring at birth. anybody who claims that child birth isn’t supposed to be painful or that it’s our current methods that make it painful/difficult is absolutely and completely wrong.

  • Folks, let’s make this simple. Grow your babies in a vat. Done!

  • Gib

    Circumcision ? Why would you mutilate your kid’s genitals ?

    It’s illegal to do it to girls in many countries. Why would you do it to your boy ?

  • Siamang

    Don’t you think that’s a bit high for something women are born to do?

    I would respond that, evolutionarily speaking, there is no guarantee that you or your baby are “born” to survive childbirth. Your friend, for example.

    Do we really need THAT much help giving birth?

    Since we’ve been performing c-sections, babies with larger craniums at birth, which wouldn’t have survived normally, ARE surviving, to have big-headed children of their own.

    It may be that, yes, we do need more and more help giving birth. The only “solution” to reverse the trend would be to let more people die giving birth, and that’s unthinkable.

    This is not to discount that the number of c-sections seems abnormally high in the US, and there may be some elective surgery going on here.

    But at the same time, I know a number of women who did schedule their childbirth. I’m not going to say I should make their choices for them, as long as their doctor says it’s okay, I don’t care.

    She showed me her scar and said she couldn’t feel anything below the scar. THAT. Permanently changed how I feel about Cesarean sections.

    I have had scars where I can’t feel things. I couldn’t care less about them. They don’t freak me out. I’d have a thousand of them if it was the only way that my child would be delivered healthy and alive.

    Have your baby the way you want to have it. Talk to your doctor.

    But try not to freak out about it. All in all, it’s not a big deal.

  • Cherie M

    One of my best friends gave birth last month. She had been hoping for a natural birth with naturally starting labor, no epidural, etc. As her due date grew closer, however, the baby got bigger and nothing else happened. She was finally induced using pitocin a week after she was due and still had no signs of imminent labor. Due to the effects of the pitocin, she also got an epidulal after several hours of horrific contractions. End result? While she wishes things would have happened naturally, they didn’t and she and her baby are okay. That’s what matters most.

    Luckily most doctors are forgoing things such as episiotomies and forceps and are generally more open to women giving birth naturally, or going without the epidural/pitcoin as long as they feel comfortable. It’s most important for mother and baby to be healthy and for the mother to do what she can/wants, not what’s the latest fad or pressure!

  • catgirl

    Yes, childbirth is an experience, a painful experience. It doesn’t help me or my baby to go through that pain. “Natural” childbirth has always been painful and always will be. On top of that, it’s also dangerous and life-threatening. Even a hundred years ago it was a leading cause of death for women and infants. “Natural” means a lot of death and a lot of unnecessary pain. I don’t mind be unnatural if it helps me live a long, healthy life.

  • JenV

    OK, I’ll add my story to the fray:

    When I became pregnant with my son, I began reading about pregnancy and childbirth. A lot. I decided, after much research, that I would attempt a natural, drug-free childbirth. I talked to my midwife(s), drew up a birth plan and thought that was that. Well, 1 week and 1 day past my due date, my midwife (midman?) told me that he recommended I go in for an induction, as my amniotic fluid was low and we were getting close to the 2-week-past-due cut off (where they seem to think the placenta starts becoming less and less efficient and starts to break down). Off to the hospital for an induction…definitely NOT what I wanted.

    So, after being administered cervadil to start contractions, I went into labor. Contractions were easy at first, until my water broke. Then all hell broke loose! I don’t know if it was because I was induced or because I have a low pain tolerance for that sort of thing, but I was begging for an epidural within the hour! They administered the epi, whereupon my contractions abruptly slowed (a known side effect of the epidural). So, in order to get my contractions going again, the midwife ordered pitocin. Since I already had the epidural, I didn’t notice any contractions. Also, I couldn’t feel my legs, which was alarming.

    I labored for 24 hours, on my back, with pitocin and an epidural. When I reached 10 cm and was told to push (I had no urge to push), my son’s heartbeat began to decelerate with each contraction, and an OB/GYN was called in to monitor us. She (strongly) recommended that I go in for a c-section, since she didn’t like the decells. Being determined to give birth vaginally, I asked if I could turn off the epidural for an hour and try to push in different positions; on my knees, squatting, etc. When I started to feel the contractions, pushing helped the pain, but my son was not descending. After 24 hours of labor and 3 hours of pushing, I was wheeled into the OR for a C-section. I was crying the entire way, feeling like an absolute failure.

    Thankfully, my son was born healthy and alert, but was sunny-side-up with the cord wrapped around his neck. Twice. There was no way on earth that he could have been born vaginally…one or both of us would have died.

    Now, I am privy to all the nuances of the debates as outlined in comments above, and my first choice would have been to go all natural. But, what with being induced, the downward spiral of interventions and the fact that my son was in a bad position with cord around his neck, it became an impossibility.

    To this day, I ask myself: if I had just waited to go into labor, would he have righted himself into the correct birth position? Would I have been able to give birth naturally, without intervention? Perhaps. Or, we could have had the same outcome. I don’t know.

    The point is this: be informed. Know what is going on, and make informed decisions. Follow your path, and if it deviates from necessity, then so be it. But don’t just do what the doctors tell you to do without thinking. I wish, wish, wish that I would have listened to my mommy instinct and waited to go into labor naturally. But, I’m glad that the medical professionals were there to save our lives when we needed them.

    If this post sounds ambiguous, it is. I still have mixed feelings about the whole childbirth experience. Emotionally, I wish it had gone one way, but logically, I am just glad that he’s here, safe and sound.

    On a side note: C-sections are not without risks. They are major abdominal surgery. My c-section resulted in a very serious DVT (blood clot) that almost killed me. I’m still in pain 2 years later, and still on an aspirin regimen.

    Also, I’d like to add that I do think that the American system of treating pregnancy and childbirth as a medical condition does cause harm, due to often unnecessary or overused interventions, that result in much higher (and unnecessary) C-section rates. It does women and babies a grave disservice.

  • Lee

    Ask your OB how many unmedicated, natural births they have attended from start to finish. Not many, if any. Is that not distrubing?

    The saying is, you don’t get sued for the C-Section you do. You get sued for the ones you don’t.

    Every medicated, surgical birth mother is convinced that theirs was the path to having their healthy children. Well, if they had a midwife who knew how to remove a cord from the neck, a CSection wouldn’t be necessary.

    Cord happens people. Rare is the birth that a cord isn’t wrapped in some way.

    C-section rates in this country are unacceptable. It is major surgery that is DANGEROUS to both mothers and babies. Major surgery that is necessary only in EMERGENCY situations. This is what happens when we put birthing decisions in the hands of doctors and hospitals with liability on their minds.

    Take a look at the infant mortality rate of the U.S. compared to other DEVELOPING countries. We’re doing something wrong.

    Pitocin increases your chance of having a C-Section dramatically. Rarely can a woman handle Pitocin contractions without an epidural. They crash into each other without a break in between.

    Most times after an epidural, contractions slow down, so pitocin is used.

    We aren’t solving problems by using these drugs and interventions, we’re creating more.

    There’s a little thing that your body produces called SERATONIN. Pain relieving happy hormones. Your body takes care of itself. When you don’t inject it with numbing drugs, your body will release these feel good hormones.

    Some women actually want the experience of having a baby. Some just want a baby handed to them without any discomfort and not a day past their “due” date.

    Take a look a The Farm in Tennessee headed by world renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin. They have facilitated the births of over 2000 babies with intervention, complication and death rates FAR below your typical hospital. Its obvious which is safer, a skilled midwife with the talent to facilitate a birth through continuous support and positioning or an OB who shows up at the last minute with drugs and a scalpel. The stats speak for themselves.

    The birth experience DOES matter. How many women go into a hospital and leave having been cut open in some way? How many hospitals withhold babies in the nursery for “observation” from the mother?

    You cannot convince me that hospital lights, monitoring belts, strangers checking dilation, and giving birth horizontally, (with your pelvis being compressed instead of opened) in the LEAST EFFICIENT position all makes for a comfortable environment that will relax the muscles and the mind and facilitate the easiest birth.

    Hospitals are for emergencies. Doctors are GREAT in an emergency. During unmedicated low risk births, they just complicate things.

    The memory of discomfort fades. The memory of triumph does not.

  • 5ive

    WayBeyondSoccerMom, can’t find where VBACs are no longer allowed in US, can you point me in the right direction?
    Alos, teher are more complication associated with epidurals, they are, after all, placing a large needle into your spine. and more complications with pitocin induced labour, threfore making drug-free childbirth the way to go if it is safe for the delivering mother.
    That is the key point. There is nothing wrong so long as you end up with a healthy mom and a healthy baby. But you are better off statistically going natural.
    Having said that, labour SUCKS! I had 2 babies naturally and it really really hurts. But it is only for a day and I have to say I would choose delivery for 1 day over being pregnant and uncomfortable and in mild pain for 9 months any day.

  • Wendy

    Told ya Hemant. 🙂

  • My wife had a natural water birth because she felt more comfortable that way and everything went just fine. The water birth center where we had our child had over 300 children birthed there and only ever had to take a woman in labor to the hospital due to complications one time in their history. They never lost a baby, which is not that surprising considering how low maternal infant mortality is, “natural” or otherwise (something like 13 in 10,000)

    A friend of ours recently had a child at the hospital and they induced her on her due date. She had a ton of complications and they gave her a C-section because the cord was wrapped around the babies neck, which is typically unnecessary. They would not let her stand or squat or get on her hands and knees because she was connected to a bunch of machines (she was not a high-risk pregnancy.)

    She and the baby lived, but it sounded like a really unpleasant experience.

    And granted, these are completely anecdotal stories, but frankly it seems counterproductive to numb someone completely from the waist down and make them lay on their back the entire time where gravity cannot help the process. Moving around according to the way things are feeling to the mother helps the baby descend and speeds the process along.

    Women should be free to choose how they want to have their children without being labeled a “crunchy mega mommy.” There is plenty of evidence that natural child birth is as safe, if not safer than child birth in a hospital. The assumption that more medical intervention is always somehow “better” seems fallacious.

    On the other hand, if women want to have babies in hospitals, I say more power to them. Let them do it how they want to. The “mega-mommies” do exist and they do put their nose in where it doesn’t belong.

  • Might as well wade into this morass. I’m 5 months pregnant with my second child. There is a long history (several generations in my mother’s family) of completely healthy pregnancies and then non-progressing labors and the baby going into distress. Turns out I take after this side of the family and am glad I listened to my mother’s pleas that I deliver in the hospital. For whatever reason, even though I am built for carrying and birthing babies, my body doesn’t do labor well–contractions never fall into a pattern and don’t open the cervix efficiently.

    Even though a lot of literature indicates that epidurals can slow down labor, there’s a subgroup for whom it has the opposite effect. Finally getting an epidural (because we were getting down to the point where I would need a c-section) allowed my labor to progress. Still took 2-1/2 hours of pushing and forceps and my son didn’t breathe for 90 seconds.

    I would love to have an unmedicated birth this time, but know that I’ll likely need to rely on medical interventions again.

    What really gets me are the programs (like hypnobirthing) that seem to suggest everything will go smoothly if you follow their protocol and if it doesn’t, it’s because you weren’t committed enough.

  • RHA

    I ended up having a c-section with my first daughter because she was stubborn enough to flip around in the womb during the past few weeks (going breech and getting tangled in the cord). I had been seeing a midwife throughout the pregnancy (I’m Canadian BTW) and she was the first to go “Hmm, this doesn’t seem right”, send me for additional ultrasounds and shuffle me off to a fantastic midwife friendly OB. I never went into labour as my c-section was scheduled. My back up midwife was there with me and my husband during the operation and afterwards for several weeks. Best of both worlds considering the circumstances really.

    I’m now pregnant again and my former back up midwife is my primary caregiver now. The OB said he didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t try for a vaginal birth. I got many comments from doctors and midwives about how well I healed – apparently my OB has mad skillz. The birth will be in the hospital though as recommended (or rather insisted upon) by my midwife. The group of midwives she belongs to do about 25% of births at home and only for low risk and on request. The rest are in the local hospital’s birthing wing, same as the OB managed births.

    I’m hopeful about the VBAC but realistic in possible outcomes. I do know from talking to other women, vaginal birth recovery time is nothing compared to the weeks of healing faced after a c-section. If I do require a c, or an epidural, I hope I get the same Anesthesiolgist. He was brilliant.

    On a side note, given my research, I am not in favour of circumcision. From the stats, circumcisions are much less popular now too and not covered by universal healthcare (they were delisted, having been deemed a cosmetic procedure). In Canada, depending on the province, it’s ~20% of males babies or lower that are circumcised. In the U.S. rates seem to fall between ~50-75% depending on the state.

  • anesthetist

    The obstetrical anesthesia literature reveals many ways in which labor epidurals actually improve safety. It’s popular to portray it as otherwise, but that is not supported by evidence (aka “science”). I can understand the point of view that normal, healthy pregnancies can certainly proceed with far less, or no, medical intervention, and I wouldn’t impose upon another woman’s choice, but as others have mentioned, it is most important to be informed, and not just by the scare tactics found on the Interwebs.

    I think it is also worth noting that until relatively recently, anesthesia for laboring moms was available but NOT USED because of the popular belief of the time that “god” required women to suffer during labor because of “Original Sin.” It sounds quaint nowadays, but I think that kind of thinking still spills over in some of these Mommy Wars. Also, women have given birth naturally for thousands of years, but mortality rates for both mom and baby soared as well. I don’t think we want to go back to that outcome.

    What bothers me far more than the anti-science attitude of some regarding natural vs. epidural, etc, is the hypocritical garbage surrounding infertility treatment. Specifically, I am talking about people who go to every length to have in vitro and have many embryos implanted, resulting in high multiple pregnancies, but then refuse selective reduction on the grounds that they don’t believe in abortion or in “playing God.” What were you doing exactly to get pregnant in the first place?!?! Clearly if one doesn’t want to “play God” they will let “Him” determine whether there is a pregnancy or not. Instead, they place all of the fetuses at risk for devastating complications. That is what really makes me crazy.

  • anesthetist

    Oh, and my hospital (US) does some VBACs. Not as many as they used to, but they are not forbidden, just shown to be less safe than previously thought.

  • Anna

    My mom was told to lay on her side, and try to keep her left leg up while giving birth. She changed doctors, ’cause she thought it was a stupid idea. Honestly, I don’t know much about childbirth, but I don’t think that doctor’s advice was very good.

  • cathy

    Look, I never said that there are not cases where these procedures are nessecary or that women should not be allowed them, but the US has a habit of doing things that are unnessecary and without proper consent. I myself was born induced because of my mother’s health problems (severe PIH and start of kidney failure). However, my mother’s circumstances were far different from my cousin whose doctors wanted to induce because they feared she would birth on the weekend. Each case is different and each person should get to make the decisions on what is right for her. It is not that I oppose medical intervention in childbirth, what I oppose is the denial of consent and options. A vaginal, non-medicated, non-induced, non-hospital birth is for most pregnancies (this meaning pregnancies that are not high risk) a perfectly safe option. It is not anti-science to refuse
    medically unnessecary procedure if you do not desire them.

    As for epidurals, they prolong labor, increase the risk of small blood vessel rupture, and increase the risk for other complications. Yes, labor can be very painful for some people and they may consider an epidural their best option. Fine. But informed consent means that they should know the risks going in as well.

    As to the hospital imprisonment case, here’s a link to the ACLU’s friend of court brief on that specific case http://www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/pregnancy/40571prs20090803.html. A recent case of child abuse charges for refusual of c-section is new jersey division of youth and family services v. v.m. and b.g. In this specific case, the woman had previously birthed two other VBAC children, both healthy and did manage to avoid the c-section in this case, with no negative health outcomes for the baby. The woman charged with murder is here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/12/national/main605537.shtml. Though her case is less clear cut, she was charged on the basis of c-section refusal and convicted on child endangerment based on this and her drug use alone (drug use during pregnancy). This was not a late term abortion case at all, for this woman did not have or want an abortion, but rather gave birth vaginally as she wanted. I did not make this stuff up, these kind of cases do happen in the US.

    As to the research thing, I am from an area with only two hospitals within 1 1/2 hour drive and only one of those does deliveries. Many women in this area are poor with low levels of education (the average reading level in the county in fourth grade). We live in a country where the average reading level is sixth grade, so research may not be as easy as you assume. A woman should not be penalized for being poor and uneducated. You are lucky to have the resources, financially and educationally, to have a wide variety of options, not all women are. It is the duty of a medical establishment to make sure there is informed consent and that they do not abuse patients. While it may be wise to research birth locations, a lack of research does not excuse abusing patients.

  • WayBeyondSoccerMom

    5ive, regarding VBAC, I was recalling a story within the past year about doctors deciding to say ‘no’ to VBAC as a first response, due to too many women having ruptures during the attempt to give birth. I have been searching the Internet to back up my statement. All I can find is a website called vbac.com, and there is a comment from an attorney that states the following:

    Attention:
    I’m a lawyer with the Northwest Women’s Law Center in Seattle. I’m investigating possible legal responses to bans on vaginal birth after cesarean at hospitals in the northwest states – Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon. If you are currently pregnant and want to have a VBAC, but are facing a hospital policy that would require you to have a c-section regardless of whether you want it and it is medically necessary, and are willing to consider working with a lawyer on this, we’d like to talk with you.

    Also, there is another website, ican-online.org, that also appears to be helping women attempt VBAC after hospitals refuse them.

    It would be interesting if anyone can provide in this discussion anecodtal evidence of people having a VBAC within the past year in the US. From the vbac.com message board, a lot of women are writing about the difficulty of finding someone in the US who would even consider it.

  • VBAC is *not* illegal in the US. Some states do regulate which professionals can attend a VBAC birth. There may be a few states where it is illegal. Hospitals may have policies against them. Physicians may prefer not to take you as a patient. The myth persists because doctors and hospitals are SAYING it, because women argue less if they think they don’t have the option. It’s not true. If you don’t make it to the hospital on time, you haven’t done anything illegal. It it’s something you want, look for another doctor or another hospital or a birthing center.

  • Mike Ashe

    The problem is definitional. Most hospitals define “success” as healthy baby, healthy mom, regardless of the process. By that definition, C-Section rates of over 50% do not factor into the thinking.
    .
    Think of going to the dentist for a filling and have them yank your tooth. Yes, you were drugged, operated on, take longer to recover and are now “missing something”, but hey, your tooth doesn’t hurt right? Success!
    .
    We just had a healthy home-birth for baby number #2 after unneeded C-section for baby #1. Watch “Business of Being Born” if you want more info on the subject.

  • NancyG

    Two VBACs in the 80s – suggested by my new ob/gyn, which surprised me, as I’d just moved to a rural area and expected I wouldn’t be allowed to even try. Had an anesthesiologist in the room for a while with baby #2, but he finally shrugged and said, “you won’t need me,” and walked out. Baby #3 was less of a pleasant experience – I was exhausted and in a lot more pain that time, but all worked out well.

  • beckster

    I don’t have a dog in the fight because I really don’t think it is any of my business how other women choose to give birth. I do need to point out one thing that is bothering me though. Several posters have quoted stats claiming that labor and delivery outside of a hospital setting has fewer interventions, deaths, etc. I can’t help but wonder if this is because modern science allows women to know beforehand if they will be having complications and those women are more likely to choose to be in a hospital to give birth rather than at home or other non-hospital setting. Therefore, hospitals would have higher rates of the bad stuff simply because women who have these issues are choosing the hospital for safety concerns. Just a hypothesis 🙂

  • Kathy

    People told me that having a C-section was the easy way out. It not only saved my son, it is major surgery. I don’t remember it being easy.

  • Hmm when I was looking at maybe having a baby, I read a book called “Home Birth Bound” by Maggie Banks. While it focusses on the situation of midwifery in New Zealand, I think it would be a very interesting read for anyone interested in issues to do with home birth (natural) vs hospitals.
    It presents a lot of research showing how much childbirth has changed over the shift from mostly doing it at home with a midwife to mostly doing it at the hospital with a doctor.
    While it does advocate home birth (and does present good evidence for doing so) it does recognise that things may have to be moved to a hospital should complications arise.

  • My sister gave birth in Australia on Wednesday, 9 days past due date. Started contractions the Monday, didn’t push him our til 530pm Wed. Tells me the puh was the easy part compared to the contractions. They didn’t induce, but did break the waterfs fo her.

    Looking forward to meeting the new bub next weekend. 🙂 Proud of my sister, but happy it was her and not me!

  • I’m another case of the anti-science crowd’s worst nightmare: two IVF pregnancies resulting in two babies born via C-section.

    And lemme tell you, after everything, the two things I remember as being the worst are the Ovarian Hyperstimulation from the first round of IVF and time I spent in labor before I got my epidural. ::shudders::

    Dood, the C-section may hurt longer but it doesn’t hurt anywhere near as much as labor did. (Some women’s labor ramps up gradually. Me? I went from 3 cm to 9 cm in 15 minutes. You don’t want to know how much that hurts. Trust me.)

    Without the wonders of technology, I wouldn’t have either child. Even if I’d gotten pregnant the first time, she’d almost certainly have died when I went into preterm labor at 23 weeks. If she’d made it past that, she wouldn’t have survived labor.

    Mind you, I nearly died in surgery the second time, but that’s my body being useless, not the fault of modern medicine…

  • Carlie

    One of the only arguments for natural childbirth over surgery that seems good to me is that the fluid in their lungs gets squeezed out better during birth. Having had a c-section kid choke on the stuff to the point that the floor nurse had to stick her fingers alarmingly far down his throat to clear it, I can see that.

  • I’d like to weigh in on this one, since I’m facing these choices at the moment, but I think everyone’s already said a lot of it. I have written about my experiences in my blogs
    I think what’s important is for women to have the freedom to choose what’s important to them and to not have anyone make them feel guilty about their choice.
    My choices, which I am making for my own reasons:
    Epidural: No (I don’t want an episiotomy either)
    Pethidine: No (I’m sensitive to opiods)
    Gas: Yes (Free laughing gas? Totally)
    Birthing tub: Yes (Studies I’ve read indicate it reduces the risk of tearing)
    Circumcision: No (It’s unnecessary surgery and I do not believe there is any benefit)
    Assisted 3rd stage: Yes (Why wait around for my placenta when I can get a shot and be done with it?)
    Breast feeding: Yes (It’s portable and free)
    Baby wearing: Yes (Much more portable than a stroller)
    Co-Sleeping: No (He gets to sleep in his own room)
    Pacifier: No (Easier to get him out of the habit if he never gets into it)
    Cloth or disposables: Cloth (I try to limit the amount of solid waste in our household)
    If people choose otherwise, I don’t judge (well, when I see a three-year-old in diapers with a pacifier, I find myself judging a little). If it doesn’t affect me, why should I care?

  • Staceyjw

    When I think of giving birth,all I can think of is “you want WHAT to come outta WHERE?” I will take anything that will make this less painful, and would take a c if given the choice- I’m not afraid of surgery, and would rather my gut cut up any day. But that’s just me- if I could grow a baby in a vat instead, I would.
    Giving birth IS dangerous, painful and was frequently deadly in the time before modern medicine.

    As for home births, they can go very wrong even if “low risk” when unlicensed help is used
    My sister in law is a super crunchy hippie and decided on a home birth with a non licensed mid wife.The MW also told hour she could smoke pot through the pregnancy TI don’t think she meant bong rips, but I digress…)- a big part of why she chose her, I’m sure. After hearing her tirade about “greedy docs that schedule labor around their golf games”,”birth is natural and not painful”, I was worried about her. I researched and found a nice birthing center, offering everything she wanted, plus a trained staff. She wasn’t interested.The end result was nearly a disaster.In short, she had to be rushed to the ER, almost didn’t make it,over a complication that would have been minor if it hadn’t been ignored. She ended up in ICU for days, with the baby in for 2 weeks, also with underdeveloped lungs.This could have been avoided just by having trained help and good prenatal care.

    She had access to all the info in the world and lived in a city with many good options. But having access means nothing if you 1) refuse to believe facts because of bias 2)don’t know how to tell truth from woo.

    This is why woo is dangerous- it confuses people and makes them biased against science.

    Whatever a woman wants to do is ther business, but if they ask me, I will push for trained and licensed staff- regardless of where they give birth.

    Also-
    I think the religious angle is often ignored- many fundies believe women are “saved through chldbirth” and that they deserve the pain as “gods curse”. These people push for home births as a matter of principle, and make women feel like failures for not having a birth circa 1800. Scary, for sure.My grandma said her catholic doctors refused to give her pain meds, but her non religious doctor made her very comfortable.This was 60 yrs ago, but I could see fundies pushing for this, if they could get away with it.

    Staceyjw

  • Bo

    Didn’t have time to read all the comments, but I’ll note:
    * There are a lot of annoying people who espouse “natural childbirth” as a fuzzy mystical natural better way
    * Despite being annoying, they’re often right

    U.S. mother/infant mortality rates have actually increased in recent years. Part of this change can be explained by the increasing age at which mothers give birth, but another part of it is almost certainly due to unnecessary radical medical interventions.

    That is, cesarean sections are major surgeries fraught with risks, and many obstetricians recommend them without ever considering other options.

    Also, epidurals can have a negative effect on mother/infant survival rates – a risk that may be appropriate for some pregnancies, but certainly not all – everyone should be informed of their situation.

  • muggle

    Same doc delivered both daughter and grandson. He is still OB/GYN for both of us. Likewise a friend whose four children he delivered.

    So obviously first I have to qualify before adding my anedote to the fire: obviously, I gave birth a long time ago, way back in ’83. The experience was so horrible that I did not care to repeat it and haven’t and am post-menopausal so won’t be.

    However, the blame can be laid on Mother Nature, not the doctor. Blood pressure soared and doc checked me in to hospital beforehand. He was less experience than he was by the time my grandson was born and he could have handled that better than just turning to my husband on a prenatal check up and saying take her to the hospital now, take her directly to the hospital, do not go home first. I was, of course, panicked by the time we got there.

    But I was stablized and got to go home before birth. Daughter was due New Year’s Eve (12/31/82) but due date came and went (and my hopes for having the first baby born in the new year dashed) and with blood pressure issues, doc tried to induce. She was born a week and a half past due. I am here to tell you inducing is even worse than the real thing. Did it two days running, was going to do it a third but sent me home exhausted.

    Had two false labors next two days then 16 hours of the real thing. Had planned to go natural but pain was so bad I was not only screaming for the epidural but also to be put out like my mother was (was told with a chuckle we don’t do that any more) and a c-section. I was not rational. Of course, I only got obliged on the epidural part of it, but found out 20 years later with my daughter’s pregnancy that I was too dilated by the time I had it for it to be effective. For 20 years, I was going if that’s what it’s like with one, I wouldn’t want to find out what it’s like without.

    I lost a quarter of my blood and had to have a transfusion, back in ’83 when they weren’t testing the blood yet so (between that and my unsavory ex-husband) I’m very lucky to not have contracted AIDS. Daughter was 9 lbs. 14 ozs. and, back then, when people heard her size, they assumed c-section but, nope, she was vaginal. Still not sure a c-section wouldn’t have been better but I do trust the doc (obviously).

    He was there throughout the bulk of the delivery, not just the last few minutes. Daughter was born with high blood sugar even though neither one of us is diabetic. It does mean she’s higher risk for it but there’s a family history on my side so we both have some risk anyway.

    I felt like jello afterward. I was quivering with no muscle tone whatsoever and could not hold her though husband held her to me for a bit. However, they put the glass bassinette by my bed and I could look at her. Because of my poor shape, as soon as they had me clean and parked, with baby at my side, they gave me something to make me sleep. I usually respond really well to medicine but it didn’t work until they had to give me a second one because I was so entranced with my baby.

    That said, I have a one-word description of childbirth and I was agnostic at the time — HELL!!! I can hear the gasps now. 26 years of being a loving mother and six years of being a loving grandmother, I still shock people saying honestly that my thought while giving birth was this was what hell felt like. Mothers aren’t supposed to feel that way and, if they do, aren’t supposed to express it. I defy anyone to claim they love their daughter any more than I love mine. As much, sure. But more you couldn’t. But it brings on the gasps when you honestly say childbirth isn’t this sacred, beautiful experience. Gimme a break. It sucks!

    I said I was never doing it again. The nurses laughed and said that was what all the mothers say and didn’t believe me when I said I meant it but, hell, I rest my case. Once was frigging enough. For me anyway.

    20 years later, it was daughter’s turn. At last moment, we both wanted me there. I was on one side helping and coaching and daddy the other. The amusing thing was she, who is usually pretty meek and mild, was swearing at both of us and screaming at us not to touch her if we got within a foot of her during labor. I have a potty mouth and am given to arguing a point and during labor I was meek and mild.

    Doc was with her all night. They didn’t call me until 6 am. She was having trouble delivering and cord was wrapped and a c-section was being considered but doc took a wait and see if it’s necessary and did just that watched her anxiously, monitoring everything. Needless to say, she had an epidural and I don’t know what all else.

    He got the cord unwrapped and labor moving along and she delivered vaginally. It was deja vu listening to him. I had forgotten what a great coach this doc was. Baby and Mom were healthy; I had an emergency operation the following day but just feel lucky it wasn’t the other way around because one of my most precious memories is having seen my grandson born into this world.

    She had some post partum but she just gave birth and her mother goes into the ER and gets checked in and operated on. It would have been weird if she didn’t given that strain. I had planned on taking time off work and helping with new baby, instead I wound up in hospital for six weeks myself.

    Grandson was 7 lbs. 11 oz. (easy weight to remember) and healthy as was mom other than the post partum. He does have some food allergies and asthma but I don’t think that can be laid on his birth rather than genetics. I’m allergic to peanuts too and suffer from seasonal allergies and am horribly allergic to perfume (which is a bitch; it’s everywhere).

    Doc was more experienced by that time. When I go in for my annual, the nurses are always amused that he delivered by daughter and grandson. We had moved out of state and I didn’t return to him until after grandson’s birth and he did remember my daughter’s but it was rather outstanding. The nurse this year laughed at the story and said he must have been scared to bits, he was pretty young then. I don’t know but he covered it well if he was. I’m happy with him and I don’t think I’d have been comfortable with a midwife. But that’s a personal thing. I’d only qualify that it’s a woman’s personal choice with backup needs to be readily available if something does go wrong.

    One thing my daughter and I both agree on that birth was easy once you get the head out, you just want to push baby on out. The head’s the tough part.

    Unlike me, she’s open to having another but her and daddy split up half a year later and she’s been busy with grandson and getting on her feet as a single mom and having dealt with a major illness of her own in the six years since his birth and is now going to college so I doubt it’ll be any time soon.

    Grandson is definitely open to the idea. They live with me and he keeps asking both of us to have a baby. LOL! His stepmother is my age so that isn’t very likely either but I don’t think he understands that.

    Oh, yeah, tried to breastfeed but she wasn’t getting enough milk gave up and went on bottle. Daughter didn’t even try. Both were healthy with bottle.

  • Let me restate my personal view regarding childbirth: The biology surrounding childbirth is complicated. Even under the best of circumstances the process can be intimidating. Doctors and hospitals can be unsettling. Just as women come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so do their pelvises. Each pregnancy is different. A mother may have a safe and relatively pain-free birth the first time and later struggle with a painful high-risk birth in a subsequent pregnancy. Like skin color or eye color, childbirth is just another manifestation of human variation and should be free from external bias.

    IMO childbirth woo is a gateway woo. Some extreme parent cultures use childbirth method as the first litmus test for inclusion and status. Vulnerable women, lamenting an “imperfect” birth experience, are easy prey for other forms of woo–like antivaccinaiton.

    It’s an unfortunate situation. My OB no longer sends her patients to her hospital’s childbirth classes for the reasons commenter Derek stated earlier: if women succumb to even one intervention, they beat themselves up as “failures.”

    Thanks for hosting this discussion!

  • This reminds me of the quote “the only difference between tattooed people and non-tattooed people is that the people with tattoos don’t care if you have any or not.”

    The people who get epidurals don’t care if someone else had their kid with or without epidurals.

  • Calvin

    Alli,
    I’d say that quote isn’t exactly right. Because it depends on the person.

    Something like that always depends on the person and the people they surround themselves with.

  • Max Exter

    This is all about needs.

    There are good reasons to take various medications/narcotics, or to have an epidural, or a c-section. For the most part, there’s little impact on the baby, and what little there is will be very short term. Some medicines can make the baby drowsy at first. Epidurals will restrict the mother’s movement during labor. They can also prevent some horrifically intense pain, which is fantastic. My wife is planning on doing a natural (read: in hospital) birth and avoiding meds, etc. unless they are medically necessary, but she reserves the right to change her mind at any point.

    Lastly, I take some issue with c-sections. These shouldn’t be done lightly, as they can cause some long-term complications to the mother. They can also complicate later births, making it necessary to have further c-sections down the road. I’m not saying that they are bad. It’s great that we can do this so reliably these days. But they shouldn’t be opted for lightly.

    – me –

  • agashem

    I must just add a little of history here. When my mother gave birth (in Canada in various provinces) she was routinely shaved completely bald, laid on her back with her legs in stirrups, episiotomy well before delivery (‘so she wouldn’t tear’) and had her hands tied down. Even with baby no. 5. She begged at number 5 to be allowed to have one hand free but was told that she would try to touch herself and would contaminate the baby. Why were those things done as a routine? Mainly as a result of anaesthetizing women. Chloroform leads to athetoid movements which means uncontrolled flinging of legs and arms so women were tied down. As for the shaving, well the idea was that the pubic hair of the mother was unclean and could lead to infection in the baby. Episiotomies we should acknowledge are more necessary in the ‘dead bug’ position than in other positions partially because of the strain of the head on the perineum. Also the ‘dead bug’ position puts the weight of the baby and uterus directly on the uterine artery which leads to decreased blood flow to the placenta and the baby.
    I knew all of this prior to having my children and yet I ended up with an epi the first time (this allowed me to feel the contractions without the pain and I could push), the second one I was cut by the intern who never asked me if I wanted one or not and I tore with no. three but he was 9lbs 12oz so maybe why but also on my back.
    Knowledge is indeed power but there are never any guarantees.

  • cathy

    “This reminds me of the quote “the only difference between tattooed people and non-tattooed people is that the people with tattoos don’t care if you have any or not.”

    The people who get epidurals don’t care if someone else had their kid with or without epidurals.”

    Look, I have never once said that women who choose epidurals, c-sections, etc are bad, inferior, or somehow ‘bad’ at birthing. My point was that there are huge issues with informed consent with these procedures and that they are not as medically nessecary in most cases as people believe. To assert that women birth outside of hospitals is ‘woo’ and that these women are illogical and anti-science is a pretty biased notion. If someone had asserted that women who get epidurals are ‘lesser’ women, I would have objected to that notion as well. Women should be given all of their options and should have informed consent. One of those options is medicated hospital birth, one of them is unmedicated home birth. Picking either one of those options does not make a woman an idiot or a bad woman.

  • Pseudonym

    I think that the “bad science” covers up a real problem, which is that childbirth in the United States is completely screwed up.

    For example, only options that women have for pain relief are pethidine (“demerol”, I believe you call it) or an epidural. That’s it. No option of nitrous oxide, no option of TENS, not even the option of ice chips in the mouth.

    As crazy as I find the anti-science crowd, I can’t help thinking that they’d have less of a point if women in the United States had the full range of evidence-based options.

  • Motherofthree- Childbirth is not a root canal or a broken arm. And yes, countries with first world health amenities but lower use of painkillers (Japan, the Netherlands) have much better outcomes than the US.

    I had three births. The first was a high risk pregnancy and I gave birth with pit and no epidural with the doctor practically standing over me with a knife waiting to cut me open. If that had happened my child and I would have been separated for 2 weeks while I was transferred to a different hospital for recovery so I did everything I could to avoid surgery.
    The second was a stillbirth in a hospital without any interventions. Not needing to rush, the experience was less painful and stressful so I was able to grieve throughout my labour.
    My third was a homebirth attended by midwives. Pain free? Nope. Less pain? Yes. Less stress? Yes. The safest birth of all three? Of course. Partially that was luck, having a complication-free pregnancy, but partly that was because the midwives were knowledgeable and my body did what it was designed to. No weird positions or heart rate monitors, just some pseudo-yoga and Veronica Mars DVDs. lol My longest labour (30 hours) but the best.

    I am glad that I had the opportunity to have medical treatment when necessary, but even happier that I was not forced to be treated medically when unnecessary.

    Miccrobiologychick is right when she says natural birth is a gateway to woo. We skeptics need to take natural birth back! The Netherlands shows that it is completely possible to have a natural birth culture that is rooted in science.

  • I grew up an athiest in a family of athiests and agnostics (in the South, no less, where unless you are a born-again Christian you are somewhat of an outcast). My parents believed strongly in science. However, both ended up dying from improper treatments for rare diseases (my father had fibromyalgia, and was told by his doctor to drink alcohol for the pain since he wasn’t allowed to prescribe strong enough painkillers in the amount he needed — he became an alcoholic and died from cirrohsis; my mother had dermatomyositis and died from MRSA contracted in the hospital while on prednisone). So I became a bit sceptical of medical science.

    Then my best friend was bullied into a c-section by the doctor on call. She has endometriosis, so for her, a c-section has lead to major issues (adhesions, adenomyosis) and also caused her PTSD and problems with breast feeding. She had her second child naturally, as a VBAC at a birth center, and there were no issues with breast feeding and she was able to heal somewhat from the c-section nightmare.
    I had my first child in a hospital. I had read that using medications such as an epidural can increase your risk of a c-section, and wanted to do anything I could to avoid one. I found myself in the hospital being rush, yelled and, and constantly being bugged to get pain medication. I finally gave in. I first asked for the IV anesthesia (it was fentanyl, a narcotic), then the epidural. By the time they had put enough IV fluids into me (which confined me to the bed, on my back), I was fully dilated. They had lost track of the baby’s heart beat, and when they found it it was a bit slow. When I pushed, my water broke and there was meconium in the amniotic fluid. The OB seemed to think it was a result of the anesthesia. Regardless, it was a very stressful experience that I do not want to repeat. I am pregnant again, and this time, I will birth at home with a midwife, and will be able to have a bit more say in what interventions are used.
    Have you read the book “Pushed” by Jennifer Block? I believe she does use science to show that a lot of women are pushed into doing things that they don’t need to do, like having c-sections and inductions.