I remember my first meeting with the obstetrician in his rooms in
Innocently I informed the doctor that I was a midwife, and that I wanted a natural birth. He gave a reply that I understood as ‘we shall see’. At some pre-determined moment Noel was invited into the interview, sat on a chair next to me, and he asked some question.
“Mrs Johnston and I have already discussed that” was the reply, in a dismissive tone that indicated that the deal had already been done, so he need not exercise his mind on it.
My ‘choice’ to plan to have a natural birth was, I thought, simple. Young people today would call it a ‘no brainer’. Many of those same young women today go into maternity care with the same degree of innocent trust that I had. And many experience the authoritarian conquering power of the obstetrician who looks over her glasses and says “We shall see!”
If we stopped to assess the quality of the offered service by asking questions such as “How many first time mothers in your practice last year experienced uncomplicated, unmedicated, spontaneous birth?”, we may discover that this person is not skilled at protecting normal birth. And why should they be? They are surgeons whose education and registration prepare them as specialists, most with very little knowledge of working in harmony with and supporting natural female rhythms.
It’s as though we have blinkers on our eyes. We wouldn’t go into buying a house or a car or even a pair of shoes with the same lack of critical thinking that we seem to easily adopt when it comes to having a baby, which is surely the most significant investment of time, energy, and every other resource at our disposal that we will ever experience.
This past Sunday evening there was a segment called ‘Birth Choice’ on Chanel 9’s 60 Minutes. I watched it and became increasingly more distressed as time went by. The show presented two extremes, DIY homebirth, without a midwife, compared with the ‘too posh to push’ caesarean birth on demand. It was sensationalist and misleading not a rational or responsible presentation of the choices a woman faces in birth. Presenting the opinion of an obstetrician on homebirth is similar to asking the manager of a nursing home about parenting issues. Uninformed!
I want to be fair in my criticisms – the filming of the homebirth was done in a respectful and delicate way. It was a spontaneous, uncomplicated, unmedicated birth in water, and the baby was in excellent condition, which is what I would have expected. Yet I felt sympathy for the un-midwifed mother, who was under the prying eye of the video camera, and had noone who had the knowledge or skill to say "You are well; your baby is well. Take this beautiful little girl into your arms and love her." The mother was concerned about her blood loss after the birth, and went to the hospital. I hope she was midwifed well there.
I cannot understand the woman who chooses major surgery - surely she has been sold a lie? The notion of keeping things tight "down there". Oh dear!
There are some mothers and babies who have needed and accepted surgical births, and who are thankful for the 'good' outcomes. I am also thankful for good outcomes. This is also a 'no brainer'. But I have also seen the women who have suffered surgical complications - infections, retained swabs, drug errors, haemorrhage, impaired clotting, pain, and a great deal of psychological trauma of separation and disturbed bonding. These are not good outcomes.
It is with this knowledge that I will continue to work to protect and promote healthy natural processes, and support normal birthing when ever I can. I believe we have only one real choice - that is, to either work in harmony with our healthy natural processes in pregnancy, birth, and parenting, or to ignore them. Medical options at present in developed countries like Australia offer surgical options which come at a cost. It is important, I believe, that the cost as well as the potential benefit of avoidance of natural birthing be understood before choices are made.