I’ll be honest and say that hospitals aren’t my preferred venue for birthing babies or for attending births as a doula.
I mean, yeah, they’re great for treating sick people,
and some pregnant women are sick or have complications that need the sort of medical attention hospitals provide…
But pregnancy itself has never been considered a sickness.
So why are low-risk, healthy pregnant women birthing their babies in a place for sick people?
Even though it sounds safer to have your baby in a hospital because, ya know…”What if there’s an emergency?”
I often find myself wondering…
“How did that healthy, low-risk woman feel about being treated like a sick person for simply having a baby?”
And I never feel good about attending a birth at a hospital for a mom who I know will be treated like something is wrong with her for no good reason.
BUT I also know that hospitals are the standard for having babies – 99% of them are born there.
So, they play a big role in how we do birth in our culture.
And they’re literally changing how women give birth and how babies are brought into this world…
Mostly in anxiety and fear or for convenience or vanity’s sake
And plenty of women love it!
But, since the early 2000’s, out-of-hospital birth has been on the rise
So what better time than now to talk about it.
Not from a right or wrong standpoint, but… an open conversation.
People have strong feelings about where they should birth their babies…
it’s such a polarized topic and I’m honestly a bit scared to open up this conversation with you because I know how opinionated people are
But, I also know how important it is to talk about it.
Because 1 in 3 women report their birth to have been a traumatic experience.
And at the same time, plenty of women are super grateful and appreciative of hospitals with their life saving technology and interventions for saving them and their baby’s lives.
So, here’s my perspective on the good, the bad, and the ugly of choosing to birth your baby in a modern day hospital.
Hospital birth, in my opinion, became the status quo during first wave feminism not because it was safer, but because women realized they had the right to not feel pain in childbirth.
The midwives had stuff, but it wasn’t the gooood stuff.
And because of that, more and more women wanted the type of anesthesia in childbirth only available in the hospital.
So they flocked there where they could get knocked out and never even know the baby was born until hours later.
Eventually, doctors realized that such heavy drugs during childbirth weren’t safe and many women didn’t like them.
And on top of that, women wanted to be aware of what was going on, but they didn’t want to feel the pain.
Soon, the epidural was introduced for use during childbirth to reduce pain while still allowing the woman to feel the pressure necessary to bear down and be an active participant in pushing her baby out.
And ever since, the epidural has been the standard for coherent childbirth without the pain.
So, you could say that wanting to be coherent for your baby’s birth without feeling pain is a beautiful and amazing thing and that it’s possible with the use of the epidural in the hospital setting.
And we can’t forget how amazing the c-section can be for moms who really need it.
But, that brings us to the bad which is that epidurals and other unnecessary interventions in childbirth can go terribly wrong leading to a cascade of interventions that often lead to emergency situations.
And there’s no way to know if the epidural or any other intervention is going to negatively affect you or your baby.
It’s luck of the straw. Every body is different and you won’t know how you or your baby will react until you try it.
So, if you think of women giving birth in tribal societies even today, you see how hands-off most traditional midwives are.
They follow the laboring woman around and periodically check her and her baby’s vitals, but they don’t necessarily DO anything other than catch the baby when it’s time.
And over 90% of the time, everything works out and couldn’t be better without the need for any interventions.
But in most modernized countries, the story looks a lot different. Interventions are so common and widely used that women expect them and truly believe they need them.
And this only leads to confusion.
All the interventions create a huge misunderstanding leaving women feeling like they’ve got lemons and that their bodies weren’t cut out to birth babies.
Which is a total lie and misconception.
So…women praise the emergency c-section for saving themselves and their baby’s lives, but mostly only because an emergency c-section was needed AFTER receiving an unnecessary intervention.
Which leads me to the ugly…
The ugly is that the excessive and unnecessary use of interventions practiced in the hospital birth setting has resulted in the USA being the only country on Earth with a rising maternal mortality rate.
According to the World Health Organization, between 1990 and 2013 maternal mortality in the US has doubled while half of the maternal deaths could have been prevented.
Yes, hospitals are taking excellent care of high-risk women, but in the US, we’re leaving low-risk, healthy women behind with very few or even no options for birthing their babies in any other way than in the hospital…for sick people.
And that’s totally not cool.
Because we’re subjecting low-risk, healthy women to a technocratic model of care that sees pregnancy and childbirth as an issue instead of a normal, natural event that occurs in a woman’s life.
Women deserve the right to be treated as if there is nothing wrong with them…until there is. And by and large, that doesn’t happen in today’s average American Labor and Delivery Ward.
Instead, women are greeted with a needle for an IV, a continuous contraction and fetal heart-tone monitor that limits their ability to move, a vaginal exam, a drip of Pitocin, and an epidural and are then given a “trial of labor” to see if they’re going to “make it”.
All this for healthy, low-risk women.
And for what?
In the end, all people ever want and really crave is a healthy mom and healthy baby.
And so many don’t end up with that even with all of our technology and interventions
many times, because of the OVERUSE of our technology and interventions.
The answer, in my opinion, is a total restructuring of maternity care that utilizes the skill and expertise of the midwife as the primary care practitioner who refers issues out of her scope of practice to a physician when indicated.
The biggest reason we are so far from this happening is because of the fear that’s been instilled in our culture around giving birth.
We have midwives, but few healthy, low-risk women choose them because…fear.
If young girls were taught from an early age that birth was a normal, natural event instead of some scary, painful, medical issue, we would eventually irradiate the fear.
Women simply believe that they can’t do it either because it’s too painful and they NEED the epidural, or because they believe their bodies aren’t capable.
With the right support, education, and self-care practices neither is rarely the case.
The case for hospital birth tends to shift then when we learn and understand how the midwifery model of care for healthy, low-risk women really is a safe, extremely cost effective, and viable alternative that would potentially lower our maternal mortality rates
But, despite the research, people don’t want to believe it because…fear.
What I see is that people have such strong, personal opinions and carry so much fear and anxiety around the reasoning for their opinion.
But having a conversation about it can lead us to possible solutions that will give us what we want for our births while making it safer at the same time.
Thank you so much for having this conversation with me.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below what you think about hospital birth and our rising maternal mortality rate.
But remember, let’s be adults here and talk about it, not judge each other.
With so much love,