One of the greatest myths perpetuated by the medical system is that hospitals are the safest place to give birth. Stories abound of women dying in childbirth before the advent of modern hospitals. And yet, few people realize that women were not dying due to the fact that childbirth is inherently dangerous, but rather because of the living conditions at that time.
Poor women were generally underfed and overworked during pregnancy, while wealthy women were often deprived of fresh air and sunshine because brown skin was considered socially unacceptable. Wealthy girls were corsetted from the age of eleven, so that by the time they turned fourteen, their pelvises were literally deformed. These physical factors, combined with various psychological ones (fear, shame, and guilt) led to the problems that some women encountered.
Throughout history, normal, healthy women have rarely died in childbirth. In fact, when birth moved from the home to the hospital in the 1920s, the infant and maternal mortality rates actually rose. A major study done as early as 1933 showed that hospital births were not as safe as home births. Studies done in the last twenty years, prove this is still the case. (Mayer Eisenstein, MD, The Home Court Advantage, 1988.)
When a laboring woman goes into the modern-day hospital, she is surrounded by medical personnel and machinery. Often she is told what to eat (generally nothing), what position to be in (generally flat on her back, which narrows the pelvic outlet and prevents her from utilizing the natural gravitational force), and when and when not to push (which interferes with her own instinctive knowledge of birth). Her progress is charted and measured and she is treated more like a machine than a thinking, feeling, intelligent adult.
If her labor is not progressing at the speed at which the hospital has arbitrarily decided it should be, she is often given drugs to speed things up. The drugs, however, may make her contractions more painful, which in turn, cause her to take more medication to deal with the pain. Not only does this medication prevent her from fully participating in the birthing process, it also crosses the placenta, adversely affecting her unborn baby.
Sometimes a woman’s body simply shuts down after all this intervention, and the woman is told she needs a cesarean section in order for her baby to be born safely. Unaware that the intervention she received actually caused the “complications” in the first place, she often consents “for the good of the baby.” Nearly one in three babies in this country are now born by cesarean section.
Many women who have given birth in the hospital report dissatisfaction not only with the way they were treated, but with the way their babies were treated as well. Babies are often taken away from their mothers immediately after birth to be weighed, measured, tested and cleaned. Eye drops are administered “just in case” a mother has a venereal disease, and Vitamin K is administered because babies are supposedly born “deficient.”
When a woman gives birth at home, she is free to eat what she wants, assume any position she wants, and push or not push depending on how she feels. When no one is telling her what to do, she is able to “tune in” and listen to “the still, small voice within.” The same loving consciousness that knew how to grow her baby inside her perfectly, knows how to get her baby out safely and easily, if only she will let it. With no one shouting commands at her, a woman is free to relax, and naturally birth her baby. After the birth, there is no one there to separate her from her baby. She can hold and nurse him as long as she wishes. Women all over the world are rediscovering the fact that birth works best when it is interfered with least.
In the past several years I have received thousands of stories from women and couples who have successfully given birth without medical assistance. Their stories speak for themselves. No one, however, regardless of their “expertise,” can guarantee that a baby will be born safely. Some babies die. It’s simply nature’s way.
Sarah Buckley, a writer and MD in Brisbane, Australia has written extensively about the inherent safety of “undisturbed birth,” as well as the dangers of medical intervention. Click here to read Sarah’s excellent article, “Ecstatic Birth: The Hormonal Blueprint of Labor” (Mothering, Issue 111, March/April 2002).
Photo copyright David Glover.