Thursday, March 20, 2008
the business of being born
We watched The Business of Being Born last night. It's a documentary about the birth industry in the United States. In all other developed countries, typically about 70-80% of babies are born attended by midwives. And of course I can't remember the percentage here, but it is 20% or less. And the U.S. also has poorer outcomes (mortality of mothers & babies) than the other developed countries with similar #s of births. In 1900, 95% of births in this country were at home. By 1938, 50% of all births were at home. By 1955, <1% of births were at home, and it remains at that level today. Anyways, enough rehashing of the numbers. This film does an excellent job of showing how the perceptions of and expectations for birth in this country have been drastically changed over the last 100 years. Rather than being viewed as a normal part of life, giving birth has been highly and overly medicalized. Most women do not need a doctor or a hospital to give birth. (And some women DO need hospitals and doctors in order to have successful births. I have a few friends who fall into this category, and thank goodness for OBs and hospitals!)
I guess what is saddest to me is that so many women are unknowingly missing out on the real and natural experience of birth. I think of our society's obsession with feeling good, accomplishment, and extreme sports and I can't understand why more people don't recognize that a natural birth is the ultimate in all of these things. It's supremely intense and at the end, you are rewarded with the highest oxytocin (happiness hormone) levels you can ever possibly experience. And while a lot of people dismiss the desire for natural childbirth as a sort of female machismo, there truly is something to be said about experiencing all of the labor and birth. And I don't think the "I did it!" feeling afterwards is appreciated enough. Noodle's birth, while it was not ideal and lacked a lot of good support (besides David, he was awesome) still left me with the feeling of amazing strength and confidence in my body and my ability to rise to the challenges ahead, both the challenges of motherhood and life generally. Spud's birth at home was truly wonderful. I loved being in familiar surroundings and only with the people I wanted to be there. My midwife was excellent, and her assistant was the most encouraging, positive person I've ever met. Plus the assistant had an Australian accent that was an added bonus as she guided and encouraged me through contractions! I would have thought an accent might be distracting, and maybe it was, but only in a good way.
I wonder why more women who want natural childbirths don't have babies at home? I would suspect that fear and insurance issues are the biggest blocks. We paid for Spud's birth out of pocket, but our midwife was a bargain! We had insurance, but it had a $5,000 maternity deductible, and you KNOW when you go to the hospital that it will easily exceed $5K. For Noodle's birth, we had premium insurance because I worked for the state (at UVSC), so the whole thing only cost us $100. But the total hospital stay cost the insurance company about $7500--and that was for no drugs, no complications! Of course, they charged nursery fees for Noodle even though she was only in the nursery for her tests--the rest of the time she was in my room. It's a huge racket, methinks.
One possible advantage of moving more towards socialized medicine is that there is a chance midwifery would be more encouraged because it is much cheaper. Unfortunately, I don't think that would happen much. The American Medical Association is so powerful and controlling. What would likely happen is that I would just grow more and more resentful about paying for people's unnecessary and unwarranted interventions, and STILL couldn't get coverage for a homebirth. Hmph.
Anyways, I highly recommend the film. It's informative and interesting.