Somehow, we all got hooked into thinking that “quick was better” when it came to birth. When women tell their birth stories, it seems to be a point of pride to be able to say “I gave birth in 5 hours”, “I barely made it to the hospital”, “even with my first, it was so fast”. We hear these stories and may envy the women thinking that they performed in a fast, efficient manner and we view them as having a coveted talent.
I’ve been observing women giving birth for thirty years and I have given birth three times. From my experience, I don’t think that quick is necessarily a good thing when having a baby. Often fast births afford the woman no time to get her breath and regain her strength. Some women describe their fast births as feeling like they have been whipped around in a blender. In a rapid birth, the woman’s body sometimes displays the symptoms of transition after the birth of the baby (shaking, feeling hot/cold, vomiting). When a baby comes slower, there’s a building up of the intensity of the sensations so that the woman can adjust herself to the process that’s happening and, even though most women would like to shave a few hours off the whole thing, nevertheless, they know they can cope and that they will get to the finish line of birth. When the baby comes slower, the woman often dozes between her pushing sensations and seems to derive a great deal of energy from those short snatches of sleep even though they are interrupted often. The hormones of birth seem to allow the woman to operate in a different domain of sleep, energy and strength. I’m fond of telling women who are tired and discouraged at transition “You’re going to get a big burst of energy when you get the reflex to push” or “you’ll get an energy rush when you feel the baby’s head at your perineum”.
This trust in the process and knowledge that energy can ebb but then be regained in the birth process seems to be greatly lacking in today’s Western obstetrics. Slowing down or taking a long time to dilate is simply viewed as a problem and it’s a problem to be fixed by hurrying the woman’s body along. There’s no such thing as a resting phase, going in and out of the process, or simply a looooonnnnngggggg, slow birth process. This is not allowed and it’s viewed as pathological.
It hasn’t always been that way.
In his book “The Farmer and the Obstetrician”, Michel Odent does a comparison of big agri-business to modern hospital obstetrics. When we see the environmental disaster that large scale agri-corporations have produced and we know that the hospital obstetric system has produced a North America wide cesarean rate of 30% and rising, it’s clear there’s been a severe skewing of priorities and principles. We have to re-order our thinking about farming in order to survive: local organic farms, 100 mile diet, moratoriums on genetically modified crops, co-op gardens, raw diets—all these things have grown in the past few years as the few who knew they were important have held onto the knowledge (and the seeds) for the ones of us who were slow to catch on to the urgency.
Instead of talking about “fast food” that seemed so sensible a while back, we’re talking about slow food. Food that takes time, patience, work and integrity to grow, sow and cook. Some are even talking about “slow money” to fund “slow food”, the kind of financing that doesn’t look for a quick return and a scheme but rather looks to the quality of neighborhoods, children, the air we breathe and the long term future.
For those of us who know there’s something terribly wrong with the state of obstetrics in North America, we must call for a return to SLOW BIRTHING. Birth which understands that some women will wait for several days after releasing their membranes and have no pathology. Slow birth means returning to a time when induction of birth was reserved for very seriously ill women and undertaken with great trepidation. Midwifery would be patient beyond all known limits . . . practitioners only steering the birth process in the most rare cases. We would return to a time when practitioners used to say such expressions as:
“Every birth is different, every woman is different and every baby is different.”
“Don’t let the sun set twice on a woman who is in active labor (past 4 centimeters dilation).”
“Don’t practice “meddlesome midwifery”.”
“A good obstetrician does not pick unripe fruit.”
“A good practitioner has two good hands and knows how to sit on them.”
These are all things I heard when I first started attending births 30 years ago and, now, I never hear them. We must get back to those times when the cesarean rate was below 15% or we will perish. As a society, we cannot withstand the damage that is being done to large numbers of women, babies and their extended families. The idea that we can “turn hospital beds” in order to make maximum use of the dollar cost of that bed is insane when it comes to giving birth.
The notion that a woman can be induced with all the pursuant cascade of interventions simply for the convenience of scheduling staff or room availability is a crime. We must wake up and recognize that giving birth to a baby is one of the most powerful transformative events in a woman’s life. This process is so important to the family and the rest of society that all efforts must be made to have it flow normally. Our priority must be the well being of the newborn baby and the conditions that are favorable to a long, satisfying breastfeeding experience. What we are doing right now with inductions, surgeries and the mass use of narcotics in childbirth is as harmful to the planet as fish farms and DDT. The small band of people who have kept the notion of SLOW BIRTH alive so that society at large can get back to what we know is the holistic way to treat new mothers and babies must be listened to and appropriate action taken. Childbirth is not a frill, it’s not an expendable experience, it’s a fundamental lynch pin in forming the family and, without it, we are doomed to being a sick society.