Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Language of Birth

You’ve been planning your vacation for many many months. After a lot of consideration you choose a country in which a foreign language is spoken. You’ve invested time in thinking where you want to go, and you’ve spent even longer saving up your money. 

The day arrives and you’ve arrived at your long awaited destination. You made sure you had your bag packed well in advance. You have your clothes, something to read, possibly even music to relax you. As you get around this foreign country, slowly but surely you realize you’re in deep trouble… You know nothing of the language. The people speak to you, but you understand absolutely nothing. They tell you they’re taking you to a hotel of their choice, but you are starving and just want to eat, besides, you don’t even want to go to that hotel! But you’re practically helpless, no tolk, much less a dictionary. You figure, ‘ah, I’ll let them take me where they say is good, besides, they are the locals’. In the end, the vacation you’ve planned, and toiled for, all that you’ve envisioned that would relax you, is lost in the frustration of not planning well enough for the language barrier. You get back home, and you say to yourself ‘well….at least I am healthy and alive’

How many women, go through their pregnancies and births, and experience this situation? They painstakingly look for the right name for their child, they do their utmost to get the perfect furniture and the perfect color to match in the nursery. They expend almost all their money and time into the superficial matters of bringing a child into their lives, not anticipating the lasting effects of one of the most important days in their lives that is fast approaching, for which they feel ‘very prepared’ and yet very frightened. Family and friends ask if she’s got her stuff packed and ready. She says yes, she’s got her blankets, robes, socks, a novel to read and not to forget her toiletries. ‘I’ve got it all covered’, she figures. 

She never looks up Childbirth Education classes, nor breastfeeding support groups and doesn’t even buy any pregnancy books. She does however look at televised birth stories on tv and learns a lot from them. She learns to fear pain and childbirth that is. 

Surely enough, 38/2 weeks rolls around. Her doctor is pressing for induction because her ‘baby is huge, and her hips are simply too petite, besides..your baby is already full term!’ The doctor says she’d be fortunate enough if she could even have the baby vaginally. She shows up at the hospital for her induction, nervous but very excited that the baby will finally be here. She’s not sure what an induction actually is, but she’s put her full trust in her doctor “So what can go wrong?”.

Mom ends up with cesarean for ‘failure to progress’ and ‘fetal distress’, and the sweet baby she was so eager to have is in the NICU weighing in at a disappointing 6 pounds, with severe respiratory distress. Born too early… Mom is exhausted and in pain, so much so, she relents and begs the nurses to give her newborn a bottle because her breasts feel so mushy and couldn’t possibly have any milk, let alone, enough milk for the baby. The nurses happily oblige and that’s the end of that. She tries to comfort herself with the thought that at least her baby is alive and will be healthy in the long run. 

What is wrong with this story? Where did this mom falter? I’ll tell you where, by not preparing well before the birth of the baby. This is not to say that if you don’t take any kind of ChildBirth Education classes you are doomed to fail. But, your chances of having the birth that is best for you and your baby is significantly reduced. 

Birth is severely medicalized and ‘modernized’ in this day and age. Birth has become pathological instead of physiological. It is seen as an illness that must be treated with pills, gels, injections and machines. Women’s bodies have ceased functioning and can no longer be trusted. While a small percentage of women actually do face complications in their pregnancies that are very real and very serious in nature, the exception is not the norm. Even when our pregnancies are progressing smoothly and our baby is developing just fine, we are bombarded by fear, anxiety and stress of ‘what can go wrong’. Since childhood we have been taught by the media, doctors and some cultures to fear labor and birth. We’ve come a long way from trusting the birthing process and letting it unfold naturally and undisturbed. It has become this foreign language that only a select few speak. It’s not that the possibility of learning it is absent, but that the studying of it is discouraged and women are often ostracized for using it with such eloquence and apt to the benefit of themselves and of others. 

If a pregnant woman does not research her options, and get familiar with birth, her choices will be stripped from her when she hands over control of her body to her doctor, midwife or nurse. Although it is never too late to ask questions, ideally, the labor and delivery room is not the time or place to start seeking our your options. The sooner you start, the quicker you will dominate the language of birth

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