If you follow my facebook, either personal or professional, you’ve probably noticed that April is Cesarean Awareness Month (CAM). I’m pretty sure there are some of you out there, thinking things like “What’s the big deal? People have cesareans all the time. They’re safe.” Or “A healthy baby is what matters, not the way in which the baby arrived.” Or “So-and-so had a cesarean and it saved her/her baby’s life!”
I want to start out by being clear about one thing. I am thankful for cesareans. They can save lives. They are needed and I am glad we have them. But, and this is a big but….we are doing far too many of them. Ever hear the saying that there can be too much of a good thing? That holds true for cesareans, and all birth interventions. For example: we can all agree that drinking water is good for you. It keeps you hydrated and your body working as it should. Have you heard of water poisoning? It’s a thing. You can actually get really sick or even die from drinking too much water. America’s cesarean rate has risen 500% since 1970. And our maternal and infant mortality rates have been rising right along with it. Today, 32% of babies are born by cesarean. Are we slowly giving ourselves cesarean poison? Hmmmm…..I think we are definitely giving ourselves birth intervention poison.
Interfering with the process of pregnancy and birth has consequences. The medical model of maternity care, although well-intentioned, is slowly poisoning and killing normal, physiological birth. And our high cesarean rate is a symptom of that. The term “cascade of interventions” is something well known among birth workers. Once you introduce one intervention, often another is “needed” and maybe another and another and so-on, often until the point of needing a cesarean has been reached. What would have happened if that first intervention was never introduced?
Birth is a complicated, intricate process with an incredible cocktail of hormones, and body changes (for both mother and baby) that all work together. Every hormone and change in this process has a very specific purpose. And many of those have several purposes, not just for the event of giving birth, but also for the days and weeks, even months after baby is born. They are responsible for mother:baby bonding, for feelings of love, protection, and attachment. They are necessary for the production of breastmilk. They also play a role in whether or not mom will suffer with postpartum depression. They will ultimately affect how mom will parent her baby. If we alter one of those hormones by introducing an intervention, it changes the process, no matter how slightly we alter it. If we do things like bypass the process altogether and cut babies from their mother’s wombs before the process of birth has begun or any of the birth hormones have been released, it drastically changes things. So when doing so, we better be sure it’s for a good reason. When moms labor for a while and then baby is born by cesarean, it also changes the process as mom and baby both are then not exposed to as much of the birth hormones. When we force the process to begin before mother and baby are fully ready by introducing synthetic forms of our hormones, it drastically changes the process. When we use these same synthetic hormones to “speed up” labor, it changes the process. If we use medications for pain, it changes the hormones, thus changing the process. And we are interfering with normal, physiological birth so often now that we are forgetting what normal birth looks like. We are becoming fearful and defensive. We are misinformed about how our bodies work and what is involved in the birth process. We are no longer trusting birth, but trusting the medical maternity system. Fear affects our hormones, including and especially those involved in the birth process.
The way in which we meet our babies matters in so many ways. Mothers and babies feel the consequences of our birth intervention poison when these necessary and purposeful hormones are interfered with. And there are many out there that don’t even realize it because our poisoned state is what is becoming accepted as normal. They don’t realize the potential that is there. They have no idea how amazingly beautiful it can all be because so few (if any) around them have experienced it. The medical maternity system doesn’t realize that it’s poisoning us, it’s just doing its job…methodically, systematically, poking, prodding, testing, monitoring, and delivering “healthy” moms and babies over and over and over again, trusting it’s interventions much more than the birth process, forgetting what is normal, natural, and truly healthy. Like an axe, clearing a piece of land for a beautiful, new neighborhood, full of gorgeous homes and a pretty park with freshly planted trees and flowers. The neighborhood is not bad. The axe is not inherently bad, it is doing its job. But what about the old trees and plants and animals that lived there before? New trees and flowers and bushes will be planted, new animals will move in eventually. The axe will continue doing its job, unchanged, unaffected. But we cannot ignore the fact that that piece of land will never be the same again.
The axe forgets. The tree remembers.
Unless we start speaking out and changing how we currently do birth, birth will never be the same again; we will never be the same again.
Amber Piller - Professional Birth Doula and owner of Agape Birth Services. Serving Northwest Houston including Jersey Village, Cypress, Tomball, Spring, and Katy Texas.