Several things have happened in the last week that just absolutely have my head spinning. A couple of them are undeniably big deals, and others seem like minor, harmless little nothings. But, they have all come together in my mind and now I’m feeling dizzy.
I took my 5-year-old daughter to the grocery store with me last week. Upon hearing my conversation with her in the check-out line, the lady in front of us turned around and asked how old she was. The lady then went on to say that she has 4 kids of her own and she has a daughter about to turn 5. She also said that she cannot wait for this almost 5-year-old daughter of hers to go to Kindergarten in the fall. “I’ve done my time, it’s someone else’s turn now!” she exclaimed. As we were loading our groceries in the van, I looked at my daughter and I just couldn’t imagine feeling that way about her. I homeschool and one of the reasons I do so is because I like being around my children. I don’t want them to be away from home all day, five days a week, 10 months a year. I’m not saying this to start a homeschool vs. public school vs. private school debate. Nor am I wanting any working mothers or mothers that do not homeschool out there to feel guilty. I am saying that the number of parents out there that prefer their children being in the hands of someone else most of the time is quite alarming. My sister is an art teacher at a K-12 school in a small town. She has told me things that are equally sad and concerning. At parent-teacher conferences, she only had 6 parents come speak to her. And with the art show she put together with her students….the only parents that walked through were ones that were already at the school for another event. The eagerness to ship small children off to school as early as possible, and the lack of parental involvement in the school their children spend the majority of their waking hours in, is sad, alarming, and eye-opening. And it’s just getting worse. Parents seem to be preoccupied with their own lives…their careers, their hobbies, etc., and very uninterested in their children’s lives. Now, I know I am making broad generalized statements here. I know there are still many involved, attentive parents out there (whether in public/private school or not.) But anymore that really seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
One big thing that happened recently, something that has made national news….a 12-year-old child was just arrested for murder here in Omaha. I’ve been reading news stories about his home life, interviews with his parents, fb posts from friends of ours that lived a few houses down from him for a few years and got to know him and...... ohymygoodness. How very sad. His father is in prison in another state, serving a sentence for murder. His dad was involved in gangs and is now saying how much he regrets being so open about it around his children. He says that he should be blamed for the path his son has taken because he was an awful example, and absent most of his life. It’s said that people often get involved in gangs because they are looking for a sense of belonging, and gang members are getting younger and younger. These young children are searching for love and belonging. How heartbreaking is it that they’re not getting what they need where they should be….at home with their families?
Close to half of the 40 births I have attended have been with his practice. He bucked the system frequently, and now the system has flexed its muscle and shut him down. It is sad to realize what this means for birth here in Omaha.
OK….now bear with me. I realize at first glance it may seem like a stretch to tie all these things together. But I’m going to tell you how I believe that they are all connected.
Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone.” It is produced with a hug, a cuddle, a kiss, while breastfeeding, and lots of it flows during an orgasm. Oxytocin is a key player in birth, also. It is what keeps the uterus contracting, opening the cervix and moving baby down and out. Throughout the labor process, oxytocin levels steadily incline and then reach their peak at the time of birth….a climactic reward to the hard work of labor. Oxytocin is responsible for feelings of bonding, nurturing, and protection. I don’t believe this is by accident, friends. This climax of oxytocin at the time of birth and the steady stream that keeps flowing as mom cuddles and nurses her newborn….that solidifies their bond. Because human babies are born so dependent (when compared to other mammals), it is crucial that new parents feel a strong bond and desire to protect and nurture their baby. This hormone is important. And we’re only just beginning to understand the depths of its importance.
Now that you know a bit about what oxytocin is, let me explain to you how it ties these things together. The problem is that not many women experience normal birth any more. When we interfere with the birth process….even with seemingly minor things like IV fluids and monitor belts, and especially with things like epidurals and Pitocin (a synthetic form of oxytocin used to induce and/or augment labor), it changes the production of natural oxytocin and the body’s sensitivity to the oxytocin that is produced.
My theory is that the first three of these problems … the lack of parental involvement with their children’s lives and rush to start them in school and let someone else “have a turn” raising their children, the general view that children are burdens rather than blessings; and these kids, even young children seeking love, acceptance and belonging from violent gangs because they’re not getting it from their families … this all stems from the 4th problem. Physicians that provide evidence-based, gentle, supportive, attentive maternity care that support and respect the physiologic birth process are becoming harder and harder to find. And the few that do exist are being challenged and run out of business by the medical world. Normal birth is birth that is free of unnecessary interventions, tests, procedures, and policies that interfere with the physiology and keep the oxytocin flowing as it should. And normal birth has become the exception, not the norm. The process of labor and birth was designed by the Creator of creation Himself. Every little detail of it has a significant purpose, including oxytocin as I explained above. And in our desire to control and manage birth (even with the good intentions of decreasing bad outcomes), we have made a mess. As we have added more and more interventions to the normal birth process, our country’s maternal mortality rate has doubled in the last 25 years, our cesarean rate has steeply increased since the 1970s (the WHO states that a cesarean rate over 10% does more harm than good – the US rate is 32%!), and our infant mortality rate is one of the worst in the developed world.
My theory is that if we reverse this, if we make normal birth the norm, if we surrender control of this process to the One who created it, rather than trying so hard to manage and control it ourselves, we will begin to see less of these problems. Families will feel more bonded, protective and nurturing towards each other. Fathers will feel more bonded with their children and their children’s mother, which would lead to fewer absent fathers and/or broken homes. I believe that we will see an increase in attentive, involved parents and in turn, a decrease in a variety of problems like ADD/ADHD, teen pregnancy, young gang members, teen drug use, school/mass shootings. Some of this may seem like a stretch to you but, think about it for a second. How many of these problems can be traced back to the root problem of kids needing attention and a feeling of belonging, love, and safety and seeking it out in the wrong places/with the wrong people because they’re not getting it from their families? I believe that our culture vastly underestimates the power of birth and the importance of not interfering unnecessarily. The more I experience birth and see such a wide range of situations and outcomes, the more I believe this.
Normal birth, birth as designed by God is worth fighting for.
Reversing this trend will not be an easy task, but it is not impossible. We all have to work together to make normal birth normal again. Be watching my friend, Kate Sorenson of Time to Be Born’s blog, for more posts about normal birth. And be watching for my next post that will include practical, easy steps that both moms and dads can take to make normal birth the norm again.
P.S. I wanted to add one more thing to this. While I do believe that the points I bring up here are valid and fixing some of these issue could have far reaching impacts on society, I need to make one thing very clear. What would make an exponentially larger impact is for people to come to know, love, and follow Jesus. As Dave Ramsey says, “Remember, there's ultimately only one way to (financial) peace, and that's to walk daily with the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus.”
Amber Piller - Professional Birth Doula and owner of Agape Birth Services. Serving Northwest Houston including Jersey Village, Cypress, Tomball, Spring, and Katy Texas.