The idea that pregnancy and birth should be dictated by the medical establishment is based on the idea that the health and safety of mom and baby, especially baby, takes foremost importance. Physicians, well educated and experienced, become the most qualified to determine what is the healthiest and safest for the mother-baby pair. The mother is incapable of handling decisions herself1, much less being strong in her role as a mother. Mother’s, perhaps, are too “selfish”2 to be trusted with making the correct decisions.
The goal of every birth is to have a healthy baby3. What is a healthy baby? The simplest definition is a baby who is alive. A more complicated definition is a baby who has the best possible physical and emotional start to life. Standard medical management can usually provide a living baby. Standard medical management struggles with providing the best possible physical and emotional start for most babies*.
Birth is a child’s issue. Birth affects how the newborn is introduced to the world. Spontaneous labor is triggered by a complex interaction between the mother and her unborn4. Newborns get help with breathing5 and healthy flora6 when squeezed through the vaginal canal. Newborns use smell to bond with their mothers and locate their source of food, mother’s breasts7. Newborns are warmed by their mother’s chests8. Being held close by mother helps the newborn breathe8. Newborns are nourished and provided protections by the cord blood9 and then colostrum10. Every part of the process of birth and a baby’s initial start in life is helped and available through that newborn’s mother.
Typical medical management of birth stops the normal process that helps a newborn with the transition to life outside the womb. Babies are forced to be born before they are truly ready11. Babies who are born by cesarean surgery miss out on the benefits of vaginal birth5,6. Newborns whose cords are cut early lose protections9. Newborns who are separated from their mother, cleaned up and bathed, and given to mom after being examined, artificially heated, swaddled, hatted, and gooped lose the advantages of smell, sight, and skin on skin touch that their mother can provide8, 12, 13, 14. Unnecessary medical management may produce a living baby, but it often fails to provide the best possible start for that baby and mother.
It is not enough that a baby be born alive. When a care provider operates under the assumption he or she can make better decisions than the mother herself, the care provider strips away the normal safety available to the newborn through his or her mother. The care provider also strips away the mother’s rights15, and the mother’s capabilities.
Birth is a woman’s issue. Birth profoundly affects a woman for the rest of her life16, and it affects how she mothers her children. Months of pregnancy prepare a mother’s body, heart and soul for the new life she is growing. Labor begins that transition, transforming the laboring mother and also her family. A mother supported and encouraged to find her mother-instinct can reach within and gain confidence. A mother respected in making her own decisions about her body, her birth, her baby knows she can make decisions. A mother aware and involved in her baby’s birth starts with a strong connection to her own child.
During pregnancy and through birth and postpartum, most women get used to their care provider making the decisions1. When a woman questions policy or recommendations, she is reminded- by her care providers, husband, family, friends, the media, her hospital birth preparation class- that her care team are the experts and they know what they are doing. In other words, she doesn’t know and she isn’t an expert on herself or her baby. She is reminded that not following medical recommendations crosses the line into not taking care of her baby. A mother wants to do right for her baby, so of course she will yield control.
The idea that mothers are capable and qualified to manage their own care and to protect their child, born or unborn, should be obvious. Women, intimately connected to their own bodies and their babies growing inside, will naturally seek safety for themselves and their babies. Woman-centered care understands this. Yet, women are again and again undermined by medical viewpoints that they don’t act in their child’s best interest. Physicians know best. Women don’t.
*Please note that I wholeheartedly believe that medical science is a gift that can and should be used when necessary. When I write or speak about medical birth often being unnecessary I do not forget that medical birth is the best option for some mothers and babies.
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