Friday, October 30, 2009

This might make you mad at me

Our society seems to believe that any advance in technology is good. Those who don't subscribe to this view are often seen as old-fashioned, behind the times, or if one is trying to be offensive, close-minded. (Side note: It's interesting to me that being called close-minded is one of the worst insults of our time. Its common use can be defined as "you refuse to agree with me.")
I'm not going to write about iphones and GPS. I'm not going to write about texting rather than conversing with people in the room. Somebody else can and has done those things. I'm going to write about something a little closer to my mind these days: technology in child birth. Those of you who are creeped out by the most miraculous of all of the processes God has built into our bodies now have permission to stop reading, (as if you needed it) but I promise not to be graphic.
First, let me fend off the inevitable initial response from most the general public. I agree that advances in technology have made childbirth much safer for mothers and babies when complications arise. Lots of people used to die giving birth or being born. Far fewer people do these days, and that is due to miraculous scientific and technological discoveries of how to fix things that go wrong. I am extremely grateful to live in a time when fear of dying during childbirth doesn't actually have a place in my thoughts and feelings. I'm grateful to live in a time that when a baby comes too early, there is often something that can be done to save his life. I'm grateful that there is no chance anyone will be performing surgery on me without anesthesia, and that Doctors and nurses now understand the importance of washing their hands. There are many cases in which technology is called for and beneficial to say the least. However, I do contend that our cultural love affair with technology doesn't always make things better.
Let's take for instance the epidural. When people find that I'm not planning on using chemical pain relief in labor, many seem to find it difficult to come up with a reason anyone would make that choice other than being crazy. I find this response even more prevalent among men, which is interesting to me. (I guess there are also more men who own a GPS.) To me the reason seems obvious, but perhaps it's because I'm not as fully enamored with technology as a good American should be. The reason is that with every medication there are risks and side effects. We tend to assume that our Doctors would never allow us to take a medication whose risks and side effects outweighed the benefits, but we seem to forget that we only see our Doctors for, like, 10 minutes at a time, and different people respond differently to different medications. We also seem to forget that Doctors get paid more the more they do, and they are forever trying to come up with the money for malpractice insurance, whose premiums have gone sky high due to our society's second love: law suits. (This is especially true for OB/GYN's) Also, "pain relief" as a benefit is extremely subjective, so why should our Doctors decide if the benefits outweigh the risks? Mainly, though, it's the lack of time that prevents our overworked Doctors, and nurses from giving us all of the information. Therefore, we must take responsibility to research risks and side effects ourselves, especially when we have plenty of time beforehand to do so. Like 40 weeks, people. And especially when you can come up with a list really quickly by googling or following links on a random blog post. (I didn't list side effects in this post in order to keep my previous commitment to not be graphic.)
Please don't misunderstand me. I don't look down on people that choose chemical pain relief. As I said earlier, in some cases the technology is called for and beneficial. I do, however, think a person ought to do some research before pumping chemicals into themselves and their babies. (Yes, epidural chemicals enter a baby's body, and with limited metabolism, the chemicals stick around more than twice as long as they do in the mother.) Sometimes it does more good than harm, sometimes it does more harm than good.
Epidurals aren't really what gets me worked up though, it's induction. Once again, induction is a wonderful development when there is a good reason. However, Mr. Doctor, Sir, "it's been 10 days" is not a good reason. Especially since I just read in Gentle Childbirth, Gentle Mothering that the average healthy woman of my race actually goes 41 weeks and 1 day before giving birth. And furthermore, "You've been here a long time, we'd like your baby to be born sooner than it looks like he's coming. We sort of need the bed." is also not a good reason to start the flow of medications and the cycle of more medication to treat the side effects of the first medication, or to perform major abdominal surgery. Just so you know where I stand on that issue. I've decided to abruptly stop there so that the comments on this post favor the "Why would this make us mad at you?" rather than the, "You bet this made me mad!" variety.
(But, if you'd like to read more about real reasons for slow and stalled labors generally treated in our hospitals with Pitocin these days, "Ina May's guide to Childbirth" is the place to look. Did you know it used to be common knowledge among Doctors in the 19th century that labor could be slowed or stopped due to an abrupt arrival on their part? So they always asked permission from those attending a woman in labor before entering. That'd be nicer than the *knock knock* *door bursts open* common in hospitals today. Wait, some hospital practices actually cause complications in labor they then treat? YES. That wasn't a very good abrupt stop. My apologies)



Blogger Becca said...

I agree with absolutely everything you said here. I first got sold on the idea of natural childbirth (not as a trend, but as a return to what women did for thousands of years) in nursing school when I learned how artificial we've made birth. The fact that being pregnant and delivering a child is one of the most natural things our bodies know how to do makes me feel weird when I hear of someone going in to give birth and getting "all hooked up." What?! Moving around during childbirth, standing/sitting in different positions, all helps the labor along, yet we lay women on their backs, immobilize them, and tell them to push. Well, yeah, working against gravity then might make that episiotomy sound more necessary.

More than anything, though, when I tell people that I want to labor and deliver without drugs, I ALWAYS get, "Well, that's because you haven't felt the pain of labor. TRUST ME, you'll have an epidural." or "You might do it the first time, but then you'll have an epidural with the 2nd and never look back." Nothing irks me quite like that.

Anyway, point is, awesome post. :)

8:05 PM  
Blogger Talyn said...

You can tell them you know me, and I'm doing it with my second, after I was in labor with my first for 29 hours drug free. And I only have one college degree. :)

10:53 PM  
Blogger candice said...

well i have labored unmedicated both times and afterwords have always wondered why i didn't opt for an epidural :)

i have stalled out with both babies after fulling dilating, with baby stuck somewhere on my pelvic bone all skiddywompous. hours of pushing is neither fun or pain free, not to mention how sore i am the following weeks from all the pushing. i hate labor, as well as the month that follows. too bad there isn't another way to get these babies out short of surgery---

11:07 PM  
Blogger marci and josh said...

Talyn although I am not able to have drug free births, I am all for anyone making that choice for them. That being said I think everyone has a choice to make regarding what is right for each of them. My sister had problems with her epidural with her first, and had her second natural and loved it. I am greatful I had doctors that instead of just taking Gillian by c-section they gave me a choice to see what my body would do, even though I was induced. With Daxton my doctor was great and allowed me to go through a tough time of pushing before we decided on a c-section. Anyway my point is, is that even if you choose drugs you should think about all the choices that are involved and what feels right for you. I have a hard time when people try to tell you that your choice is wrong whether in child birth or nursing. Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy and with the birth of your baby. I am so excited for you and I know Alena is going to make a great big sister.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Lark said...

It is interesting that mothers will go without pain or hay fever pills four nine months to protect their babies only to have a Dr. force drugs on them and their babies at the last minute.

When I was born hospitals were putting mothers completely under with general anesthesia. My mother believed that was dangerous so she found a hospital that would let her give birth naturally. Almost twenty years later with her sixth birth she was wanting to have her baby during Christmas break she was more than a week over due so she had the Dr. start the labor so she could get back to her graduate studies.

I gave birth four times, drug free. I did that to protect my babies. Mothers will do what they feel is needed to make sure their children are safe.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Ashley Bybee Stepp said...

I go back and forth on the issue of epidurals and what I want to have done whenever that time comes to decide. Part of me wants to do it natural for the educational side of child birth. Then, I will know just how painful or what it is really like. The other side of me says, "Pain? Yuck." :)

What I have decided is that there needs to be more balance between modern medicine and natural remedies. It's kind of like what you were saying about how you were grateful for technological advances like sanitary washing of hands, saving prematurely born babies, or having check ups to monitor the fetus's vitals. But modern technology shouldn't erase the thousands of years of natural remedies. I think a balance of the two is the safest bet. :)

My two cents for you? Huge admiration from my end for the natural births!

5:19 PM  

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