The more a midwife speaks to a mother and spends quality time with her, the more likely a mother is to open up and reveal more of her daily routines and habits that can affect her pregnancy and birth.  For example, the midwife will ask a mother the most basic yet critical questions like what is she eating and follow up with nutritional counseling, a topic in which the midwife owns expertise. She’ll ask her what is occurring in her life today, yesterday, expecting for tomorrow. A mother’s every day peace and stress contributes to her body’s sense of well-being and reaching the point where mother and her body believe it is time now to give birth safely and securely.

The psychology of labor is addressed during the med school L&D rotation by incorporating finding other resources for emotional and mental support.  Subsequently we have a number of practitioners in all fields lacking in bedside manner today, but in birth this aspect has an impact intangible to the practitioner but very real to the mother and her family.  The average obstetrical course of education includes fewer than three credit hours in understanding nutrition.  The focus on prenatal nutrition is only a small portion of the syllabus (do your homework choosing a careprovider!).  The home birth midwife also follows the mother into the immediate postpartum and continues home visits to see how mother and baby function as a unit.

It is the midwife who is better versed in delivering babies in various but normal birth situations.  A breech baby can be birthed safer in the hands of a midwife than a hospital attendant.  She has not let her skills fall behind because medico-legal liability has dictated a breech birth to be enough of a risk as to deem a cesarean to be the required course of action; therefore, she continues to hone both her observational and palpating skills.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), America’s leading organization promoting the benefits of clinical obstetrics in the sterile rooms of trained physicians, has found itself in a dilemma.  The technology and protocols ACOG promotes are the very ones that directly influence our birth statistics negatively.  The birth technology ACOG promotes to prevent or lower risks in birth for both mothers and their babies has not been proven to be beneficial, yet it is used profusely.  Birth in America rarely includes the intimacy of the act that culminated in procreation.  Images of an infant gently caught into its own mother’s arms are so rare that they cause the general public to question the safety of such an event. Debate for and against the licensing of midwifery – and the definition of midwifery itself – is gaining momentum, because statistics for hands off care of normal, natural childbirth are far better than those of managed birth.

In fact, Rebecca Watson of the New Mexico Department of Health has stated, “I sometimes wonder why [we bother compiling statistics on midwives], since their statistics are so much better than everyone else’s.”

While home birth is stereotyped as dangerous because of the lack of medical supervision, it is the lack of that technology and medicine that actually makes birth at home safer than birth in a hospital under today’s protocols.

Studies have shown that once a technology is introduced and mandated, it is difficult to remove it from care practice despite being proven unsafe or unnecessary.  For instance, although the rates involving an episiotomy (cutting the perineum to create a larger opening for the baby to pass through) have dropped drastically since 1980, it is still a common practice.  Ironically, episiotomy rates today are justified as integral to the higher use of vacuum-assisted deliveries or unfounded fears that a baby is stuck because it is a large baby or presenting in a less than optimal position, (posteriors, for example, where a baby faces away from the mother’s back during labor).

America is one of the few nations where birth is managed more with technology than with the hands and eyes of the care provider, but other countries will soon catch up. In a country that boasts technology superior to other developed nations and is not known for undernourishing its citizens, our mothers and babies are faring no better at birth than underdeveloped nations such as Croatia. No improvements have been made in the maternal mortality rate in America since 1982, and  America’s infant mortality rate in the past two decades also has not improved. Our birth technology has increased and the number of routine prenatal screening tests have multiplied since the early 1960s, but our maternal and fetal outcomes have gone progressively backward.

“Despite a significant improvement in the U.S. maternal mortality ratio since the early 1900s, it still represents a substantial and frustrating burden, particularly given the fact that – essentially – no progress has been made in most U.S. states since 1982. Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that most cases are probably preventable.” states C.T. Lang in a 2008 obstetrics and gynecology report.  Further, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in 1983 that the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. was 8.0 for every 100,000 live births (Monthly Vital Statistics Report).  In 1993, the rate was 12.0/100,000 live births (CDC).

Among the causal deaths that could be prevented were those that involve both underlying health issues such as poor nutrition and high blood pressure (World Health Organization) as well as those that are physician-caused including infection and hemorrhage.  Bacterium can be introduced first by the mother arriving in an environment where diseases are being treated as well as from infiltrating the natural barriers we have against infection through vaginal exams and, of course, surgical delivery. In addition, there are higher incidences of hemorrhage from forced delivery of the placenta as when a care provider intentionally pulls on an umbilical cord to tear the placenta away from the uterine wall of the mother’s womb. In all instances, normal birth evidence training of the professional birth attendant is critical.

Injuries and deaths related to the physician’s care range from the off-label use of medicine such as Cytotec (also known as Misoprostol) for the inducing of labor as well as the sanctified use of surgical delivery, which gives us embolism, one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and a risk directly associated with cesareans.  Cesarean rates for delivery rose by 46 percent from 1995 to 2006.

Women around the world, the time to look again at the image of women birthing with women versus a medical obstetrical group in normal birth is now. WE can improve global maternal and newborn birth outcomes and experiences. WE know birth. WE know women’s hopes and fears.  A new generation of birth wisdom and experiences is here!

Wishing you a truly happy Mother’s Day secure in the knowledge of your body’s innate wisdom!

Learn more about the wisdom of utilizing your best resource: an Independent Childbirth member led birth education class like Dorene Vaughn’s All Natural Baby!

Visit our comments section (this post) to find some of the most awesome birth wisdom posts our readers have found on the web and to add the ones you’ve found!

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Preconceived notions are… interesting. I’m in the middle of watching the wonderful A&E version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the theme is, of course, Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s mistaken first impressions about each other, and working through the negative prejudice each had about the other, to get to the truth about themselves and each other. Sometimes first impressions can be very accurate; but sometimes they can be completely wrong.

When it comes to choosing a care provider, it is important not to blindly accept anyone’s recommendation, nor to follow merely a “first impression,” but to closely examine the person who is to be caring for you during pregnancy, labor, and birth. Just as Elizabeth learned that Wickham was not the kind, honest, and honorable person he appeared to be at first, so you may find that your midwife or obstetrician may not be exactly what she appears to be.

A friend recently mentioned that she was going to be trying a “natural” induction method (castor oil), and I didn’t say anything about the negative observations I had just recently heard about it; and I’m afraid it may have negatively affected the baby. At one point, it was “touch and go” for the baby. I said, “never again” — regardless of how much I think the mother may resist my input.

A fellow childbirth educator had an experience some years ago when a friend of hers mentioned that she hadn’t felt her baby move much lately. Not wanting to make her unnecessarily worried, she did not suggest that she go get checked out, although she herself had had a necessary preterm C-section for just the same thing. The friend’s baby was stillborn a few days later. “Never again.”

You read here about a birth educator who attended a vaginal twin birth as a doula, and both she and the pregnant woman were so glad to find a doctor willing to allow a vaginal birth, instead of insisting on a C-section, that neither one questioned whether the doctor had the experience necessary to attend a twin birth. As happens with some frequency, the second-born baby was breech, and the birth of the baby was quite traumatic, with the doctor showing his or her inexperience, and ultimately, fear. But the doctor told the mother afterwards — and perhaps the doctor believed it as well — that the trauma the baby endured was better than being brain damaged or dead; so the mother believed that the doctor ultimately saved the baby, and is content with what happened, although it was very unnecessary. “Never again.”

We do hear from time to time that we, as natural childbirth advocates, are extreme.  We’ve heard many a commentary that compares natural childbirth to a throwback to living like a pioneer.  We’ve all had the experience of having women who know we are natural childbirth and birth rights advocates walk away from us quickly or politely (sometimes not) shut us down.

We wonder sometimes if it’s worth risking having people try to paint us in that radical light to keep doing what we do: quelling preventable mother and/or newborn injury ~ physically, mentally and emotionally ~ including death.

Never again.

survivormoms_214_matte.gifImagine yourself in labor, and suddenly a very painful memory intrudes your mind and consumes your thoughts. Imagine how distracted you would become. Your contractions could slow down and stop. The physical intensity of labor might be overcome with the emotional pain of your past.

But it doesn’t have to happen this way. You can prepare yourself during pregnancy by reading When Survivors Give Birth by Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus and Survivor Moms by Mickey Sperlich and Julia Seng.

If you have been abused or even just suspect that abuse may have occurred, you are highly encouraged to discuss it with your entire birth team. This includes your doctor or midwife, birth partner, doula and childbirth educator.

Remember, all of your care providers have a responsibility to protect your privacy and rights. If they believe it to be in your best interest, they may also go out of their way to help you obtain appropriate services. Open communication is important and will certainly make a difference in your over-all pregnancy and birth experience.

If you are able to share specific details, those caring for you will be able to make better judgments and be more sensitive to your needs. There are some things that might trigger your memories of abuse. Some are obvious things such as being in bed during labor or breastfeeding after the birth. But other triggers, unique to your situation, might not be so easy to identify. This is where when-survivors.jpgcommunication between you and your caregivers can prove extremely beneficial.

Having vaginal exams are common during labor and at the end of pregnancy. But having them might put you in an extremely vulnerable position. If you let your medical team know about your history of abuse, they will be exceptionally sensitive to your particular situation and comfort level. You have the right to opt out of this particular intervention, and your choice should be respected.

Fortunately, there are many resources available today that help shed light and understanding on the problem of sexual abuse. Care providers typically maintain a list of resources that include local therapists or counselors that specialize in abuse. They may also have books, recommend websites, and provide educational materials.

get help

There are several options you can pursue in order to promote health and wellbeing. What may work for one mother, may not be the best method for another. Sometimes, you may need to experiment with several techniques before discovering which is the most helpful. A care provider should always be consulted prior to trying any form of therapy

This is the first in a multi-part series on pregnancy, birth and sexual abuse. This article is written for the pregnant woman with a history of abuse. Future articles will be written for those who work with pregnant women and will address ways to help a woman during pregnancy and birth.

About the author: Lasi Leavy has 15 years of working with at risk adolescents. She is an ALACE Birth Doula and Hypnobabies Childbirth Hypnosis Instructor.