‘Every surge brings your baby closer’
‘It’s not pain, it’s power’
These statements are all examples of positive birth affirmations. Affirmations are one method used for focus and pain management in labour. You know what also works for focus and pain management? An epidural.
My point here is that both the “natural” birthing world and the medical world have incredible knowledge and methods to offer. So why are these “worlds” at such odds with one another?
Medical Interventions vs. “Natural” methods: It’s time to come to terms
Very often it is about judgement and guilt than about providing truly informed care, and I am tired of it. The medical world is based in science and does SO MUCH to give you the best chance of having a healthy and safe delivery. The so-called “natural” world of doulas, lactation consultants, and midwives, offers so much time, trust, relationship- and support-based care. Both realms have so much to offer in terms of informed care and patient empowerment- so why does it feel like they all fall short?
Why would we want medical interventions in labour?
As a labour and delivery nurse, I see women struggle physically, mentally, and emotionally with making choices about their labour, pain management, and infant feeding. The judgement and pressure on women and their childbearing abilities is REAL. Once you start Googling pregnancy and birth, you are bombarded with messages along the lines of ‘pregnancy is beautiful’, your vagina ‘opens like a flower’ during labour, and that breastfeeding is ‘the most rewarding experience’ (not everyone feels so rewarded by it, and they shouldn’t feel guilty for that).
An overwhelming amount of online information about the ‘medicalization of birth’ and the vilification of epidurals, c-sections, inductions, even antibiotics for GBS, misinforms and presents a real danger to women and their families.
No, the scientific and medical world hasn’t always gotten it right. Protocols are frequently updated and changed, new research emerges, and best practice evolves. Even in my short 10 years as a nurse, I have seen numerous changes in how we manage labour and postpartum care.
While I see this constant change as a great asset, as the medical world is always striving to find better and safer ways of doing things, many critics, care providers, and support workers see it differently.
Over the course of the last 20 or so years, our society has started to value all things “natural” and “age-old”. First of all, what does this mean exactly? Are the practices that were used hundreds of years ago applicable to today’s society at all?
I recently discovered a website called The Skeptical OB written and compiled by OBGYN, Dr. Amy Tuteur. I greatly enjoy reading her blog posts, wherein she critiques articles, research studies, websites, and books that cover the topic of women’s health, birth, and breastfeeding. Her critiques are based in science and take into account the complexities of gender, race, and class disparities. LOVE IT.
On the other hand, she is HARSH against the midwives and lactation consultants! I get it- a lot of traditional lactation education and midwifery information is not based in science. However, a LOT of women’s health-related topics are simply not studied! We go by methods that have proven historically and anecdotally effective. The research that IS done, is just not thorough and effective enough to be taken as fact by doctors (nor should it be taken as fact by anyone practicing in women’s health). The problem is, calling lactation consultants “abusive” and putting down the entire profession of midwifery, completely sabotages the ability to inform and uplift the realm of women’s health. This behaviour, dare I say, is anti-feminist and pits women against one another. BUT, when you read Dr. Tuteur’s articles, she makes total and complete sense!
We need to respect one another’s professions and find ways that are both scientific, practical, and relevant to today’s population, lifestyle, and society. A huge problem in women’s health is the discrepancy of information out there. Patients present to the hospital with SO many ideas and plans about how things should go, because they have been told so many different things from their doctor, midwife, and Google (let’s face it, EVERYONE consults Dr. Google). Let’s stop being so busy being defensive (and offensive) of other professions, and learn how to work together to improve life for WOMEN! That’s why we chose these careers, right?
Coming from a medical background, I understand WHY we have interventions. Yes, if you simply look at stats, one intervention begets another intervention. This is why a lot of online articles and posts state that having an induction increases your chances of getting an epidural, which then increases your chance of having a c-section. Overall, the correlations show that, ya, sure, that is true. However, they neglect to ask, why were you getting an induction in the first place?
Usually, it is because the risks of remaining pregnant outweigh any other risks. Do you have Gestational Diabetes (constantly on the rise), Gestation Hypertension/ Pre-eclampsia, a large for gestational age baby (increasingly more common in the last 10-15 years), or any other variety of adverse health effect? Your chance of having a c-section may have already been high, before any intervention was introduced.
Our society as a whole is getting unhealthier and interventions are often necessary in order to minimize risk.
Yep,the medical world is ALL about prioritizing safety by weighing risks vs. benefits. We don’t like taking chances when it comes to you and your baby.
We have a considerable amount of research and data that informs best practice, and perform the safest method with the highest likelihood for a healthy delivery. Maybe we’re just being selfish- when there is a bad outcome in the hospital, it devastates the entire medical team. We are all human, and a sick mom or baby truly affects us all. So, if we undergo an intervention in order to increase the chance of a safe delivery, we are taking care of ourselves just as much as we are taking care of you. Seriously, having healthy deliveries lowers our need to seek counselling in the future…no, really. What a super-selfish bunch we are.
We are so lucky to live in a time when modern medicine has so much to offer and we should take advantage of it, especially when it can truly save lives.
I recently listened to Dr. Jen Gunter on Samantha Bee’s Full Release Podcast.
(Side note: First of all, Jen Gunter is my hero, a champion for feminism, and just a total legend. She wrote the book, “The Vagina Bible”, had a super-informative series on cbc.ca called “Jensplaining”, and her Instagram feed is a must-follow. Is my entire career just a ploy to get her attention? Um, possibly).
During this podcast episode, she discussed some of the “natural” and “ancient” birth practices that are promoted to women. She uses the term “faux-feminism” to refer to practices that are sold to women as self-care, but aren’t actually beneficial at all (like vaginal steaming and inserting jade eggs into your vagina).
During the interview, she was asked about“Lotus birthing.”This is the practice of keeping the placenta and cord attached to the baby until it “naturally” rots off. There are actually special bags you can purchase that disguise the scent of rotting meat while you are waiting for the natural separation of the placenta and baby. Many people are ill-informed into thinking that this is an age-old practice that allows for full natural processes to take effect. Well, guess what? The concept of a lotus birth was created in the “ancient” old days of 1974, when a woman named Claire Lotus Day witnessed an ape give birth and noted that she kept the cord attached.
This single observation slowly morphed into the belief that this practice is best for babies and that it is how human women, with access to hospitals and doctors, and modern medicine, should deliver. Lotus-birthing, which is not science-based, greatly increases chances of severe jaundice, infection, sepsis, and even death, as, after delivery, the placenta is a dead organ, filled with stagnant blood.
Delayed cord-clamping? You got it! Letting you carry a bag of rotting flesh for several days? Um, I think that’s against our policy.
‘I Shake off any Pressure to be Perfect, and Simply try my Best’
Now that’s a great labour affirmation!
The seemingly opposing world of non-medicalized birth practices has so many incredible methods for preparing your mind and body for labour, for getting your baby into optimal position, and for having great labour support.
The title of this post (the vagina-flower statement) was something I heard one day while in a patient’s room: she had a recording of labour and birth-related affirmations that she was listening to on a loop. Many L&D nurses would roll their eyes at this, and even I giggled to myself as I heard it. As I left the room, I realized, as silly as some of those affirmations sometimes sound, I frigging loved it.
The patient was so focused, so relaxed, and so able to cope with the frequent and intense contractions she was having.
If that recording contributed in any way to her coping ability (and I think it did), why should she be judged by us jaded and bitter L&D nurses? (ok we’re not all bitter and jaded, I promise!)
In fact, I LOVE it when my L&D patients set up ambient lighting, essential oil diffusers, and relaxing music in their labour rooms. The people who do this really have their head in the game, so to speak. They may still end up with an epidural because everyone deals differently with pain, and labours progress at different rates, however, they took control of certain aspects of their birth experience. That feeling of control goes a long way in the overall process, outcomes, and their mental state afterwards.
Most importantly, effective, one-on-one labour support greatly contributes to a woman’s ability to cope with labour pain, and to be better mentally prepared if things don’t go to plan.
You can plan and plan all you want but your body and your baby will ultimately decide on the outcome. This feeling of no control really impacts a woman’s psyche, and can have huge effects later on (hello, postpartum depression). One-on-one support by a partner, midwife, or doula greatly increases satisfaction with the labour process. This can have HUGE benefits later on in terms of their mental state.
Please, let’s stop promoting unsafe and unproven labour and birth practices. Also, let’s stop rolling our eyes at people who bring in hypnobirthing guides and essential oils.
Let’s take the strengths from all practices and use them to inform, benefit, and empower women, because guess what? We are all on the same team.