The Battle Is in the Mind
by Jan Tritten
© 2005 Midwifery Today, Inc. All rights reserved.
[Editor's Note: This editorial originally appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 74, Summer 2005.]
Jan with baby in China
We are mammals. Most mammals birth fine. So what happened to us? We used to birth fine. Women in "primitive" cultures birth fine. What happened to modern women?
In 1896, Alice B. Stockham said, "I know of no country, no tribe, no class, where childbirth is attended with so much pain and trouble as in this country." (Tokology. Chicago IL: Alice B. Stockham and Co.)
This statement holds true to this day. At birth we are unblessed with a thinking mind. As adults, our minds become one of our biggest obstacles in pregnancy and birth. We listen to others, watch "Baby Story" on television, hear of cesarean rates and the ease of epidurals and completely lose our ability to do the task for which our bodies were supernaturally designed.
This system of fear has been exported on a grand scale on the wave of medicalization throughout the whole world. Western childbirth ways are literally a huge plague.
How many complications are caused by the mind? If we were birthing in past times and places, labor would be shorter and less complicated. Complications go MUCH deeper today than just those around birth. We have increased autism, breast cancer and detachment of our culture to children and babies. Most are related to the childbearing year.
Most complications are preventable with good nutrition and good midwifery care prenatally and in birth. Midwives play a key role in combatting this dominant birth culture. The fact that few mothers were born naturally themselves must also have an effect.
Midwifery can move the world individually, with continuity of care. It cannot be accomplished in 10-minute visits. There is too much damage to nullify and dilute. The midwives' own trust and knowledge of birth needs to be transmitted to the mom. After counseling and imparting our trust to her we need to keep her, if possible, out of dangerous environments. With drugs available and an environment that interrupts labor, everything she has learned disappears.
So how do we avoid iatrogenic complications? Stay home or in a birth center. Have a well-trained midwife, who honors physiology, not medicine. Keep out of the proximity of drugs, distractions and unnecessary procedures. First, do no harm.
Often in today's oppressive birth culture the battle is in the minds of the "care" givers. Most doctors have never seen a normal birth. Even when a woman has a good birth attitude, she goes unsuspectingly into the hospital, thinking this is the safest place to have her baby. She runs right into the trap of modern medicine, which is bent on making a lot of money from her and exerting POWER over her. She is subject to a cascade of interventions done unceremoniously to her and her baby, still thinking she is in a safe environment. Somehow her mind, though, has learned to believe this place and these people caring for her are safe practitioners. The hospital is a good back-up system for true emergencies, which are the cases where hospitals become safety nets.
Sadly the Western world has imperialistically pushed its "safe" medical practices on all other countries. For example, Western medicine teaches the dangerous birth practices that cause problems and then teaches more unsafe practices to supposedly fix the first problems (cord cutting, deliveries on the back, pulling the placenta out, etc.).
These imperialistically driven complications go even further, as certain U.S. aid-driven organizations have decided there are too many children being born to poor people in poor countries. Midwives from Mexico have told me that in hospitals in Mexico, IUDs are placed in women, without their knowledge or permission, just after birth, as soon as the placenta is "pulled" out. Many of these victims of Western imperialism then go to the midwife because they are hemorrhaging. The midwife takes the IUD out because it has fallen out of place. One of the midwives knew this firsthand, because she was sent to the hospital to learn to insert IUDs as soon as the placenta is out.
Reportedly they have gone into South America and Africa doing the same thing. It is a crime against humanity. It is a crime against culture and it is a crime against individual women and their families, who suffer most. Then FIGO and ICM have the audacity to tell us that we need to "offer" all women in the world "active management of the third stage of labor." That is, to disturb the body's own natural physiology and the bonding process, to give pharmacological oxytocin or cytotec, just when the body's own supply of oxytocin is at its highest for the purposes of bonding and hemorrhage control. Of course, nearly every birth is so disrupted by medical routines that medical personnel have already disturbed the process and the oxytocin levels. This, because we have already exported our distressing methodology for birth.
The entire birth situation in the hands of these overseeing organizations is absolutely ludicrous and criminal. We are mammals. As Michel Odent says, "We need to dehumanize birth." We have messed it up enough.
We need to follow the mother's lead in labor. If empowered, she will birth. We need to tell her she can do it, to help counter the cultural garbage that has accumulated in her mind. Birth works. Authentic midwifery care is there to help. Good midwifery care encourages or allows the unfolding of the birth. Good midwifery care empowers the woman in her pregnancy, helping her clear out the obstacles that culture has put in her brain.
Meddlesome midwifery and medicine need to stop now. Cultural and medical imperialism need to stop now. In their arrogance Western medicine and culture have imposed themselves in the world by ease of travel, community systems and economic dominance. Michel Odent questions, "Can society survive?"
It can survive and thrive, if we institute authentic midwifery care around the world. It can survive if we use our resources appropriately. With advancing medical understanding and techniques that, appropriately applied, can save lives, we can indeed survive. Authentic midwives and doulas know and understand more about birth and how it works than ever before. If we as a world can apply what we know and come up with a system of referral, we can have the best birthing the world has ever known. The tearing down of the Berlin Wall of medical culture will not be easy, but it is possible. We all need to work hard at birth change, doing everything we can to teach women that they can birth and to teach medical personnel that women can birth.
Toward Better Birth,
Jan Tritten is the founder and editor-in-chief of Midwifery Today magazine and a midwife who was in active practice from 1977–1989. She became a midwife in 1977 after the powerful homebirth of one of her daughters. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies throughout the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world! [ PHOTO BY ANDREA NOLL ]
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