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Fear of birth–institutionlized April 20, 2008

Posted by emsgeiss in Green & Frunchy, parenting & family, women's issues.
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I’ve just finished reading the current issue of Time magazine. My husband grabbed it before I did and after reading the cover story, he was struck by the article by Alice Park “Choosy Mothers Choose Cesareans” about the increase in Cesareans by choice. He got about half-way through and handed it to me, who happens to be one of those women who had a vaginal delivery without any anesthesia. What got me to the laptop was the end of the article, which concluded: “As our ideas about birth evolve, perhaps more women will feel less defensive about making the same choice.” (That is, the choice for an elective C-section.)

I will state that I’m not against C-sections in principle. It was in our birth plan, that we would willingly accept one if one were medically necessary because of natal or maternal distress that was life-threatening to either of us. There are women who, for various medical reasons, need C-sections. I know many women who have had C-sections—some elective, even. And having or not having a C-section or vaginal delivery does not say anything about how well one will parent or love their child. (I feel it’s important to state that, since this is a very weighted and often divisive issue.)

The problem with elective C-sections is that this “evolutionary” mindset about obstetrics, is an area of the medical profession largely controlled by…who?

Say it with me.


From the time we are little girls, through puberty and beyond, we (womenfolk) are taught…TAUGHT…to fear our bodies and their natural processes. (How many adult women call their menstrual cycles “the curse” and have been since they were young because that was the language they heard and learned?)

We are taught (both religiously and secularly) that the process of giving life is painful, bothersome and a medical procedure rather than a natural (bodily elimination) process. We hear the horror stories from our own mothers, grandmothers, aunts and family friends about their horrendous experiences with labor and delivery…and some of those stories are indeed horrific, because the locus of control was not with the mother, but was instead with some guy wearing a surgical mask having them lay on a bed with their legs up. (Not exactly the best position for laboring, by the way.)

Even the woman interviewed for the article says it herself. The article states:

…a combination of having watched traumatic vaginal deliveries in medical school and hearing about her mother’s difficult emergency [C-section] after trying to deliver vaginally helped make up her mind. ‘I had a fear of going through labor and ending up with an emergency C-section anyway….I didn’t want to deal with it.’

See? Operating from the position of fear, she chose to have a C-section, thinking that this choice that she made was from the position of being empowered. (She had been imprinted with fear.) Elective C-sections are nothing more than false empowerment. What is empowering is following nature’s course (as best as possible). I say “as best as possible” because there may be a point (as I realized was a possibility) where another approach is required. And why don’t many of us do it? Because of fear and because we know (at least those of us living in industrialized nations) that there is “the safety net” of an epidural and a scalpel.

Apparently according to the author’s conclusion, these “evolv[ing] ideas about birth would include having an incision created where there wasn’t one before, stitches (or staples) along with the added healing time (so that it’s harder on your midsection to pick up your child) and drugs that in many cases interfere with breastfeeding success, all in lieu of having the child exit the body through the sphincter and canal that nature intended. (And yes Virginia, it is a sphincter…just ask Ina May.)

Doesn’t sound a bit like evolution to me. The only way obstetrics is going to evolve is to spend some time reading and learning from midwives like Ina May Gaskin and countless others who have helped hundreds of thousands of women deliver vaginally with great success. What would make obstetrics evolve is an expansion of our understanding of childbirthing, not medicalizing it further—relearning, reteaching, undoing all of the fear-based crap about childbirth that we’ve been taught, have assimilated and have taken for gospel. (I’m not going to say that pain is not involved, nor am I going to go into a qualitative description of labor pain versus other pain, but I will say this: There’s a reason it’s called “labor” and not “dessert.” Shit…it’s hard work. It’s real work.)

And why aren’t doctors chomping at the bit to learn from their marginalized (yet successful) counterparts? Why when a perfectly healthy woman, with a perfectly routine pregnancy says to her OB: “I want to have a C-section,” the OB doesn’t look at her like she’s got six heads and caution against it or at least try to find out why she wants to go under the knife? Because birth is big business. A business run by…who? Say it with me, now—Men. Men, who can only “get” labor and delivery to a certain degree. Men, who because they can’t and don’t experience it and cannot truly empathize with it at its core, are perfectly willing to let it be treated as a medical situation and one that is to be feared.

So much for empowerment, when that alleged empowered decision is based in a fear that men (who have no real, firsthand knowledge of childbirth) created and that women continue to perpetuate. Evolve, huh? I, for one, cannot subscribe to the notion that an increase in elective c-sections is representative of evolving ideas about childbirth. Choosy mothers don’t choose Cesareans. Women who have bought into the fear do.

I wonder what Gaskin would think of Time‘s c-section article? I’m sure that she would have much to say.

Copyright © 2008, Erika-Marie S. Geiss



1. Colbymarshall - April 20, 2008

C-sections actually scare me more than natural birth. There’s a reason it’s called natural 🙂 I don’t know if/when I’ll ever have kids as they aren’t even on my radar right now, but if/when I do, I think I am inclined to hope and pray that I don’t have a pregnancy that requires a C-section…because that scares me!

2. Dionne Obeso - April 20, 2008

The idea of medicalizing my pregnancy was what scared me. My midwife kept trying to talk me out of fear, and I kept having to smile and remind her that I was fine and absolutely un-worried. She says I was one of the most interesting women she has ever seen in her practice. I was not nervous or afraid, and had a wonderful experience delivering my son at home with no pain medication whatsoever.

3. Melanie Avila - April 21, 2008

Your post comes at a good time. I just (three hours ago) got the go-ahead from my doctor to start trying to conceive but we’re not sure if we will yet. I have some medical problems that may require a c-section and, frankly, I’m freaked out about having that kind of surgery in Mexico. I’ve gone back and forth on which way I’d prefer and you make a very good argument to sway me back. I don’t want to wait much longer but we don’t know when we’ll be able to return to the US. I know they can handle deliveries here – the average Mexican family has many more children than those in the US – it’s the thought of something going wrong that scares me.

4. Nick - April 27, 2008

E you just have to keep bringing up the no anesthesia thing. I am still looking for your soda so get off my back already!!! Now on to your man bashing. Here is a good link showing members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologist (http://www.acog.org/departments/dept_notice.cfm?recno=20&bulletin=3568). It shows there less than a 20% difference in the number of male to female OB/GYN doctors. So there must also be a significant number of female OB/GYN’s who are performing c-sections upon request from there patients. I was unable to find the statistics on the number of c-sections performed by male doctors versus female doctors. Seeing those numbers would be interesting. I did find a National Instute of Health report (http://nihrecord.od.nih.gov/newsletters/2006/04_21_2006/story01.htm) that was sort of vague on the subject of natural child birth versus CDMR.

5. Amy Bush Bradley - April 29, 2008

I’m with you – 100%. I don’t fault women completely as our society is very powerful, but at the same time, I do encourage women who feel the fear to see if they can find their way out of it. You don’t have to be there. I have three children. The first I had in a hospital, with a birth plan, the idea of going natural, then it changed and I had anesthesia that caused a reaction and instead of dulling the pain, I felt drunk and itched so badly I scratched a layer of skin off of my face! The second child I also had in a hospital with a doula and no drugs. The third… she was born at home, in the same room she was created in. We can transform our experiences, one moment at a time.

I could go on, but I’ll save that for another article. :o)

6. Eric M. Hale - May 29, 2008

Right on sister!!
I am a man who helped (very little, in fact) my wife with a freebirth, aka unassisted, and we have a healthy, happy, unvaccinated 9 month beautiful baby boy. I honestly wish more men had the courage and acceptance to participate in what is, after all, a perfectly natural experience. I would encourage those still harboring fear and doubts about a natural pregnancy and birth to read Laura Shanley’s book ‘Unassisted Childbirth,’ as well as Ina May Gaskin. The majority of births in this world are still treated as a natural and non-medical event.
What brought me to this page initially was doing a search for Alice Park after seeing her biased and uninformed article on vaccinations in the current Time magazine. Sounds to me like she’s getting kickbacks from the drug and medical industries to write her propaganda. When one looks into the truth of the vaccine epidemic there is no supporting evidence to prove the efficacy of “immunizations,” but rather strong anecdotal proof that our improvements in sanitation are to be credited in our virtual elimination of previously fatal infections in industrialized nations.

Nick, current make-up of OB/GYN practitioners has little to do with how we got into the situation in which we find ourselves regarding the medical establishment. It has been a traditionally male dominated field for the last century plus and there is no doubt in my mind men have sought to control what was traditionally (and still is in most cultures) one of the few areas in which women had the ability to be self-sufficient and not reliant upon or subservient to men.

Bottom line is our government and corporations want us to be obedient sheep; it’s good for the economy.

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