The power struggle and wrapping my head around it...

Ayden Ray Yawn
Originally uploaded by jeremy_ton
I was raised in a culture where feminists seemed to think the last thing a woman should strive for is having babies. Instead, they battled for women to have the right to access birth control and abortion, they battled for equal employment opportunities and wage equity. I’m not sure many of them really took a close look at what was happening in labor and delivery rooms. Before I became a mother myself, I was clueless to what struggles were taking place between birthing women and some of the medical world.

I came across this post on Lisa Barrett’s blog yesterday. I must say I cringed reading it and my fists balled up more than once. In our modern society, women are still being abused in one of their most vulnerable moments, birth. What gives any doctor the right to judge why a woman chooses to have children, and why she chooses to give birth naturally? How can we tolerate such abuse? In our century, I find it incredulous that doctors still want to “teach women a lesson” for getting “knocked-up” or worse, for wanting a “natural birth” or a VBAC.

On the other hand, doctors in BC are being scrutinized today. A recent study by the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health shows that way too many women end up with a caesarean that is most probably unnecessary as a result of the way doctors examine possible complications such as shoulder dystocia and respond to them. The Vancouver Sun wrote a piece about the study today and Radio Canada featured the study in a short piece on the local news tonight. As Amy Romano writes on her blog, more and more medical research is becoming available to the “lay” audience via the Internet. I think we are on the verge of a deep transformation of the relationship between doctors and their patients. As people start realizing some of the disturbing trends in modern care, chances are they will also demand more accountability.

On the one hand, more and more women want to be in charge, in control of their births, they want to be the ones making the decisions and they trust their bodies enough to try and go “natural”. On the other side, a handful of fearful doctors seem to feel threatened in their positions of power. They want to “deliver” babies, at whatever cost for the woman. Some fight with all their might against the return of midwifery (even if studies have shown over and over that the midwifery model of care brings about safer outcomes in births for both women and their children). Some others wish they could still knock-out patients with anaesthesia to yank babies out of their bodies without hearing any moans, grunts or other inappropriate sounds women seem so intent to make in this very animal and disorderly business of birth. For these doctors, technology should help us all but erase completely the process of birth. Womanly things are gross: you should not be talking about menstrual blood, about sexual arousal, about orgasm or about the mess around birth: blood, guts, tears and sweat. Way too many shameful bodily functions involved!!! 

So if you were that kind of doctor, would you feel threatened in your all-mighty position to decide life and death when some silly women actually start demanding natural births, un-medicated births or worse homebirths? Would you want to “teach them a lesson” if ever you came across one such woman in your care? Would you crank the pitocin up just a bit so her baby went in distress and she had to be wheeled to the OR? (“ooops”!) Would you threaten her with a big/dead baby to get her to accept an induction? Yes, maybe you would... But hopefully, you may turn out to be one of the good doctors, one who remembers the Hippocratic Oath, or so I hope for the woman who comes to you deep in labour, vulnerable, yet at the height of her mighty power to give life. Perhaps you will step back and give her the space to dance, moan, grunt, rock naked and push when she feels the urge. Perhaps you will help her on her journey, support her when she gets tired and cranky, tell her she’s doing a great job as you help her birth her child without ever imposing your own greed for power upon her. Because many of these women will tell you: birth is not only about having a healthy baby.

2 Responses so far.

  1. This is so wonderfully written! I especially LOVE this
    "for the woman who comes to you deep in labour, vulnerable, yet at the height of her mighty power to give life"
    Very very true, unfortunately, I have been witness to these nasty MD's... pushing Pit till there is a "hint" of distress then c/s it is...because the baby will die yet is vigorous and pink at birth. I have seen moms come in for induction or even scheduled C/S for "big" babies that aren't even 7lbs!
    What disturbs me most lately is the trend toward the expectation of an epidural...if not coming from the mother then an encouragement from nurses. There are some who wish to have all the patients on epidurals and pit while they monitor them from the desk.
    It sickens me because I "grew up" in OB without monitors and bedside nursing is sometimes a lost art.

  2. Very true, both my grandmother and my mother are nurses and they say that less and less time is spent "with" patients... My mom worked with terminal cancer and AIDS patients, she was one of the only nurses who'd take the job and stay with the patients, often holding their hands as they passed away... Life and death are such vulnerable moments, we really need to brig back some humanity in the way we treat people!

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