I had the pleasure of seeing Ina May Gaskin speak last year. She was inspirational and living proof how doing what you love and believe in makes you glow from the inside out. Gaskin is a midwife, arguably the most famous one, and her life's work has educated and empowered so many women on the beauty of natural birth.
Cue the anger of the women who had c-sections. Let's not get angry though; let's discuss. I had an emergency c-section. This isn't about when a cesarean is needed. This is about trusting our ability. This is about how we are misled because information out there is wrong. This is about taking back birth. And a midwife like Ina May can help us. Gaskin was given the Right Livelihood Award and is the first midwife to receive what is called the alternative Nobel Prize. Her acceptance speech was eye-opening as she talks about the rising numbers of c-sections and along with it the rising maternal death rates. This is why the topic of birth matters -- because we can die.
Ina May mentions how the c-section rates are rising beyond what the World Health Organization recommends. I can't help but think that we tend to fall back on technology when we don't necessarily need to. Yes, technology is amazing and it may have saved my and my twins' lives when I was having them, but that is and should be a rare occurrence. As she says, "As cesarean rates increase, rates of maternal death and serious injury rise as well, and women’s fears of birth increase." She goes on to mention how in Brazil the c-section rate is 95 percent because of the fear women and doctors have of birth. Ninety-five percent!
Many people don't understand why I care if a woman gets a c-section or not -- they question anyone who is on this 'crusade' to talk about natural birth. The reason I care is because women are being mistreated during pregnancy and birth, and I feel it's a woman's right not to be mistreated. I'm not judging. This isn't at all about that. This is about looking forward (not in the past) and helping women have the rights we deserve.
A breech birth doesn't have to mean c-section. Multiples can be born naturally. Babies can be maneuvered in the womb so the position is more favorable. These are facts.
But over the years we as a society have grown to not believe in a woman's ability to birth. That is an injustice. There was a time when midwives were considered witches and instead doctors pulled from their mothers’ bodies with forceps. It was believed that "birth was necessarily a brutal and bloody affair and that human females actually represented a serious failure on the part of nature -- one that could only be remedied by routine use of technology and medication," says Gaskin. And while so many women don't want to know the reality of all of this, we have to question why? Why not educate yourself and learn all you can from many on what is one of the most important days of your life -- the birth of your child? You deserve the best experience. We think our doctors are going to guide us properly. And yes, our doctors should be. But some (not all) are not. So we have to be proactive. And help other moms be proactive.
Gaskin talks about her work on the Farm where she and many midwives deliver babies:
From the beginning of the Farm Midwifery Center, my colleagues and I placed women’s needs at the center of our policy-making and found that this way of organizing care yielded huge benefits for our babies as well as their mothers. We learned how to prevent complications by providing good antenatal care and we developed practical methods for preventing unnecessary cesareans and inductions of labor.
It's this knowledge that she wants to share with obstetricians. She wants midwives and doctors to work together to bring down the soaring c-section rates, and she is also calling on pop culture to stop perpetuating the childbirth fear, depicting birth as a frightening and all pain for the mother. As she says, "Popular culture, the profit motive, fear, prudery, and ignorance all play a role and should be addressed."
The facts on mothers dying with greater frequency the more c-sections there are should be cause for alarm:
Simply put, as rates rise beyond 15-20%, more women die from complications such as pulmonary embolism, infection, hemorrhage, and a sharp increase in placental complications in subsequent pregnancies. None of the countries with the highest cesarean rates can report on low maternal death rates. This is especially true of the U.S., where women now face at least twice the chance of dying from pregnancy-related causes as their mothers did. In California, between 1996 and 2006, the maternal death rate tripled, with much of the increase being attributed to an excess of cesareans.
So what we can do? Because we have to do something. We shouldn't be dying from complications from childbirth in this day and age. It's why I write about it whenever I can. Ina May suggests we learn about and work to encourage hospitals to implement the 10 Steps to Optimal Maternity Services. We need more midwives. More doulas. We need insurance that covers this care. We need OBGYNs to work in harmony with midwives and doulas. We need to do our own research. We need to empower ourselves.
This isn't a quest to bash anyone who had a c-section -- this is a quest to reduce maternal deaths, to own our right to birth naturally if we can. To stop the injustice against women. To better our medical care.
Are you passionate about empowering women when it comes to birth and their bodies? Do you think we need to worry about the c-section epidemic?