Informal Feminism

{August 21, 2011}   The Business of Being Born and The Medicalization of the Birthing Process

I watched a very interesting documentary the other day called The Business of Being Born. This film was about the process of women giving birth in North America. This documentary highlighted some of the differences between hospital birth and home birth. It talked in depth about the medicalization of the birthing industry in North America, where women are taught not to trust their bodies. It became clear in this documentary that women are no longer recognized as the authority on giving birth.

It was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that the power shifted from midwives to doctors. More and more births began to take place at the hospital and less and less at home. Midwives were made to seem under qualified by medical standards, despite years of training and shared knowledge. The reality is that doctors were not trained in giving birth and many were put in the position of assisting a birth without ever having any training in process of giving birth. This lead to barbaric practices such as strapping women to gurneys, blinding them during the birthing process, and using excessive quantities of drugs without knowledge of the side effects. By the 1950’s the majority of births were taking place in hospitals and those who sought out midwives were seen as crazy. Women were trained to believe that they did not know their own bodies and not to trust what it was telling them.

In most other developed countries midwives are taking care of the majority of births with high rates of success and lower rates of issues taking place during the birth. These women see themselves as being a helpmate to their clients, trusting that these women’s bodies know how to birth a child. They are highly trained and skilled in what to do in case of emergency and always have a transportation plan in place, in case something goes so wrong they need to get to a hospital. Midwives tend to have high rates of success with the birthing process because of this acceptance of a women’s body. They are working with the natural process not trying to work against or around it. In a hospital there are high rates of induction because there is a time line of how long your birth is supposed to go on for.

In a hospital there is a higher chance of c-section, in North America the rates are almost half of all hospital births end in c-section. This is because they seem to be asking for complications. They have problems often because of the drugs that they use for induction of the birthing process. They also almost always position a woman lying of her back with her legs in the air, which is a really good position for the doctor but it actually helps to make the pelvis smaller for the woman. This means that it is harder for the child to pass through the birth canal. In the documentary they interviewed several OB-GYN’s and often they were of the opinion that women should have a birth at home or with a midwife if they seemed at low risk of complications. The scary thing about the c-section ratio is that it is major surgery that is underplayed to the female population, to the point that women are now volunteering to have them done. They can have large side effects because it is such a major surgery. The midwife’s interviewed in the film did not have to perform a c-section until their 187th birth in their practice and the second c-section was at the 317th, this shows how skewed the c-section statistics are in North America.

The portrayals of the women giving birth in this film were interesting. Most of the portrayals of women in birth I have seen are ones that highlight the pain and struggle of birth. In the women in this film while they were going through the pain of childbirth and it is a hard process but they seem calmer because they have the opportunities to do what makes them comfortable. Many of the women are shown walking around and then giving birth in a squatting position, which is a more natural birthing position. Most of them even help guide their child out of them. Once done they have instant bonding because of the oxytocin that is released in their brains and not clouded by the drugs they pump into you in the more recent incarnations of child birth. These women seemed to take strength from having their child at home and when it was done they got the highest natural high you can get when their brain was flooded with love hormones. It was nice to see a version of childbirth where the women weren’t afraid of what was happening to them.

It was interesting to see the contrast between hospital birth and home birth. One comes across as being a place where a woman’s instincts are no longer trusted; the other seems to be giving women a chance to access knowledge from other women and to trust their own bodies to do what it is designed to do. The hospitalization of childbirth can be seen as another way to strip women of power over their own body. Women are no longer trusted to know how to birth a child and are instead instilled with fear about the process. It alienates us from our own bodies and gives control to a male dominated industry.


Marnie says:

I thought this was an excellent post…you are very well informed in this subject and women of your generation I hope are seeking out midwives. It just seemd natural.

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