As many of my friends now know, I have been studying to become a certified labor doula. I have always had a very strong interest in childbirth and now that some of my friends are thinking of having babies, my best friend strongly encouraged me to get my certification, telling me it would mean a lot to her to have me there at her birth. So, here I am... studying up on all things birth related. The more I study, the more I realize that birth is a HUGE feminist issue. Particularly in the United States. We spend more on health care than any other country in the world, yet the World Health Organization has called our infant and maternal mortality rates appalling. They are the highest in the developed world. There are several factors to these rates including poor prenatal care for women of poorer backgrounds, maternal obesity and the rising rate of c-sections. According to the WHO c-section rates should be around 10-15%, but in the US they are now around 35% with some parts of the country having rates as high as 80%.
For me, the big issue is information. Many American women are entirely uninformed about the stages of birth, the risks associated with common interventions and c-sections and even the risks involved with choosing not to breastfeed. (I will elaborate more on these things in a later post.)
However, another HUGE issue is the way our culture (particularly pop culture) portrays childbirth as something to be feared. Enter Lifetime Television
They have a new show "One Born Every Minute," and naturally, they promote it with pictures of women, sweating in hospital beds, terrified out of their minds. (bonus: the dads on the commercials are DOOFUSES and the moms are total nags!! hurray sitcom-esque gender roles!!)
On top of that, a clip from a recent episode was brought to my attention today via Jezebel.com. CLICK HERE to see the clip. Basically, it uses editing and bed music, to make a couple who has chosen to have a natural birth (assisted by a doula) look like weird crazies who are ignoring medical advice willy-nilly and putting their baby at risk. The nurse is suggesting that the mother agree to have an internal monitor. Internal monitors are wires placed inside the woman... and onto the baby's scalp. This can lead to infections, Premature Rupture of Membranes (PROM) and other complications which can lead to further interventions, fetal distress and/or a c-section. Internal monitors are fairly routine, but if a mother is trying to have a labor in which harm to baby and chance of c-section is reduced, it is entirely reasonable to refuse internal monitoring. Especially considering many birthing professionals don't find it to be more accurate than external monitoring of fetal heart tones. Patients are always allowed to refuse, but the nurse flat out insinuates that the couple is insane for resisting her suggestion.
Lifetime is supposed to be a network for women. They put out movies telling stories of victims of abuse, breast cancer survivors, moms who fight to protect their children... and yet they seek to mock women's birth choices. This is not acceptable. If a network wants to devote themselves to women and their empowerment, they cannot caricature a woman as foolish or weird if she chooses a less conventional birth plan.
I went to Lifetime's website and was unable to find an email address where I could send an email. I did, however find a physical address and phone number: