Monday, February 25, 2008

More Thoughts on The Business of Being Born

More thoughts on my experience at BoBB.

Most of the showings that I’ve heard about included a panel discussion afterwards and this showing was no different. It was a pretty diverse group of caregivers – a midwife who works out of an independent birth center, a midwife who works out of one of the local hospitals, a midwife who works as a homebirth midwife and an OBGYN who works out of the big teaching hospital in town. There were quite a number of young, as yet childless women in the audience; I hope that they did get something from the movie and discussion. There were a couple of moments that really struck me – first, the homebirth midwife said something that I’d never thought of quite this way – somehow the discussion had moved to how a transport from home to hospital is handled and how providing seamless care with the OB and midwife working together rather than as adversaries is what we need to work toward but don’t in fact have in most circumstances. Those of us who do a lot of work in homebirth often hear from hospital based caregivers that they know homebirth is unsafe because of the “disasters” they see when a woman transfers in. Of course, the obvious response to that is that they never see what the majority of homebirths look like, since those women never go to the hospital and of course the transfers are complicated or difficult – that’s why they are transfers! But this midwife made the point that as homebirth supporters, we only see the messes from the hospital – and it’s true. We don’t see women planning homebirths who loved their hospital experiences. We see the women who were unhappy, traumatized, discounted, injured in the hospital….it behooves both “camps” to realize that we don’t see each other’s successes very often, if at all.

But the really telling conversation surrounded a statement made by the OBGYN. Now mind you, I do believe that this woman is fairly supportive of unmedicated, uninterfered with birth – I can’t imagine she’d agree to participate in this sort of event if she were a “section everyone of them and be done with it” sort of OB. Early in the discussion, she made the statement that “unmedicated labor and birth are the safest choice for all women and babies”. That’s pretty bold. But one of the younger women called her on it – if you took an oath to do no harm and you believe this, how then can you support women demanding an epidural at 1 cm or demanding a cesarean for no medical reason? And the OB gave the standard blame the woman response – “oh, it’s not because I push for the medication/surgery, it’s the women who are driving this. The women are demanding the epidural in the parking lot, the cesarean on demand. Of course I tell them the risks to having that epidural at 1 cm but they don’t want to hear it.” Given the esteem with which most women hold their OBGYNs, I fully believe that if the OBGYN community (or even individual doctors) were truly committed to reducing the intervention rate, it would come down. And I hear too much from doctors and nurses, read too much on their message boards, to really believe that they “love it” when a woman comes in wanting a natural birth and want to do everything they can to help her achieve one. More than anything, I got the feeling that she was like my 4 year old daughter – she wasn’t lying because she wanted to tell an untruth, she was lying because she really wanted what she was saying to be true.

I was impressed by the honesty of some of the panel members when I asked about the cesarean rate and the difficulties women face when they don’t want to have another cesarean and what they were doing about it. After the short but awkward pause that followed my question, the midwife who works out of the independent birth center pretty much laid it on the line – in this state, if you want a VBAC, you have to stay out of the hospital. The VBAC rate in 2006 in this state was 1%. (I’d bet the majority of those were out-of-hospital, to be honest.) She’s helping by attending VBACs at her birth center. The homebirth midwife is helping by attending VBACs at home. Interestingly enough, the midwife who works out of the hospital and the OBGYN didn’t answer the question. I suppose that is a good indication of what they are doing to help. I can cut the hospital based midwife some slack, she’s probably more than eager to attend VBACs but she may well be constrained by hospital policy – she did talk to me quite a bit afterwards and took my information and was very excited that ICAN had a presence in the community. The OB didn’t stick around to talk to me.

I made some good contacts – a couple of local ones who have pledged some support to the DC BoBB showing and a contact with someone from MANA, who was also very excited about the DC BoBB showing. All asked that I keep them in the loop. Believe me, I will.

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