So, the most famous healthcare blogger in town and I went to see Ricki Lake’s documentary “The Business of Being Born.” It was awesome and made midwives seem like the most cool women on the face of the planet. We got to watch a lot of natural childbirths, which, for those of you unfamiliar with childbirth, seems to require a lot of walking around, grunting, squatting, and naked men rubbing your back and holding you while you scream.
Now, normally, I’m all for naked men, but I have to say–naked man time is supposed to be fun time. If there’s any chance I might need you to say “Hey, wait, now’s the time for us to get to the hospital, immediately!” I don’t want to have to wait around while you play “Where’s my underwear?”
When I’m having a natural birth, you have your jacket on and your car keys in one hand. You can rub my back with the other hand and I will feel much more secure leaning against you in the birthing tub if I can see that your shoes are on in case any sprinting to the sidwalk to motion the paramedics in needs to be done.
But, other than the fathers’ strange propensity to take off their clothes, watching women give birth in their own homes was just amazing. This one woman was like “grunt” “groan” “wiggle wiggle wiggle” and then “grunt” and out popped her baby. Another woman was all just crouching on the kitchen floor, also grunting when, flop, out came her baby right on the kitchen floor. Amazing.
But that’s not what I want to talk to you about. Instead, I want to talk about Twilight Sleep, which is how many of our mothers were born and maybe even some of us. I did not know anything about this. I really thought it was what it sounded like, a light sedation that kept you kind of woozy and pain free while your husband was out in the waiting room passing out cigars and you both waited for the doctor to bring you the news that the baby had been born. And I assumed it feel out of favor because the women couldn’t help push or something.
America, during twilight sleep, women went bat-shit crazy from the drugs and the pain. They hurt their heads (and so women’s heads were wrapped in large gauzy Q-tip looking arrangements). They thrashed around and tried to claw at the doctors and so they were strapped to their gurneys, sometimes for days, in their own piss and shit.
Twilight sleep didn’t supress pain; it suppressed the memory of pain. So the doctors could just do whatever and the women would not remember it and since it was ‘indecent’ for new fathers to be there, there was no one with the woman to advocate for her. Plus, and this is the part that just creeps me out, they used lamb’s wool on the restraints because it didn’t leave bruises and so the husbands stopped seeing bruises and stopped asking questions about what was being done to their wives.
The whole thing makes me want to puke. Here are women being tortured and given a drug so they can’t recall it and the people most likely to protect them–their husbands–aren’t allowed in the birthing process so that they don’t cause trouble.
On the ride home, Rachel and I were talking about why childbirth isn’t more of a feminist issue. In the movie, they talked about how we have almost third-world levels of mother and infant mortality and how that’s directly tied to how we do birth in this country, the medicines that are administered during labor, and the rush to c-section a woman just because she’s not progressing fast enough to suit the doctor.
I think it’s tough. It is a feminist issue, of course. Women getting dicked around by the system is always a feminist issue.
But it’s a fine line. Individual women do a lot of things for a lot of reasons and, even if we know that most c-sections are medically unnecessary, we have to be careful not to judge women who’ve had them. They were making the best choice they could as to what was best for them and their babies with the information that they had.
But we need to reduce the number of c-sections and the number of chemically aided births in this country, because we know those kill women and babies.
We need birthing processes that, regardless of whether they take place in the home or the hospital, respect women’s right to control what happens to our bodies.
That was another thing that bothered me about one of the doctors. He never referred to the obviously distressed and scared women in front of him by her name. He kept calling her “mommy.” I swear, I don’t understand how she didn’t just kick him in the face. Here she was trying to get information about what was happening to her (they were taking her in for a c-section, but it was unclear–apparently even to her–why) and he’s all “Now Mommy just needs to calm down.”
It’d be interesting to go back and watch the movie with that in mind, because my impression is that the “good” medical professionals all called women by their names and the “problem” professionals were all “mommy” or “the patient.”
Anyway, the whole thing with the twilight sleep just bothers me to no end. It’s like here you have the perfect example of how the System (coughPatriarchycough) hurts folks. You have midwives, who’ve been helping women birth babies for generations, kicked to the side because they’re supposedly stupid and superstitious and the doctors in the hospitals know best. And women go to these doctors and are given drugs and strapped to gurneys like they’re having psychotic breaks, because, you know, women are teh crazy anyway and it’s easier for the doctor. And the people who would know that something wasn’t right–husbands and other family members–are kept out of the process because “men just can’t handle it” or “it’s improper for you to be in there.”