One of the particular blessings of spring is Mother's Day. Most countries including the U.S., Australia, Canada and India celebrate Mother's Day. In the U.S. this year, it falls on May 8, coincidentally the same day Mother's Day was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. Since then people across the world have been celebrating Mother's Day with joy and devotion. More than half of APPPAH's members are mothers, not only of their own children, but also in blended families as stepmothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers, or as single mothers. On behalf of APPPAH, I honor and thank mothers everywhere for the gift of life and nurture that they provide. Without them we would not exist, nor would we thrive!
In honoring mothers, I want to name a challenge that they face during childbirth. Childbirth has been medicalized, resulting in its movement away from homes, midwives, and sacred birthing sites into hospitals that make liberal use of technology. This move was ostensibly done to provide women with the safest births possible, but it was not accomplished without hazards, nor does it appear to provide more safety. Ninety-nine percent of American mothers now give birth in hospitals, in case "anything goes wrong," or for the sake of convenience—although as many as thirty percent of mothers would like to give birth in the safety and intimacy of their own homes, or in alternative birthing centers, but are too frightened by warnings from obstetrical medicine. It's a fear-based system, constantly reminding consumers that childbirth is dangerous and needs to have access to technology. Fear breeds tension, tension fosters compliance, and compliance inhibits natural birth. Michel Odent aptly observes that "prenatal care" has become "prenatal scare."
Is the U.S. obstetric system providing more safety? Hardly. Obstetrician Marsden Wagner reports that we have a higher maternal mortality rate than twenty-eight other countries, that the rate has been increasing for over twenty years, and even worse, that over half of maternal deaths can be prevented. In addition, studies show that between 33 and 64 percent of mothers are traumatized by giving birth. The reason is clear to medical researchers and many midwives, but is not well known or readily accepted by the general public or obstetrical medicine. Women most likely to be traumatized by childbirth are those who prefer natural birth, meaning birth without drugs or surgery. Women least likely to be traumatized are those who prefer hospital birth, drugs, and surgery because they provide (apparent) safety, freedom from pain, and scheduling convenience for mothers and doctors. Although these particular women may not be traumatized, the same cannot be said for their babies. Obstetrical medicine should be encouraged and challenged to replicate the studies that have been done, to confirm the findings for themselves, and to practice technological restraint. In the meantime, discretion is warranted. References can be obtained from www.emersonbirthrx.com. Solutions will be discussed in a future letter.
I honor all mothers and wish the very best for women who give birth.
In your service,
William R. Emerson, PhD