To she who loves us before she meets us. Inscription on the Monumento a la Madre in Ciudad de Mexico.
The story of how women birth babies in this country has many chapters. In brief, it is a story that begins with essentially all births being attended to by midwives from various traditions in women’s homes or designated places and leads to the current paradigm of almost all births being managed according to a pathology-oriented medical model in hospitals.
The change was effected by the professionalization of obstetrics at the end of the 1800s; the advent of charity hospitals that lured women with the promise of improved care but essentially were intended as training grounds for a profession that had no actual experience–and that resulted in a significant rise in maternal and infant mortality; and the influence of physicians who changed labor and delivery from a natural process to one that required the routine use of a series of interventions. By the 1940s, the vast majority of births took place in hospitals. This trajectory was not the same in most other industrialized countries.
The introduction of “twilight sleep” which used morphine and scopolamine defined mid-20th century birth. The combination of these drugs left women powerless, with no memory of their labor or delivery. Problems associated with this cocktail led to its discontinuation but gave rise to other substituted interventions.
The late 1960s and 1970s saw a counter movement with women recreating options for more natural births. This resuscitated the profession of midwifery and ushered in the establishment of free-standing birth centers, more comfortable birthing rooms in hospitals and even expanded possibilities for women to deliver their babies back in the sanctity of their own homes. However, the persistent culturally held belief system that medically guided births are safer and the seduction of pain-free birth–promised now by the wide-spread use of epidurals–has maintained the predominance of a medical model. A midwifery model of care is still marginalized–though it is quite alive and kicking.
In Attacking the Causes of Obesity, Really?, I discuss how I believe some very powerful influences regarding our current health situation including the weight problem have been seriously overlooked. To me, dismissing the consequences of dissociating women from the birth of their children is a glaring oversight. It seems rather obvious that as women were lulled into surrendering their most primal potent power that there would be other negative sequelae. Try not to interpret this on a personal level but rather on the larger societal level where these insidious changes occur.
Birth is a very divinely tuned natural process where a precise cascade of hormones allows for a woman to orchestrate the birth of her baby. It benefits from attendant security, guidance, and support. Right after a normal delivery, a woman is alert and aware, able to hold, bond, nurse and care for her infant. Imagine, coming out of an induced stupor to find yourself alone with no baby to immediately see–let alone to hold. With medications and fear impeding the ability to breastfeed, it is also no coincidence that formula feeding quickly obliterated nursing at the same time that these interventions were implemented. This period of medically controlled birth was also marked by weight gain fear being instilled in women and the withholding of food during labor. Those practices are still the norm today.
Over the course of a few decades in this country, we abruptly dissolved the innate wisdom of women on how to trust their instincts in the care and feeding of their young. Ironically, it happened just as women were gaining other rights. It has now been about seventy years since that big SNAP, CRACKLE and ultimate POP of male-dominated modern obstetrics felled the tree that rooted women to their maternal wisdom. Our infant and maternal maternity rates are abominably high–along with our C-Section rates, and, our breastfeeding rates are pathetically low. Chronic illnesses are common and increasing in our children.
With a few generations of women now lacking communal wisdom and thereby, confidence in their ability to give birth; and, with doctors who are not trained in nutrition and the motherly art of breastfeeding conducting our obstetric and pediatric care, is it any wonder that we no longer know what to do? That we no longer know how to cook and prepare real food for our children, that drugs are offered like candy, that a huge percentage of our infants and young children have hardly ingested a morsel of non-processed or non-adulterated food and, that we barely know and trust how to nourish our own selves?
In that prior post, I state that I want to be an impressive expert–a paid one. Here, I will boldly lay claim to my area of expertise. I have had the very unique experience of providing nutrition care in clinical and community settings for almost thirty years. In my next post, I will share my observations and experiences.
Until then, as always, I welcome your thoughts and comments. And, I share my deep gratitude for all the incredible midwives, many of whom I know personally, some who have birthed my own children, others who are out there fighting for the rights of women and children on a daily basis.
A special thank you to my midwife Helena who brought me boxes of organic vegetables the summer I was pregnant with my daughter. And to Leslie and Jennifer.
Please check out BirthNet and Every Mother Counts.
In health, Elyn
My Plate Haiku
Craving for pickles
And German chocolate cake
My friend is pregnant. By Gretchen