Image from Lifetime's "Born In The Wild"

Image from Lifetime’s “Born In The Wild”

Born In The Wild, Lifetime’s new birth show depicting women giving birth in the wilderness, shows the most extreme birthing location possible in its first episode. Most women would not choose to give birth in the depths of the Alaskan woods, but many women are looking for alternatives to the kinds of births that typically occur in many hospitals today. Well-informed expectant parents are becoming more aware of the problems in the American maternity care system, largely under the obstetrical model of care, and are seeking safe, personalized options for care that respect women’s ability, physically and emotionally, to give birth. ABC’s show Nightline explores some of these more mother-friendly options that women are choosing, but how many women actually have access to these options? The answer is: not many.

The Nightline story states:

Practicing OBGYN and ABC News contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton said, while extreme, more women are taking control of their labor and delivery.

 

“I think there’s no question we’re certainly hearing a lot more about alternative births,” Ashton said. “I think in large measure that comes because women are growing more and more dissatisfied with what’s being offered by their doctor, by their board certified OB or even in some cases by a certified nurse midwife, and it’s pushing them to seek out these more extreme birthing experiences.”

In addition to the extreme birth from Born In the Wild, the ABC story highlights a home birth attended by midwives, a family centered cesarean surgery which takes place in a hospital operating room, and a birth in a hospital, attended by midwives, in which the mother uses nitrous oxide as pain relief. Let’s be very clear – there is a huge difference in safety between pushing one’s baby out in a tent 150 miles from the nearest hospital and choosing to be attended by hospital-based midwives while birthing without an epidural. One is an extreme choice, and the other is not. In many other countries which have better birth outcomes than we do in the United States, home birth is not viewed as an extreme choice either. And, women taking control of their labor and delivery is not extreme; the control should never be taken from women in the first place. The fact that the doctor infers women’s wanting to maintain control is extreme demonstrates the heart of the problem women face in the medical maternity system.

We have been acculturated to believe that women cannot give birth without the bells and whistles associated with typical hospital birth and without doctors telling us what to do, but women can; and they can do it safely. Most women want to have the safety of a being attended by trained caregivers, which includes both midwives and doctors. They want the security of access to additional care if things don’t go as planned or there is an emergency. They want to be treated with respect and have their needs and wishes honored. Many want to attempt unmedicated birth and to breastfeed their babies. What they don’t want is to be treated like a piece of meat that is poked by needles, prodded in their private parts, pushed along to labor on the clock, and cut into if they don’t birth on the hospital’s or caregiver’s schedule. These are not unreasonable desires. These needs and wants could be met should the medical establishment make the choice to do so.

A handful of hospitals and care givers around the country provide respectful, evidence-based maternity care that accommodates the values, needs, and desires of the families they serve. These few forward-thinking hospitals, doctors, and midwives honor the social contract at the heart of medical maternity care; they strive to treat birthing women as individuals who have unique needs that can be addressed while maintaining safety for both mother and child, in exchange for the trust that expectant parents place in them and the money they pay to them. Sadly, these hospitals are few and far between; out of the reach of the majority of women who would like to use such a place to receive their maternity care.

This is an opportunity and a call to action for doctors, midwives, nurses, and hospital administrators. That a fairly well-balanced story was presented by Nightline on mainstream media demonstrates the wellspring of women searching for respectful, evidence-based, low-intervention care. Maternity care providers need to be open-minded, innovative, and implement practices that answer the needs of the market they seek to serve. Women in every community are seeking places where they will be respected and can have a low intervention birth and have access to stepped-up care should they require it. Which hospitals, doctors, and midwives will answer the call?

 

Michal Klau-Stevens is The Birth Lady.  She is the creator of the Mastering Maternity™ system, a program that helps childbearing women confidently approach pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, early parenting, and navigating the maternity healthcare system.  She is a maternity consultant, pregnancy coach, consumer expert on maternity care issues, Past President of BirthNetwork National, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and mother.  Her website is TheBirthLady.INFO. Find her on Facebook at The Birth Lady page!

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