“Men take it for granted that their sexual organs can greatly increase in size and then become small again without being ruined. If obstetricians (and women) could understand that women’s genitals have similar abilities, episiotomy and laceration rates in North America might go down overnight.” – Ina May Gaskin, midwife
Ok, sorry folks, sometimes I come outta left field with randomness like that. Mark is used to it. Y’all might not be. So I shall explain… one of my heavily-research topics of interest, of which there are a number because I am a big nerd, is childbirth. Specifically women’s choices in childbirth. And after doing lots’n’lots of research, I have come to the conclusion that far too many women, especially American women, are not well informed on the process of childbirth or their options – or, even, their state’s rules and regulations that limit their options in childbirth. Most women spend more time researching what type of carseat to buy than they do researching HOW to give birth. The kid has to get here before you put them in that carseat, right? And too many women just assume the doctor will handle their labor and delivery. The doctor will get the kid out of the mom, and the mom will safely and lovingly put them in the expensive, installed-by-a-fireman, researched-for-20-hours carseat.
And if our infant and maternal mortality rates, and medical intervention (pitocin, C-section, etc.) rates, and increasing numbers of women who had unsatisfactory, disempowering childbirth experiences (blogs, y’all. read the blogs.) are any indication, it seems that both the quantitative and qualitative evidence show that the doctors can’t guarantee your kid gets out of you with the same safety and love with which you place Junior in that carseat. There are many different reasons for this, ranging from OB/GYNs schedules, to hospital profit margins, to poverty hindering women’s access to health care, nutrition, and educational opportunities. But there is one – yes, ONE – way to combat all of the reasons for our less-than-great childbirth outcomes: Maternal Education.
No, not education as in high school, college, etc. Education about childbirth. Beyond the basics that everyone knows. Baby gets made, baby grows, contractions start, cervix expands, baby comes out. Education about women’s bodies. Beyond knowing where the girly parts are and what they are called. Education that empowers, that challenges the dominant “fear/pain/only doctors really know about birthing babies” mentality that currently overrides women’s intuitive knowledge. Education that we would hope the doctors we trust would give us, but sadly, this isn’t stuff they teach in med school. Exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, to relax the sphincter muscles. Techniques for managing contractions, for working with each contraction to help your child down the birth canal and out into the world. And, most of all, support and encouragement to help women confront their fears, trust their bodies, and be the ones in charge of their own labor and delivery, instead of sitting in the passenger’s seat and letting someone else call the shots.
I don’t believe that every woman should have a homebirth, a midwife, a doula… or anything, anyone, any place they aren’t comfortable with. But I do think women should be educated about ALL of their options. And I think every woman should know just as much about childbirth as the doctors they are trusting to deliver their babies. The information is out there. And it’s free. So when you are 10 cms and pushing with all your might and the doctor decides you need an episiotomy, you can give that doctor a piece of your mind. Your educated and empowered mind. (Although, it’s probably best to have someone there advocating for you, because I think when you’re 10 cms and pushing you aren’t really going to be processing anything the doctor says.)
And you know what? Episiotomy rates ARE dropping. Considerably. “[R]esearchers have found that routine episiotomies don’t prevent these problems after all. Recovery is uncomfortable, and sometimes the surgical incision is more extensive than a natural tear would have been.” – Mayo Clinic
That’s great! Except it does leave me wondering how many other common obstetrical practices maybe aren’t necessary… or, worse, harmful. So do your own research. Make your own decisions. Mama knows best.
Some links to start your on your education journey: