I just finished reading a good book called “The Birth House” about a woman in Nova Scotia. Based during the times of WWI, it follows a young midwife and the struggles her town has to ensure that women can say how they want to birth their babies. A hot shot doctor comes into town and sets up a maternity care hospital and “cares” for the women. Some of the things he does to help them have an easier birth is give them chloroform so that they do not have to endure the pain of labour, and then he pulls the babies out with forceps. When a woman was so swollen – head to foot – he said she was suffering from “hysterics” and that it was “normal” and she should exercise more and eat less meat. He relied on books and “modern technology” instead of the woman standing in front of him explaining what ails her.
The book is set in a time where a woman has little value. A woman was meant to obey her husband’s every word, absorb any beating, take care of the children (and sometimes there were 10 or more), keep house, tend to the farm animals, and more. Women were not in control of their own bodies. Husbands made decisions on where their wives would give birth. Doctors would shoo husbands out of the room and made decisions for the patient without any input by anyone. Women’s bodies were simply taken over.
What upset me when reading this book is that we are still seeing these things today. Women are still being told what to do, what not to do, how to birth, what to eat, what to drink, when their time is up, when they need pain medication, and sometimes are not being listened to. Studies show that women benefit from having continuous care, supportive environments, and doctors who they trust. Our current modern technology includes electronic fetal monitoring, IV’s, epidurals, and of course, cesarean sections. Each has their own place in certain situations, the problem is when interventions are used in births which don’t warrant any of them. How can we enable women to know that they are in charge of their bodies, and that they can say yes or no to the “modern technology” we have now?
Women need to be given all of the information they need to decide for themselves of how to have their babies. If a woman wants to have a vaginal birth with no interventions, then let her have it. If a woman wants to choose to have a cesarean birth, then let her have it. If a woman is given all of the information for and against both sides, then, and only then she is then able to make an informed decision. Let women choose what they want for their birth and have a doctor who will support them and help them achieve this way of meeting their new baby.
*I say the word doctor a lot during this piece, but in fact, some midwives are the same as the doctors that I depict above. In the profession of midwives and doctors, the care you receive will depend on your individual doctor or midwife.