Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ina May

Whenever the subject of natural childbirth comes up, you can bet there will be some controversy. Unless every single woman you associate with is of the same mindset, there are bound to be differing opinions on the topic. Most of you know I am a huge proponent of midwives, doulas and natural birth (meaning vaginally, no drugs).  But you may not know the woman who inspired me and indeed has inspired women all across the world. Ina May Gaskins is known as the most famous midwife in the world, and she is one of my heroes.
Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that in the 1970's, Ina May and her husband Stephen helped found a commune in Tennessee called "The Farm". Among other things, The Farm became a refuge for women who wanted to have their babies on their own terms, at home, without unnecessary medical interventions. There had been an increasingly alarming rise in c-sections (which still continues to be the case today) and in fact it was considered standard practice for ALL first time mothers to have a forceps delivery. ALL first time mothers, who were basically told that their children would without a doubt have brain damage if forceps were not used. I don't know if you've ever seen forceps, but they are giant metal salad tongs used to pull a baby out by the head. So women were told that practice was safer than letting nature take its course and the mother pushing the baby out on her own. Also, men were not allowed in the delivery rooms, so the fathers were not able to be there to give support to their wives and partners when they needed them the most.  Ina May and her fellow Farm members rebelled against this standard of care and together they formed a group of loving, caring midwives who listened to women and delivered their babies at home in a natural setting. They continue to do so to this day. This group of women has become so respected that mothers travel from around the country, indeed, around the world, to give birth in the most loving and respectful environment that could possible be imagined to welcome children.
I know that there are times when interventions are needed in childbirth, times when those interventions help mom and baby and even save their lives. Medical science can be an amazing thing and I do NOT discount its importance. However, the USA ranks 42nd in the WORLD in terms of how often our mothers and babies survive childbirth. Other countries that we consider inferior in terms of scientific advancement consistently have better survival rates in childbirth. It goes way beyond whether labor hurts or not (it is called labor for a reason!). It goes into awful, terribly shameful losses of lives due to many factors, one of which is unnecessary interventions that snowball into dangerous scenarios for mom and baby. If you are one of the many mothers who has had a c-section, please do not think I am placing any judgement on you or saying that the birth you experienced is any less significant or miraculous than someone elses. What I am saying is that our culture has effectively brainwashed women into being afraid of labor, into not trusting their bodies, into thinking that they cannot do it without drugs and interventions and even surgery. The phrases "failure to progress", "baby too big for your pelvis", " labor has stalled", "taking too long", etc. have become words we hear and accept as scientific reasons for interventions and surgery. In response to those phrases I say "every labor has its own time frame", "my body is made to birth this baby" and "your bright lights and beeping machines have stalled my labor".
I urge you, whether you have children or not, to become educated about the culture of birth in our society. After all, as Ina May says, we were all born of women. The health and well-being of our moms and children should be of concern to everyone.


  1. I really do love this post, except for one small part!

    "Whenever the subject of natural childbirth comes up, you can bet there will be some controversy. Unless every single woman you associate with is of the same mindset, there are bound to be differing opinions on the topic."

    You and I have differing opinions, but I have never felt like it was controversial when we've shared them. BUT I do get what you mean!!!

    Although I was ok with pain meds (I tried for awhile without them and eventually just threw the red flag!), I REALLY wanted a vaginal birth. I tried so freaking hard. The doctors and nurses tried so freaking hard to help me, but alas it did not work. When the baby finally arrived, via c-section, you could see on the crown of her head and on her forehead where she kept bumping my bones. So it means even she was trying her hardest!!!

    I'm glad that we are all fortunate enough to make our own labor decisions, well hopefully we are! My hospitals have been so amazing in satisfying my wishes and I pray that all women feel that way. I cannot imagine being forced in to a decision!!!

    Can't wait to hear about the babies coming! Good luck!!!

  2. Emily I totally get where you are coming from. Each birth, even with the same mom, is different. As long as women are being supported and in charge of their own decisions then that is what matters. Obviously your situation is unique and you did what needed to be done. My concern is for women who are not supported or are misled into thinking they are incapable. And you and I can always discuss amicably!

  3. Yeah, I can't imagine a doctor/husband/whoever saying I HAD to have a surgery. It was very much a discussion. Same with the way a woman decides to feed her child. My BIGGEST supporter in pregnancy, birth, feeding, raising babies was and is my husband. He has always let me me the one to make decisions around my body. It seems as though Russell is the same way. I have to think we are two lucky gals!

  4. Yes ma'am we are! Unfortunately, there are plenty of women who are operating and making decisions based on the best information they have which is frequently biased. There are so many doctors who are much more concerned with their bottom line than with the woman being fully educated. It isn't always an obvious pressure as it is a subversive pressure with statements that aren't based in fact that scare women into making rushed decisions. Women truly think they are doing what is best for themselves and their babies.