As part of training for eventual “Father of the Year” status and in preparation for the storming of my wife’s inner thighs, I have begun watching a few DVDs about the intricacies of childbirth.
Not all of the DVDs are tutorials, though the very first one we watched was, and featured an obnoxious woman who fancied herself a comedienne. With every nugget of information she parceled out about the shape of the inside of my wife’s vagina, she performed an excruciating little skit that was – and I don’t speak from experience – more painful than labor. I don’t want to speak for my wife, but can we please keep any and all attempts at laughter away from her genitals?
Last night we took a breather from Gilda Radner’s Guide to Reproduction and moved on to The Business of Being Born, a documentary exploring the world of midwifery and why if you deliver your baby in the hospital you’re a slave to the system and the reason for global warming.
Produced by Ricki Lake – and featuring a whole lot more of her naked body than I wanted to see – the documentary is an enlightening piece of propaganda. It’s designed to frighten prospective mothers away from the racket that is the hospital system of pre-natal care, nudging their dollars away from the “business” of hospitals towards the “what’s another word for business that means the same thing since midwives aren’t free either” of home-birth.
If you haven’t noticed, I’m being plenty snarky, but the film wasn’t all bad. There was a lot of information about the ways the conventions of childbirth have evolved over the past 100 years, and there was tons sexy footage of slimy babies emerging from vaginas and sliding into inflatable swimming pools.
Honestly, while I don’t begrudge anyone their right to give birth with a midwife while in the comfort of their home, the thought of installing a portable plastic pool in the middle of my living room and then spending the next 4-24 hours comforting my wife as she howls and screams and begs me to take her to the hospital because she’s changed her mind does not appeal to me. Obviously, a birthing mother will be in pain wherever she goes through labor, but I’m not super keen on the idea of my home becoming a repository for all the memories of the experience, good and bad. Sure, sure it’s natural and primal and amazing and ecstatic and I get that. But let’s keep the placenta off my kitchen floor, okay?
One of the featured couples even allows their toddler to hang around and witness the whole thing; the kid is totally oblivious – I mean, he’s not so oblivious that he won’t be scarred for life by witnessing his mother writhing in pain before depositing a living creature into their swimming pool – but oblivious enough that he’s tapping his mom on the arm and probably demanding a juice box, just as his little sibling is sliding out of her uterus into the refreshing pool of water that’s sitting in from of their television.
Despite all the joking, my problem is not with home birth itself. If you’re down with the doula and the drug-free and the pure, natural experience, pain and all, more power to you. I’m impressed. And if my wife were interested, I’d support her every step of the way (thankfully, she is more interested in not having a stroke from the pain than in communing with Gaia the earth goddess while she births our son). My problem is with the style of the documentary itself. It is incredibly, almost offensively one-sided. It essentially condemns anyone who would choose a hospital over their home, and seems to want to force an apology out of anyone who’s ever had a C-section. Every hospital scene is bathed in dark tones and sound-tracked with foreboding music; every statistic is skewed towards promoting the safety of home birth (of course they do things differently overseas, their healthcare systems are entirely different from ours!) and degrading the hospital experience; and every doctor who recommends a C-section is depicted as an impatient, uncaring cog in heartless machine bent on nothing more than turning over beds and upping their delivery rate.
Yes, there are women out there who ape celebrities with their designer births, opting for elective C-sections at their own schedules and treating childbirth as little more than plastic surgery. Yes, there are surely doctors out there who push pregnant mothers away from their initial birth-plans and use their chilly expertise to pressure women into using more drugs than they wish, and yes, sometimes C-sections are made necessary not by the health of the baby or the mother but by the very machinations doctors use to prevent any such issues.
But just because a woman doesn’t deliver vaginally, or chooses to receive an epidural, does not mean that she will not bond with her child, or is a callow, materialistic wench disinterested in the natural joys of the birth experience. And let’s be honest – elective C-sections are for rich celebrities; they’re not exactly an epidemic in the fly-over states.
Many of the talking heads in the film are bullies, much of the footage of early-20th century procedures is irrelevant and included only to promote fear and anxiety, and there is little, if any, indication of the benefits – or even the potential for any positives – that can come with delivering in a hospital.
I was never bored by the film, and was happy to learn more about the world of midwifery and home births. But the subject demands a more even-handed approach. There are doctors out there who actually care about their patients and aren’t interested in railroading them into a more convenient birth plan. There are women out there who’ve had wonderful experiences giving birth in a delivery room, and women who’ve had C-sections who didn’t immediately grow disinterested in their child due to a lack of endorphins during the birthing process.
I mean, come on. It takes years for that disinterest to materialize.
Just ask my mom.