Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Trouble with Expecations

I think that what makes me saddest about working in a labor and delivery unit under the medical model is the fact that people come in with expectations that we actually meet every day. Why on earth would that make me sad?
Well, because their expectations are a symptom of the profound disconnect that women in our (American) culture experience when it comes to their bodies, their babies and their births.
This hit home for me as I walked out of the hospital on Saturday morning and passed the father of one of the babies whose birth I attended the night before. He smiled and mentioned to the person he was talking to on his cell phone that he "Just seen the nurse..." as he waved to me with the same hand that was holding a cigarette. As he walked away from me, I thought of the mother of his baby, alone upstairs eating a turkey sandwich, waiting to be moved to her room on the postpartum floor and her baby which had been whisked away to the nursery ("to recovery") less than an hour after the birth. As far as just about anybody else was concerned, all was just as it should be. And yet, it just seemed so not right to someone like me, who knows what it is like to fall asleep in your own, clean, familiar bed with your new baby.
Birth is a time of loss and a time of gain. A time of separation and a time of connection. When a woman feels the loss (there is no longer a baby or placenta inside her womb) and does not get to experience the gain (no baby present immediately postpartum or soon after), all is not right with the world. It is simply not the way we are intended to spend the first, precious hours after the birth. Certainly, there are times when the baby or the mother's condition is too tenacious for this bonding to be the priority, but those cases are rare. Much more rare than we are led to believe by the medical model. The truth is that with every induction, with every epidural and every dose of narcotic there is a price. What makes me sad is not that women avail themselves of these medical interventions. It is rather the fact that women are not informed of the price that most likely will come with the choice they make if they do avail themselves of medical interventions in childbirth. And that is an affront to the most basic rights of women.

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