I have a lot of comments swirling around in my head about this discussion, but they will have to wait for another post...Anyway, here's the transcript.
The Freebirth Movement:
To The Contrary
October 19, 2007
Host Bonnie Erbe: The latest trend in birthing is women delivering babies unassisted and at home. That means no hospitals, no drugs, no doctors. Instead, women and their spouses control the delivery process. Freebirther and author Lynn Griesemer says freebirths reinforce what it means to be a woman.
Lynn Griesemer: Hospital birth is just one-dimensional, where the doctors are looking to have a live birth, a safe baby, while making a profit and avoiding lawsuits. And to me, as a woman, to access your feminine power is much more than that in giving birth. It is spiritual. It is a very private event, and I did not like the fact that in the delivery room it was not a private event. When you can try to have it as natural as possible, a woman can really enjoy the experience actually.
Host: And it’s not just women who benefit, says Griesemer.
Griesemer: Men are an important part of birth, and in an unassisted home birth the man is front and center. He’s not just some passive person sitting on the side watching the whole procedure. He has shouldered a big responsibility if something were to go wrong. He’s right in there.
Host: After having their first four children the conventional way, Griesemer and her husband decided to have their last two children at home with not even a midwife present. Griesemer says while feminism has done a lot for abortion rights, she believes the movement has neglected childbirth.
Lynn Griesemer: We have a monopoly in this country of hospital birth. 95-99% of babies are born in the hospital. It’s a big money-making business, and women are not happy with that situation. And the medical community wants to totally annihilate the option of a home birth. The feminists could just maybe acknowledge the importance of birth—that it is one of the most key rites of passage a woman will go through and to not ignore it.
Host: But the unassisted home birth movement is a contentious topic in the medical community. While studies comparing the safety of do-it-yourself births versus hospital births are limited and not scientifically rigorous, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has denounced home births for the risks to both mother and child.
Griesemer: The problem is that there can be complications. Granted, it’s very uncommon. The vast majority of deliveries are perfectly safe and perfectly fine. But the problem with obstetrics is that there can be an emergency or problem that occurs without any forewarning whatsoever. So this is not something that we take lightly. We unassisted birthers do put safety as a number one concern. We don’t want to die; we don’t want our babies to die. We just have more courage, I suppose.
Host: Do they have more courage, Dr. Healy?
Dr. Bernadine Healy: I think this is foolhardy, not courage. And I think that I very, very strongly respect any patient who wants to walk away from medical care, whether it’s the latest medical care or hospitals, whatever. But I think that when you’re making that decision for a child, it’s a very different situation. And I think the biggest risk here is to the child. And even though it is infrequent, as it is anywhere, the mother is really being kind to her child to make that decision in the interest of it being a spiritual, feminist experience.
Host: Okay, but let me ask you this: Do babies die in hospitals when they’re born? Is there a percentage of loss of children born in hospitals?
Dr. Healy: Well, but very, very rarely. Usually those are problem children who have malformations or who are born very prematurely. I will say, in defense of the freebirthers’ movement, most of the time these are women who have already had many, many children. And quite honestly, they usually drop those babies fast. I mean, these are easy deliveries and they are the ones that don’t usually have complications. But you don’t know the health of that baby until that baby arrives. And I’m concerned about a little baby coming out who’s blue, who needs some sort of sophisticated care and it is not there and will be delayed getting it.
Eleanor Holmes Norton: The point of being a mother is to think first of the baby and not of yourself. This is the most self-centered decision a woman could make. And the whole notion that childbirth, under any circumstance, could be, quote, “enjoyable” is not what, quote, “labor” is all about! However, however, it is true that since the beginning of time women have given birth unassisted. And then as time went on we found a way—not to say that no child will be born dead or deformed—but to say that we can mitigate that today. It’s that they are throwing away because it’s romanticism at its worst.
Host: But what about in the 1800s before we had routine hospital births, it was often the mother who died in childbirth, not the children. I don’t know what the data are--you might be more familiar with it than I am—but isn’t the mother more likely putting herself at risk? That women are more likely to die in childbirth? I mean, women now outlive men. Why? Not because they’re really living percentage-wise that much longer, but so many fewer women die than 100 years ago in childbirth.
Dr. Healy: But, well, maternal mortality and child mortality tend to track together. So you can’t separate the two. But I think that the issue with mothers is these are mothers who have already been experienced. You don’t hear anybody who’s having their first baby who’s going to say, "we’re going to do it at home." Those tend to be the longer labors and those tend to be the more difficult deliveries. So I think that to compare it to what went on in the 1800s...If we want to take medicine and move it back to the 1800s, we’ll solve the whole issue of healthcare! We don’t have to worry; we won’t spend a penny on it. I mean, this is foolishness.
Panelist: Well I can tell you that I think as the lone person in this panel that hasn’t had children, I am not looking forward to the experience with no drugs, no doctors, unassisted at home! Please put me in the hospital where I can have that. Wake me up when it’s over! This is something that is similar to the Christian Science trend. These are people who have a very specific way of thinking that is, like Eleanor said, a very selfish one. And the health of the baby and their own health—the baby doesn’t have the choice.
Host: All right. We gotta go. That’s it for this edition of “To the Contrary.”