Trends vs. Traditions
by Jill Cohen

[Editor's note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today Issue 82, Summer 2007.]

The trend is to plan for children. To create and follow through on every detail from conception until graduation. To pick schools, college, degree and profession. The child is not even in utero yet!

The tradition is to be in love, to create children to be loved, adored and nurtured as people. To help them become their own beings and good people. To provide support and aid in their development, instilling great confidence to go forth and be productive individuals in the family and community.

The trend is to do every test available. To find out if the baby has anomalies or other things considered “a problem.” To know the sex of the child. To see inside our sacred wombs and view everything possible.

The tradition is to accept and love what we have made. To honor the unknowing with excitement and anticipation. To wonder but not disturb the natural course of creation. To let nature take its course.

The trend is to take classes that teach how to parent, breastfeed and care for a child. To gain knowledge through books, computers and TV.

The tradition is to learn parenting from the family. To start with child play, continue with babysitting and just being in and around family dynamics. To watch your mother breastfeed and be familiar with what it entails. To know how to parent by being parented.

The trend is to avoid the pain of labor. To labor until you can have an epidural to take away the progressively more intense sensations. To perhaps not labor at all but to schedule a c-section and “take the baby out.” To use all available technology so that you feel you have “done it right.” To replace your instinct with technology. To listen to other voices while ignoring your own.

The tradition is to experience labor. To become empowered by your great efforts and to acknowledge the challenge. To trust your instincts, your physical ability and nature to guide you through the birthing process. To make the birthing experience a vital step into parenting with dignity and assurance.

The trend is to “keep up with the Joneses.” To have the best clothes and baby paraphernalia and the smartest, cutest, most talented child. To have every hour filled with to-dos and athletic endeavors along with dance, music and scholastic events. To achieve, gain and produce constantly.

The tradition is to allow for imagination, free play and natural socialization. To teach children to respect and appreciate their things. To allow achievement and not force it. To be trendy but individualistic, creating independence of thought. To have structured time along with free time.

While some of these examples may seem extreme, one gets the gist of my thoughts. Trends are the signs of the times, while traditions are based in an older (perhaps more archaic), slower and more primitive frame of thought.

When you read through these trends and traditions, did you have bias? Preference? Attitude? If so, then great! This is a world in which we can mix and match our methods and attain better outcomes from the combinations.

Some would say that our traditions hold more ground because of their history. The traditions around birth have indeed shown us many ways to improve as well as to increase safety for both mother and child. Many traditions have shown us what not to do. For example, forceps are a thing of the past, as are women laboring until they die.

New methods or trends have replaced many traditions. Pregnancy and birth have experienced extremes of both traditions and trends. Our c-section rates show it, as do current rules on attending VBACs and the attitude of “once a c-section, always a c-section.”

Family values have changed with the times, as well. More women work and raise families. Prenatal tests and birth interventions have replaced many traditional ways. How do we choose which trends and which traditions are appropriate to the childbearing year? I believe that childbearing women dictate a lot of the trends we see. This is not without great influence from medical, insurance and political realms. Unfortunately, there is no balance between the extremes, and the birthing world has fallen victim to this imbalance.

Many traditional ways have been abandoned for trends that prove more harmful than not. Birthing women have become confused and misguided at times toward more intervention, when less would have been more appropriate and caused better outcomes. Better outcomes often mean better experiences with less trauma and more fulfillment, not just safety.

A traumatic birth can lead to breastfeeding problems, postpartum depression and an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy in parenting. Is it a wonder that we are seeing problems in the youth of today? Or that we are hearing from more and more women who are dissatisfied with their healthcare during the childbearing year?

I propose that instead of trends vs. traditions, we find a balance of both. Within the bounds of tradition and trends lies the perfect combination for pregnant and birthing women. Combining wisdom with current thought can produce the perfect birth plan. Yet many obstacles still exist. Until a trend develops in which we trust women’s intuitions and bodies, technology will continue to replace many traditions. To keep the balance, birth care providers must offer both tradition and trends, educating women and their families regarding consequences. This will help tailor each birth experience to the individual. I wish we could set the standard of birth in which all women try to birth traditionally and then follow the trends as needed. But we are well past that in the US. The trend of technology far outweighs the tradition of natural birth. Nevertheless, we must continue to offer noninterventive birth.

In the past, most women birthing babies were assisted by midwives. After the near elimination of midwifery, women are gradually beginning to use midwives again. Midwives went from tradition to trend. Along with that trend comes the one-on-one care, the trust in the birthing process and many other attitudes that are an answer to women’s desires.

I had the good fortune of attending a birth with the midwife that works at our hospital just last night. After an all-day affair of Pitocin, two epidurals and an intrathecal that did little to help the pain or labor progress, the midwife turned everything off and dimmed the lights. We watched in awe as this strong powerful woman slowly regained feeling in her body and proceeded to push for two hours until her sweet baby emerged. Talk about going from trend to tradition!

All the little things that midwives do, such as dimming the lights, make a difference. At one point we removed the clock in the room from view because the woman thought the process was taking too long. The encouraging words and magic bubble of love we surround women with all contribute to birth. Whatever our midwife style, we must achieve a balance between the two worlds of trends and tradition.

We can choose to create opposition between the two worlds, or join them into a blend of care for women who want this birthing opportunity. Each midwife must find her own comfort zone. Each mother must find hers. Looking toward the future, I hope we can hold true to the traditions that have worked well historically, while accepting new trends that may prove vital to care and become traditions in time.

Jill Cohen


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