Misplaced Fear

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 67, Autumn 2003.
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I find it fascinating that women are afraid of the wrong thing when it comes to birth. They are afraid of birth when it is what they are perfectly designed to do. The thing they should be afraid of is whom they put their trust in and where they birth. Normal birth with a doctor in the hospital is almost always a recipe for disaster with lifelong, far-reaching effects. Doctors are not trained in physiological miraculous birth. They are needed as surgeons and high-risk specialists. They are highly trained in pathology.

Misplaced fear is perhaps the single most dangerous thing a birthing woman can have. Blessed is the rare woman who stumbles upon a protective midwife to help guide her through the modern pitfalls of pregnancy and birth in the 21st century. Reflect on this a minute. Something that is a miracle and the culmination of womanhood in many cultures, through self-fulfilling prophecy, becomes hell on earth because of misplaced fear and misplaced trust. Trust in the medical profession for a normal physiological function is a societal, cultural and personal disaster. Using an obstetrician for normal birth is like using a pediatrician as a babysitter, according to Marsden Wagner.

I love the way a midwife friend describes cesarean birth. She says to ask any mother what she remembers about her birth. The woman who had a cesarean cut remembers forever the last painful contraction and the feelings of fear and failure that went with it. The mother who had a natural birth remembers the power and love of bringing forth her baby. “I did it,” a woman in Western culture will often say. Ecstasy and joy are often her fruit. I was elated for three years after my first homebirth. In other cultures (and times), women do not even question whether they can do it. Every woman, it is assumed, can.

Fear, a normal healthy protector of humans and animals alike (we are, after all, animals), has turned on us. It rarely protects us anymore but causes us to miss the miracle and ecstasy and healthy start birth was designed to be. Fear permeates everything in birth. It is the force behind all of the bad decisions a woman makes. Fear even affects the amount of pain we experience, as does expectation. Brilliant women who research and challenge everything in their culture readily and unnecessarily go to the chopping block in birth. The sad thing is that the effect of this ripples through their lives and their babies. Trust and fear are opposites. Why do we not challenge the current way of birthing? How can we help women turn their fear into trust?

I see the strangest fear-producing headlines in the news. “Doctors Stumped. Ten Percent of All Babies Born Prematurely.” There’s a nicely packaged fear-producer. The woman often thinks, “I better go to a doctor and the hospital in case I have a premature baby.” All these iatrogenic conditions, and women walk right unto the path of the “doctor-caused” intervention. There is an induction rate of 67 percent and epidural rates of as much as 95 percent in some hospitals. With no nutritional counseling and the fear and stress that women are under, is it any wonder they have premature babies one out of 10 times?

We see similar scary headlines about preeclampsia, the mystery “disease” they can’t figure out. Feed the mother. Quit worrying her with expensive tests of no value and make sure every mother gets a midwife. A woman today is stuck in a fear-producing, dangerous, deceptive and lying medical system with practitioners who know absolutely nothing about having a baby by the process designed by God. It is not a medical event. There is almost no hope of a peaceful pregnancy and joyous birth within the medical system. Every woman needs and deserves the kind of nurturing and care a midwife provides.

So, where does this leave us? How can we counter the fear? Birth change will probably not come from women by themselves. Medicalization and reality TV have disempowered too many of them to form a strong coalition of mothers with midwives, as happened in New Zealand. It will be the midwives, doulas, childbirth educators and activists. This is a big job, but look around. There is no one else but you carrying this knowledge. With the gift of the knowledge comes the responsibility to carry it to society. Together we can do this.

It may sound impossible, but we need hope and action. If you give up hope you won’t take action. I have talked about changing birth many times in Midwifery Today. Sara Wickham’s “26 Ways to Change Birth Globally” is on our Web site at www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/changebirth.asp. We must keep having this discussion as we take stock and take action. Perhaps we cannot change the entire world in our lifetimes, but more women are now breastfeeding. Activism has helped. Perhaps when women see the direct connection between birth and breastfeeding, some action will be taken in the hospitals. So much money is made in the process of industrializing birth. But if we can help women understand the miracle they are missing, fear will turn to trust and change will occur. If we can help them realize the joy and ecstasy possible there might be a chance to normalize birth. The first battle is in the mind. How can you help? What will you do? Together we can. Together we must. So let us forget our petty battles and fight the fight we were born for.

About Author: Jan Tritten

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor, and mother of Midwifery Today magazine and conferences. Her love for and study of midwifery sprang from the beautiful homebirth of her second daughter—after a disappointing, medicalized first birth in the hospital. After giving birth at home, she kept studying birth books because, “she thought there was something more here.” She became a homebirth midwife in 1977 and continued helping moms who wanted a better birth experience. Jan started Midwifery Today in 1986 to spread the good word about midwifery care, using her experience to guide editorial and conferences. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies in the United States and around the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world!

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