Technology: Stemming the Tide

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 85, Spring 2008.
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When we speak of technology, we are talking about its dangers in normal birth. I think everyone can agree with the necessity of using technology to save lives of mothers and babies when needed. However, while conceding that some great strides have been made in medical care, we know birth is not a medical event and that when medical care is applied to a social/spiritual event without good reason, horrendous things can happen.

Technology has been excellent in many other spheres, as well. I do not think Midwifery Today could have survived if the Internet had not been developed. We are not Luddites. I really like certain aspects of technology, such as my car, computer and heater, among others. But I see extreme danger in technology routinely applied to birth.

I think this love affair with technology is part of our love of new toys. Men, especially, are fond of toys, and have managed to bring them into the hospital, ever on the lookout for new ones. Look at the iPod and the ultrasound hype. It reflects how the world has become enamored with technology. Young women are growing up in this culture, which has affected their perceptions regarding birth. Our job is to counter that, and to spread the word that birth works. It works best with the least interference. It works best when there is a strong loving relationship between the midwife and her client. It works best with continuity of care. It works best when time is taken in prenatal care to stem fears in the mother that lead to overuse of technology.

Our local newspaper reported on the first baby of 2008, with a photo of the unhappy family on the front. That photo kept me from reading what I feared might be another horror story. The mama, in what should have been the most glorious moments in her life, looked stunned and in pain. Her pretty face reflected no joy. Our editor, Cheryl, told me that the article explained that she had been induced a week early because “the doctors were afraid her baby would get too big.” She was induced, given an epidural and ultimately cut open to have the first baby born in Lane County in 2008. This is cheating, on top of malpractice.

No control, no dignity, no grace or beauty. Because of her innocence and blind trust in technological birth, she ultimately had a surgical birth. This doctor will not be charged with malpractice but I believe that that is exactly what it was. It just happens to be so rampant that it is not recognized as malpractice. Why don’t sweet, normal women recognize this atrocity? Perhaps when we have the answer to that we will be able to change the paradigm. We do know that this mother and the millions like her in this country, and around the world, are being victimized. They are very likely to suffer depression and a myriad of emotional and physical effects from their unnecessary ordeal—a trial that should have been a miracle. This trial should not have happened, especially to a pregnant mom. She should have been loved and nurtured and properly guided through her journey of birth. Above all, she should have been protected. If we are ever going to have a humane and kind society we must start caring for those who carry the future in their wombs.

How can we stem the tide of this massive tsunami of technology that has engulfed the birth world? The most important way is for you to do what you have been called to do with birth in your life. That alone will help, as we all plant seeds of good birth everywhere. One thing I appreciate now is the fact that the evidence is in for how right we have been in our philosophy of birth. Our philosophy is becoming fact via evidence.

My calling has never been to present the evidence. I have known intuitively that we are right for over three decades and have railed at having to prove it. In order to change things, we must use evidence, to a certain extent. At least the evidence is accruing now—stronger and stronger, proving we are right. Some of us are very good at taking account of the research and presenting it. Others are good at local work, teaching, organizing birth networks; some of us work as midwives or doulas helping families directly. We all have our calling in the birth realm.

Stemming the tide of technology in birth will take the effort of each of you. I do not have the answer, but if each of us keeps doing what we are called to do, I believe these horrendous birth practices will subside and what we have to leave in their place is the joy, tenderness and miracle that birth was designed, by God, to be. The evidence for what we are working for is in. Let’s use it. Let’s use cesarean section to save lives, not to ruin them, not to be the first baby born in the New Year.

Each one teach one.

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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