Monday, April 1, 2013

Doctors Deliver Babies But Shouldn't*

“The midwife considers the miracle of childbirth as normal, and leaves it alone unless there's trouble. The obstetrician normally sees childbirth as trouble; if he leaves it alone, it's a miracle.”  ~ Sheila Stubbs
         
            I cannot take credit for this chapter’s title. It was coined in the 2nd half of the 20th century in England, and later written in Maternal Bonding, by Dr. Wladyslaw Sluckin of Oxford, U.K., 1983. He writes: “The basic pattern of social behavior in human babies lies in maternal-infant attachment. She has carried her child in her womb for about 266 1/2 days, which is actually the average from conception to birth, not delivery. Babies get themselves naturally born in most cases, and that child is looking forward to a continuation of the life that it had in the womb. The temperature and pressure are constant, no work is required, and he or she is looking forward to a continuation of this. What they are looking forward to is a "womb with a view". But they are expelled rather roughly and usually taken away from their mother, which is wrong. It's physiologically and psychologically wrong. Both baby and mother need each other more at this time than they ever will again. The baby should be put to nurse at his mother's breast whereupon it induces an enormous number of wonderful changes in the mother, such as an arresting of the postpartum hemorrhage, which no obstetrician can do under the circumstances, but a baby can do. Which indicates that there is more intelligence in the upper and the lower lip of one baby than all the brains of all the obstetricians put together.”
Happily, many medical schools and physicians since Dr. Sluckin’s time have re-considered our modern approach to birth and are very concerned about how we bring babies into the world. Since his book, we also know that bonding is reciprocal, that baby also initiates cues, though this idea has not been accepted yet by all researchers, scientists, and medical professionals.
We now have birthing rooms at most hospitals and rooming-in options. Many doctors have since educated themselves and encourage exclusive breastfeeding. Many studies have been done and are continuing to prove the effectiveness, if not cost saving, benefits of change, and the increase in patient satisfaction. But above and beyond hospital cost considerations and patient ratings, what can we learn from the past about what is best for your baby?
We have seen over past centuries how the pendulum of thinking dictates what we do or don’t do, or do for a few years and then deliberately don’t do, often to the detriment of our children. Here is but one example of this: For centuries cradles were used to calm babies to sleep. All of a sudden, about a hundred years ago, a physician warned parents of all sorts of overly indulgent behaviors, in particular that cradles were a ‘crutch’ that they would never be able to wean their children of – have you ever seen a six-foot long cradle in a college dorm? – and that they must train their children to sleep without it, even if that means a period of adaptation from being comforted to sleep, to sleeping alone and that only ‘soft’ parents would not allow babies to cry themselves to sleep during this period. Well, many parents bought this theory, threw out their cradles and thought themselves better parents for having trusted an ‘expert.’
There are numerous other examples of where we ‘thinking’ parents throw out our instincts in favor of doctors’ or educators’ views. First we should stop and ask, do these people have children? Then we should find out if what they have just published earned them a degree.
            We must test these theories and decide for ourselves what will work best for my baby, not what ‘they’ say is best for all the other babies in the world. Only then will we collectively see what is good for babies. And then we can initiate change that is solid, now called ‘best practice.’ In turn it will attract the attention of doctors and hospitals and educators and much of the mainstream whom I must believe also want the best for their babies, too. It takes time, often years or decades, but it does happen. Thirty years ago I had to fight to have my twins born naturally. I had to defend myself against society for nursing both of them without supplements. Then I had to explain why I thought I could nurse them into their third year. (I also found myself guarding our bedroom like a mama tiger lest people realize we didn’t have any cribs.) Later I found myself defending our choice to homeschool. This idea of following our instincts is further complicated by our society’s eagerness to blame: later problems are blamed on extended nursing, or child-led weaning, or bad mothering (or fathering) in general. (See “Bad” Mothers: the politics of blame in twentieth-century America , Ladd-Taylor, Molly and Umansky, Lauri, New York University Press, 1998, chapter 11, essay by Jane Taylor).
 “This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t let him sleep with you… you should never have started….” Or, “you are starving that baby…” or, “you are spoiling her…it’s good for their lungs to let them cry.”
Actually, what you are teaching your baby when you let him cry and don’t pick him up, is  to cry more. Babies are not born with our level of reasoning, though we act as if they are. None of my babies, at least, could reason like this: “Let me see now, if I am dry and fed and had my nap, let’s see what would happen if I cry and if anyone will spoil me and pick me up.” A baby cries for a reason. These are some of them: he is hungry, he wants skin contact, he wants affection, he needs reassuring, he is cold, he is too hot, he has a burb, or something hurts. These are all valid needs. And he is definitely not figuring out how to manipulate us. We project our ideas on our children much too early. Our instincts should tell us this, but if your mother or mother-in-law or someone else who has in turn been warned not to follow their instincts tells us to, “be careful you don’t spoil him…” we are simply perpetuating a myth by ignoring our hearts. 
In the end, our lack of confidence in our parenting skill is also undermined. Never before in history has parenting been as difficult. The world outside our homes is falling apart on many levels.  There are wars, famines, natural disasters, epidemics, and unprecedented violence. We must not despair and decide we can’t make a difference. We can make a significant difference if we each choose to, every day. We must begin with our children. Mother Teresa, whom I lived with in the 1970s, continually exhorted people, “Start in your own families. Love each child there first. Do not come to India. You have work to do in your own homes. If everyone did that, and it spread, there would be no hunger or loneliness or need.”
 If we begin our families with an unsure foundation, not confident that we can know what is best for our children, then that shaky beginning will translate into a lack of security for our babies. Instead, when we have educated ourselves the best we can, thoughtfully discussed and tested each new idea with our partner and agreed on what feels good and right for us; that we are doing our very best, that we may make mistakes but know we can learn from them and move on, then we can have the assurance of knowing we will be the best parents we can be and have happy, secure children.

"I think one of the best things we could do would be to help women, parents, families discover their own birth power from within themselves, and to let them know it’s always been there; they just need to tap into it". ~ Karl Menninger


*Stay tuned... This chapter is one of many that will appear in the upcoming book, Stone Age Babies in a Space Age World: Babies and Bonding in the 21st Century©             pending, by Stephanie Sorensen

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