Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Baby Harvest

During our many preparations for birth, I have had this post brewing about what I call "the baby harvest." There seems to be this overemphasis of bringing children into the world with little or no regard for the mother. It's as if the only thing that matters is to get that baby out.

Don't get me wrong. I do realize that the main reason in being pregnant is to bring a new human being into the world. No woman would put herself through the trial and error of pregnancy for nothing. A child is the main reason we do this. We want a chance to put someone good in this world. We want to extend our family tree. We want someone like ourselves in the community. I get that.

What I don't get is the cost to women, physically and emotionally. In what is already a daunting task for any woman and/or couple to undertake, we have systems in place that only make it harder. The mother and her experience are forgotten in all of this.

Since moving to COMO, land of the baby, many of our friends and co-workers have given birth. Additionally, one cannot go to the grocery or the mall or downtown without crossing paths with a very young, very pregnant woman. There really seems to be something in the water here.

Plus, I've had friends elsewhere experience their own difficulties with pregnancy. Some have overcome great obstacles to be on the verge of a life-altering event. Others have had their lives altered tragically at the hands of a cruel joke by mother nature.

In all of these instances, intentional or not, quite a bit of worth has been put on the women simply because they're expecting with little or no regard to their value before fertilization. It's as if their lives or accomplishments meant nothing once they were to become moms. Never mind that they were someone's sister or best friend or had published a book. Their real value was in the life they could grow, little else.

Conversely, I've known women who feel downright worthless due to their own failed pregnancies. These women are not without value because their pregnancy did not work out. It's not their fault it didn't come to fruition. They still have plenty of value to their partners, family, and community.

Take R for instance. She is a rather accomplished academic for someone so new to her field. R completed a master's in woman's studies and a doctorate in rhetoric and composition at one of the premier universities for both of those fields. She was relatively well-published and well-connected upon leaving school and nailed a research-1 job right out of the gate. Plus, she is an amazing aunt, sister, daughter, and friend. Of course, she's been a better partner than I could have ever hoped.

Although R is a very valuable person to her employer, field, family and friends, nothing can compare to the attention she receives now that she is pregnant. Most of the attention is well-intentioned. People want to support and celebrate as we take on parenthood. For that, I am grateful. It just seems there is more focus on the life inside R than the one she's been living. The person none of us knows yet is garnering more attention than the woman we've all known and loved for days, months, or years.

R deserves to feel love and supported during this pregnancy, but it shouldn't only be because of this pregnancy.

Even though I have my issues with my partner's new found attention, my real issue is the actual harvest. For whatever reason, our medical industry has made it increasingly difficult for us to have the birthing experience we want. Hence, the devaluation of my partner continues with the hospitals and doctors in this town (and I suspect all over the country).

Let's take the cesarean section rate in COMO. The World Health Organization figures that c-sections should happen about 5-10% of the time. Anything above 15% seem to do more harm than good. In 1965, the US was under 5%. As you can imagine, we've talked to many health care providers and couples who have recently given birth. Their estimates of the C-section rate in COMO range anywhere from 20% to 40%, depending on the hospital and doctor. That's at least double what the WHO recommends and near the top of the entire country (about 23% according to WHO).

Even though it seems to be the trendy thing to do, we wanted to do all we could to avoid a cesarean section birth. Of course, many hospital practices make this difficult to accomplish rather than supporting a mother's ability to have a natural, vaginal birth. From the position R wanted to be in to the avoidance of all chemical pain relief to catching her own baby, we have met opposition every step of the way.

We originally tried to get in at the only birthing center in town since home births with just a midwife, at the time, were illegal. We did the tour and met with a representative. She informed us that the doctor and midwife only met with patients on Thursday mornings. R was teaching at that time. She couldn't get out of it. What should have been something we all could have worked around, became our first obstacle to having the birth we desired.

The second obstacle happened when finances were involved. The doctor was new and out of network, meaning we would have to pay a handsome price for our child. On top of all that, the representative gave us that look that says, "If you really cared for your baby, you'd make this work." We didn't need to feel guilty that we actually have to work for a living and want to save money for our retirement.

So, we went the medical route. Some friends had somewhat successful births in hospitals, so we thought it would work for us. We even found a doctor who seemed willing to work with us.

Days, weeks, and months passed as we educated ourselves about pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing in preparation for our new roles as parents. The information we discovered on birth was the most disheartening. It seems that when mothers experience a highly medicalized birth, which means they get the pitocin to induce birth triggering many other interventions, it often ends in an "emergency" c-section. The pitocin speeds things along while the epidural slows and numbs. You end up taking one to counteract the other. It can turn into a vicious cycle. Of course, it should be noted that I am not an expert in any way, but taking all those drugs only to encourage more intervention doesn't seem right to me.

Then there's the whole monitoring thing. People will come in and out of the hallway to check a mother's progress. In other words, everybody and their brother will have their hands inside a mother just to see if they'll make that 3:30 tee time. This leaves the mother open to all sorts of infection. Much of this monitoring is unnecessary, not to mention that the more they monitor, the more they'll surely find something to worry about.

Anyway, it was starting to look like it was all we could do to fight hospital staff and even our own doctor to keep the birth as natural as possible. Most of our time meeting with a doula was spent on her coaching me as to the best methods to fight off pesky doctors and nurses. I didn't want to fight anybody. I wanted to support R and coach her through the birth.

Eventually, we wrote up a birthing plan to share with our doctor in hopes of making our birth as intervention-free as possible. She fought us on several points, destroying any confidence we had in her as our advocate. So, R looked at the birthing center again.

It turned out that the birthing center doctor was finally added to our network. So, we will have an opportunity to have a natural birth without a fight. R may even try catching the child while having a water birth. I will get a chance to actually assist my partner as opposed to warding off nurses and interns at every moment.

The birth may still not go as planned, but at least we'll have a chance to try.

My attitude towards baby harvesting has softened a bit, but I still have problems with our society's values toward birth and motherhood. We do all we can to birth more babies. We provide abstinence-only education in our schools, make it difficult for women to access safe and affordable abortions, and we regularly schedule c-sections all in an effort to get those babies out in the world.

And for what? We allow schools to decline. We constantly cut welfare programs. Day care is not easily accessible or affordable. All the focus is on a child before he or she is born. After birth, good luck.

I don't mean to sound so negative when we have a pretty exciting time ahead of us, but this experience has brought many of these issues to light. It is possible to look at a part of one's life and see both hope and problems. It doesn't mean that it's bad or good. It just is.

So, the baby harvest will continue. Many more teenage girls will give birth this year. Other women will be forced to have unnecessary c-sections. And we will join them in hopes that maybe things will change.


Huey said...

This is a very thought provoking post. I find myself thinking many of the things you have written. I never researched it so deeply though. I admire you and R's efforts in creating a harvest, as you say, that is in line with your values and wishes.

It seems as though women are still devalued in our society across the board. The sexism that exists permeates through so many facets of our lives. Whether the lack of respect or trust to allow them the choice of how to handle their pregnancies or the lower pay or opportunities in the business world or the motivation for our collective homophobia towards gay men because they act too feminine, or like women as if that is a bad thing.

I am glad I read this because I try to value my wife, daughter, sister, mother and female friends and colleagues, but at times a reminder is good.

I also want to be more vocal in my stance to support women's issues. After the recent events in my and my wife's life, I have experienced situations in which my values and beliefs on public policy towards this have shifted a bit to give more power and choice to the woman. Now I beleive this so much stronger.

Obviously, you struck a nerve with me here. Nice job. A good read.

Sarah said...

I'm so happy that at least you both were determined enough to stick with your plan. Childbirth is, of course, a memorable experience, but unfortunately not always in a good way. (Ask me about 2/3 of mine sometime...both involving pitocin and failed epidurals and 28+ hours of labor, but thankfully no c-section, just lots of misery. The third, my middle daughter, was not induced, and (strangely enough!) was such a joy.) I'm also giddy for you that the birthing center is now in your network. I'm so hoping that your wife experiences a perfect, happy, naturally quick birth. (Also, there's another rant forming here about the price of bringing a child into the world, and this country's way of not taking care of expecting mothers, and then as you mentioned, mothers and fathers and children for the rest of their lives...Sigh.)
Thanks, too, for your comments on the value of women. It's an amazing thing to read. If a woman would have written it, she'd surely have someone telling her she was being ungrateful or selfish. It's frustrating to try to tell the world that you're more than a mother, only to be ushered back into your place. I know; it's come in the form of unwelcome comments from family, from the jerk at the Small Business Association, and from potential employers. Humbling, for certain.
I hope everything goes smoothly for you both from now on!

comoprozac said...

I really appreciate the comments and all the well-wishes from you both. I thought that some readers would find my post offensive, but I think you both understand my perspective. (Of course, the day is young.)

Thanks again!

GE said...

Nice post, CP. Strikes a nerve here too. Our first experience with a doc in a well-respected hospital was not what we'd both wanted/hoped, for reasons we feel could have been avoided. Second time around we used a midwife and it was infinitely better. Here's to a happy and healthy birth for all.

ks said...

I haven't commented on the post until now, but I wanted to know that it did provoke quite a bit of thought this week. My first reaction was of "But wait a've spent your entire lives working on your individuality, focusing on yourself, focusing on your careers and individual goals....this is the time to focus on something greater than 'you,' and that's why there's so much emphasis on the little guy/gal incubating away." However, I completely sympathize with your conflictions right now, due to all of the baby showers, "poking of the tummy," and the faked-excitement from people you barely even know. It does probably feel like a "harvest" with all of the hooplah that inevitably has to make your wife feel like more of a tool, or an "incubator," than a strong and successful woman.

Several of my friends (and yours) are pregnant right now, as well. I've been so consumed with happiness for them as couples and as future families that I wanted to make sure that I'm placing the appropriate value on them as individuals and friends. I think I am, but I'm sure we can all do better. Your post inspired me to write a letter to my girl friend (I won't put her name here b/c our other friends read this), for her to read remind her of all the reasons why SHE means so much to a woman, friend, mentor, professional, etc.

Your conflicts with the medical side of things ALSO struck a strong chord with me. I am in the pre-planning stages of pregnancy (i.e., I'm thinking about planning for babies), and I have a lot of medical issues that will make my decisions regarding birth a little involved. Without going into great detail, a prior car accident & resulting nervous system damage will make pain relief an issue. Your post this week caused me to look into free-standing birthing centers (there are NONE in Atlanta, BTW), alternative pain therapies, and the like. You've put me on a path of research, and I thank you.

I also am all-too keenly aware of the obstacles our current healthcare/insurance industries present, esp. in regards to women AND those with "pre-existing conditions." It won't be a fun task, but perhaps it will further fuel my passion to see some change in that realm.

Thanks for at first agitating me. Then "Thank You!" for challenging me to dig deeper. (You're right; and I, at first, was wrong.) And thanks also for sharing your personal experience, so that I can begin my own experience with more open eyes.

comoprozac said...

Thanks, GE. You've made me feel better about our decision.

KS, thanks for sharing something so personal. I would have been fine if you had lashed out. I sort of expected someone to have a problem with the post. I'm glad that you found some value in what I had to say. If you want to know more, feel free to email or "poke" me on Facebook.

Of course, I am not the one who has to give birth here or allow my body to be transformed over a nine month period. I just can't stand to watch my partner suffer through this process, especially something so life-altering and beautiful.

Thanks all for the support.

ks said...

I didn't want to immediately lash out because I quickly realized I wasn't 100% sure of my thoughts. I mulled and "edited" and realized you were right. Plus, it's always good to step in others' shoes before judging.

I also enjoyed reading the other commenters. (sp?) I think it's a nice discussion.

comoprozac said...

I don't know that I'm universally right. I do know that this is the right decision for us, just as the right decision for some of our friends is to go medical. You have to do what's best for you. Either way, a lot of people are having babies and almost none of them go through exactly the same experience.

It is a good discussion. I'm just happy no one has called me an ass clown...yet.

ks said...

or "ass hat"

Juliet said...

Thanks for voicing something that I've been thinking about recently. Granted I have no intention of growing my own child anytime soon. However, now that I work closely with parents(one of whom is happily expecting her second) my age, I've gotten to hear a lot about the harvesting process. The whole inducing labor thing just creeps me out. I mean it seems very unnatural. Women having been giving birth naturally since the dawn of time, and now in our country of supposedly modern medicine, we have a shocking high infant mortality rate.

Good luck to both you and your partner as you move into the final phase of bringing your little one into the world.

jenny said...

My water broke early, and I had to be induced. Not part of my birth plan. And then I went through almost fifteen hours of "natural" labor before asking for the epidural.

When the next one comes along, I say: BRING ON THE EPIDURAL! Natural birth is way overrated. But that's just me... :)

V seems none the worse for it, unless you coun't the scooting.