Belly Up

* bellies * birth * babies * breastfeeding *

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Birth, It's as Safe as Life Gets

   Approximately 34,000 people die in car accidents in the US each year
   Approximately 400 women die in childbirth in the US each year (1 out of every 13,000 births)

Makes you wonder if the most dangerous part of labor might be the drive to the hospital!  Obviously there is nothing funny about maternal mortality and the fact that around 400 women die in the US during childbirth is both troubling and tragic, but even with our poor showing as only the 39th safest country in which to give birth, bringing a child into the world is still pretty darn safe.  In my work with expecting couples I spend a lot of time addressing the fears they have surrounding birth as well as the constant pressure to consent to various testing and interventions simply out of fear or concern for the "just in case" situation.  Many people are going into their childbirth experience worried.  Of course most parents will always carry some inherent fear about their children's health and well being, but how did childbirth itself become something that is so feared in our society, especially when the statistics overwhelming show otherwise?

Are laboring moms ticking time bombs?

In the US birth is primarily an event that takes places in hospitals.  This is not a judgement call on my part, just a fact.  Associating the normal process of birth with the hospital may help create a dichotomy where on the one hand hospitals are the place where those who are very sick go and on the other hand where healthy new moms and babies are susposed to go.  Since doctors, specialized surgeons at that, attend most births this also adds to the element that birth is not a normal event and that a laboring mom is a ticking time bomb.  In fact I have seen it quoted in various medical literature that a normal birth is a retrospective diagnosis, meaning that until the baby is out and everyone deemed healthy, it must be assumed that things will go wrong.  This is of course is the backbone of the managed care model that dominates maternity care in this country.  It also explains the widespread use of routine interventions even in the most low risk of labors.  (I will discuss expectant care vs. managed care in a coming post...)

Television does not help the situation.  There birth is depicted in dramatic, sensationalized, and of course, short scenes that fit properly between commercial breaks.  On film, labor is most often shown with a mom out in public where her water breaks in dramatic fashion and she is immediately whisked off to the hospital huffing and puffing apparently having it made it through all 10 cm of dilation in just a few moments.  If only!  Of course occasionally labor happens this way, but it is definitely the exception and not the rule.  Since we do not live in a society where we watch each other birth, this scene becomes what we think of when we think of labor...the urgency, the rush to get the hospital, the rush for someone to do something before something can go wrong. 

I know as a parent I am all for reasonable precautions as I try to keep my children safe.  We use carseats and and seatbelts; I use my windshield wipers when it rains.  However I do not fear driving even knowing how many car accidents occur nor have I equipped my mini van with NASCAR technology and helments for us to all wear when we go out for a drive.  It is important to put risk and fear into persepctive or we would fear the mundanest of life's tasks.  Childbirth is no different and it is important to put both the risks and one's personal fears into perspective.   I do believe and support the idea that people can make different choices based on their situation about what precautions and choices are reasonable and I belive that educating yourself on birth, your options and your care is the best way to decrease fear.  (I also suggest not watching TV shows on childbirth!)

Not every baby's arrival will be perfectly smooth, but when it comes to life, birth is about as safe as it gets.

1 comment:

  1. Unsurprisingly, there's a greater number of deaths performing an activity that about 210 million people do daily as compared with something about 4 million people do once annually. If you count the hours people spend on the road vs in labor, labor is certainly more deadly than driving. I searched "birth is safe as life gets" to see how an activity that has been the leading cause of death among women (not to mention infants) throughout many periods in history could earn such an obviously false slogan. I see one way is grossly misleading statistics. Please consider editing this post using more meaningful comparisons.