Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Business of Being Born

Celebrity actress/host Ricki Lake's new movie, "The Business of Being Born" points out that some of the most traditional practices of contemporary obstetrics have everything to do with the convenience of the physician, but can actually make delivery more difficult for the mother.

The Next Inconvenient Truth?

"Birth is miraculous, a natural process. But birth is also big business and this movie will change your mind about everything you think you know about it," said Sabrina McIntyre, a Fairfax County mom and former flight attendant who delivered one daughter by Cesarean section (c-section) and another at home by midwife.

To most people, the idea of giving birth outside of a hospital seems foolish and even dangerous: why would any parent limit their newborn's access to technology in the event of an emergency? Why would any couple put their child's life in the hands of a midwife instead of an obstetrician? "When my friend Ricki (Lake) approached me about making this film, I admitted to her that I was afraid to even witness a woman giving birth, let alone film one," said Abby Epstein, the Emmy-winning director of "The Business of Being Born." "I discovered that the business of being born is another infuriating way medical traditions and institutions -- hospitals and insurance companies -- actually discourage choice," said Epstein.

"The point here," observed Dr. Marsden Wagner, former Director of Women's and Children's Health, World Health Organization, "is there's not a good history in obstetric practice of careful study of the long term effects of all these interventions. This is why; if you really want a humanized birth, the best thing to do is get the hell out of the hospital."

A Movement Underway?

Arlington-based midwife, Tammi McKinley, said her practice has "boomed" with the number of women questioning high-tech birth. "Women are really starting to understand that all those gadgets don't always mean a safer birth, and women are looking to replace high-tech birth with high-touch birth," said McKinley, who delivered one child by c-section and her second at home by midwife.

Statistically, the use of c-section, a major surgery, is being widely employed, more as a measure of convenience for both doctor and patient instead of a last resort in the event of an emergency. Dr. Michael Brodman, Chief OB/GYN at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, cites a study that reveals the peak hours for c-section procedures are 4:00pm and 10:00pm. Brodman interprets the data from the perspective of the hospital-based physician:
"It's obvious," he says, "that four in the afternoon is 'It's late in the day, I don't know what's going on here, I want to get out of here and the ten o'clock at night is, 'I don't want to be up all night.'"

-- In America, midwives attend less than 8% of all births and less than 1% of those that occur outside a hospital. At the same time, the US has the second worst newborn death rate in the developed world. Lake and Epstein ask, "Why do less than 8% of Americans take advantage of the benefits of midwifery, which is statistically safer and cheaper than physician-attended birth?"

-- The five countries with the lowest infant mortality rates in the March of Dimes report -- Japan, Singapore, Sweden, Finland and Norway -- midwives were used as their main source of care for 70 percent of the birthing mothers.

-- C-section is the most commonly performed surgery in the US, at a cost of $14 billion per year. Cesarean-delivery rates are now at an all time high in the United States, standing at 1.2 million, or 29.1 percent of live births in 2004. The increase represents a 40 percent increase in the past 10 years.

-- In one 1999 survey, 82% of physicians said they performed a C-section to avoid a negligence claim.

Jennifer Block, author of "Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care," writes, "Too many Caesareans are literally medical overkill. Yet some US hospitals are now delivering half of all babies surgically. Across the nation, one in four low-risk first-time mothers will give birth via Caesarean, and if they have more children, 95 percent will be born by repeat surgery. In many cases, women have no choice in the matter. Though vaginal birth after Caesarean is a low-risk event, hundreds of institutions have banned it, and many doctors will no longer attend it because of malpractice liability."

She adds, "We've become dangerously cavalier...the Caesarean rate should be a major public health concern."

Natural Solutions to a "Medical" Problem
Midwives are definitely a viable solution; however, many find it difficult to assist with birthing because of the impossibility of obtaining malpractice insurance. Peggy Vincent, a midwife in California, writes candidly about her life as a midwife and the barriers she encountered with regulations and insurance in her book, "Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife."

I am still bitter about my birthing experiences at San Diego Naval Medical Center. As an active duty sailor, I was not permitted to have a midwife assist with my labors nor was I permitted to have a homebirth. Consequently, I got the physician only on-call when I went labor and that resulted in a an emergency room physician (not even someone doing their residency) catching my baby for only the second time in his life. I suffered a fourth degree laceration (extending through the rectal mucosa to expose the lumen of the rectum) with an infant that weighed only 5 pounds, 13 ounces. At least, I didn't have a Caesarean, although they threatened me with that.

ABC News published a story on unassisted home births. You can view the story and comments here:
DIY Deliveries: More Women Go It Alone

Here's an additional resource on the history of childbirth. As someone who studied medical sociology, this book should add depth to the rise of the American Medical Association:

No comments: