Birth and the Women’s Health Agenda

Ready to be on the agenda, dangit!

In the Fall issue of The Journal of Perinatal Education (Lamaze), there was a guest editorial by perinatologist Michael Klein called “Many Women and Providers are Unprepared for an Evidence-Based Conversation About Birth.” In it he notes:

Childbirth is not on the women’s health agenda in most Western countries…It never has been. Osteoporosis is. Breast health is; violence against women is. Why not childbirth? Because women, understandably, do not want to be judged only by their reproductive capacities. Women are multipotential people. Among many potentialities, they can rise to the top of the academic and corporate world. Giving birth is just one of many things women can do. But now is the time to add childbirth to the women’s health agenda; it is because of the lack of informed decision making that birth should be added to that agenda, lack of information, misinformation, and even disinformation. The time is now.

…What really matters is attitudes and beliefs, which are much more difficult to change than putting away the scissors and hanging some plants. These are systemic issues. (emphasis mine) It is all about anxiety and fear. The doctors are afraid…The women are afraid…Society is afraid and averse to risk.

So how can you make a revolution when so few individuals are unhappy with current maternity care practices? The most unhappy and well-informed women select midwives, if available. The most fearful women select obstetricians. Providers are not going to initiate the revolution to make childbirth a normal rather than high-risk, industrialized activity…Women are going to have to take the lead…

The problem is not that obstetricians are surgeons. They are. The problem is that society has invested surgeons with control over normal childbirth.

I keep wanting to write an article called, “is evidence-based care enough?” because we see this phrase used so often in birth advocacy work. It is kind of the companion phrase to the, “women just need to educate themselves” line of thought, that, quite frankly, is also just not enough. And, I think the reason it isn’t enough—all of our education, all of our books, and all of our evidence—is because it isn’t information itself that really needs to change, it is women’s feelings and beliefs about birth (and the medical system’s feelings and beliefs about it too, in addition to their practices) and changing those sometimes feel like an insurmountable task. As I’ve written before, much of the time it isn’t that we actually want women to know more, we want them to act differently. And, a choice made in a context of fear is not an informed choice at all.

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