Saturday, June 25, 2011

D'ya want Pitocin with that?

Have you noticed recently how much American stuff seems to be slipping into UK markets? I'm not just talking about the fact that you can buy Nerds in the local sweet shop here (yeah, don't tell my kids!), but such names as Krispy Kreme are beginning to roll off the tongues of the Brits as if we were talking pear drops or mint humbugs. There is a Subway on every corner too! I really noticed this today and last week when looking for somewhere to grab a sandwich. What has happened to the little independent delis that gave us choice over our bread, our filling, crusts on or off, butter, mayo etc. If "choice" has become limited by the few things on the standardised menu which can be found uniformly in every town across the UK, what message is that sending out?

But I'm not writing a blog entry about sandwiches or chocolate (I probably could write one on the latter). I'm naturally writing about birth. What started out as something that could have done wonders for the birthing culture; what began as something where directors had the power to change the way birth is envisaged; has become a carcrash soap opera. Directors had every opportunity to normalise birth, however, the power of the media saw an investment. The success of OBEM* (that acronym on is the lips of a good portion of pregnant women, midwives, doulas, childbirth teachers and parents in the UK) has now become as appalling and stereotyped a reality show as Geordie Shores or Made in Chelsea. How, because we are now being broadcast the same show from across the pond. OBEM USA! Whoop de do! Excuse me for my lack of enthusiasm!

Now these same pregnant women are subjected to watching the American model, yes, I will use that term and many of my US friends and colleagues will back me up on that,  because that is exactly what it is for the most part in the US hospitals; a sterile, directed, organised template for women to slot neatly into. Birth will happen in hospital, in lithotomy position and if you don't fit that American model, you'll get "Pit- ed"**.

My job now as a doula and even more so as an antenatal teacher is now made twice as hard. Rather than starting from a position of just helping women realise they are able to ask questions, consent to or refuse various things, information gather and be independent thinkers and choice makers. Now I have to allay new fears, that the midwife will be on their side and not ready to shoot them up with a dose of pitocin if they so much as take a quick nap, that generally they won't have their legs in stirrups or people shouting like cheerleaders from the side lines all whilst shining lights that would impress Captain Kirk up their fanny. That their birth won't be over managed, rather like a processed food, with all the goodness and nutrients taken out to ensure that the end product is quick and easy for the outsider to manage.

Having been present at many births on both sides of the Atlantic I do see some traits from the technocratic model seeping slowly into the British birthing culture.
Cynical as I may be but this particular sketch springs to mind. From 1983 none the less, but the number of births I witnessed similar to this in the US is disturbing.

Ironically, it's British and presumably, at the time, meant to be farcical.

I see more women now who see consultants than ever I used to. Currently I have one woman who is being told that, despite two negative results for Group B Strep, she should have antibiotics...why? Another woman is being told that she'll "need" a caesarean section,  and not be able to have her planned VBAC. When she questioned this, was told the usual story about her scar rupturing. This is a well informed lady. She was, luckily, able to throw some figures back at her consultant to show the minimal risk of this happening, she was then told that her baby would be too big for her to birth. Which is it for one thing?

So what can be done? How can we stop the invading shadow of the likes of OBEM USA becoming the future generations' perception of "normal birth"? I don't see the fear or the acceptance of interventions without challenge in mums having their second or third babies. These mothers realise they are powerful and that their bodies can birth. They realise that in a low risk normal birth, there is nothing to be fearful of and that the baby will be born when it's born. A first time mum, however, has no previous experience of her own to draw from so she gets her ideas from the media, her friends and family.

Back in March this year I asked Ina May Gaskin this very question:

"How, in a world where we most women interpret "normal" birth by what they see in the media and from "horror" stories, can we empower women to trust in their bodies and trust birth for the first birth, not the second or third?"

And her answer was that it starts with women telling their stories, spreading the word. Women need to tell the story of their normal births and not be embarrassed because their friend had a c-section and she had a straightforward birth.  I personally, had an epidural, an augmentation and a ventouse with my first child. I think it must have been hearing the stories of the one or two women in my antenatal group that told their stories of their normal births that made me realise for my second child, things could and would go very differently and that may be down to me doing things differently as well. Don't feel guilty because you birthed your baby with no pain relief or that you weren't induced or even enjoyed it with a euphoric sense of achievement and pride. If you tell that story to even one person, you may change things. Perhaps you can tell the story to your daughters and then to your granddaughers. Tell it to your sons and grandsons so they can tell their wives and partners. Pass the word. We can change the world, one birth at a time.

*One Born Every Minute
** Pitocin in the US or Syntocinon in the UK - both of which are artificial synthetic oxytocin.

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