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Excerpt: "Birth Matters" by Ina May Gaskin

Excerpt: "Birth Matters" by Ina May Gaskin

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Published by wamu885
Excerpted from "Birth Matters" by Ina May Gaskin. Copyright 2011 by Ina May Gaskin. Excerpted here by kind permission of Seven Stories.
Excerpted from "Birth Matters" by Ina May Gaskin. Copyright 2011 by Ina May Gaskin. Excerpted here by kind permission of Seven Stories.

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Published by: wamu885 on Jul 20, 2011
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The Importance of Birthand Birth Stories
irth matters. It matters because it is the way we all begin our livesoutside of our source, our mothersbodies. It’s the meansthrough which we enter and feel our first impression of the widerworld. For each mother, it is an event that shakes and shapes her toher innermost core. Women’s perceptions about their bodies andtheir babies’ capabilities will be deeply influenced by the care theyreceive around the time of birth.No matter how much pressure our society may bring upon us topretend otherwise, pregnancy, labor, and birth produce very pow-erful changes in women’s bodies, psyches, and lives, no matter bywhich exit route—natural or surgical—babies are born. It followsthen that the way that birth care is organized and carried out willhave a powerful effect on any human society. A society that placesa low value on its mothers and the process of birth will suffer anarray of negative repercussions for doing so. Good beginnings makea positive difference in the world, so it is worth our while to providethe best possible care for mother and babies throughout thisextraordinarily influential part of life.Birth also matters because the journey through pregnancy andbirth offers an irreplaceable way for women to explore their deepestselves—their minds, bodies, and nature. Such a journey of self-dis-covery can help them prepare for the hard and underappreciatedjob of motherhood in a world now full of historically unique andcomplex challenges. There is a sacred power in the innately femi-
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nine capacity of giving birth. It is one of the elemental, continuingprocesses of nature that women have the chance to experience, andit is the one act of human creation that is not shared by men. Whywould we not want to explore this territory?My use of the word “sacred” as applied to birth in this book isintentional and nonreligious. It implies that birth is an event impor-tant enough to warrant special consideration from those who areinvolved in the care of women during this time of life. It indicatesthat disrespect of the power of giving birth creates profound dishar-mony and ignorance in the world.Givingbirthcanbethemostempoweringexperienceof alifetime— aninitiationintoanewdimensionof mind-bodyawareness—oritcanbe disempowering, by removing from new mothers any sense of innerstrengthorcapacityandleavingthemconvincedthattheirbodieswerecreated by a malevolent nature (or deity) to punish them in labor andbirth.Birthmaybefollowedbyanempoweringjoy,aeuphoriathattheywill never forget, or by a depression that can make the mother astrangertoherself andeveryonewhoknowsher.Thereisanenormousrange of “birth effects,” depending on each woman’s experience, herlifestyle,thestateof herhealthduringherpregnancy,thechoicessheisabletomakeregardingthematernitycareavailabletoher,andthewayshe is treated when her time comes.Traditional cultures throughout the world have always consid-ered birth to be within the domain of women. Because only womengive birth, indigenous cultures that were widely separated fromeach other all considered it obvious that women were the peoplemost qualified to decide what sort of care was necessary duringpregnancy, birth, and the newborn period. Even in those tribal cul-tures in which men had important roles to play around the time of pregnancy and birth, women—and in particular, those serving asmidwives—had (and in some remote places still have) a great dealof influence in mapping out what these male roles ought to be.What a contrast there is between these kinds of assumptions and
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those that are entertained by much of the public in the US. Here andin a growing number of countries, women have very little, if any,decision-making power about how they will be treated during preg-nancy or birth. These are the countries in which midwifery eitherdoesn’t exist anymore or is so marginalized as to be without influ-ence. This kind of extremely medicalized maternity care has becomecommon in urban areas of Mexico, Brazil, China, Venezuela, andThailand, for example, where rates of C-sections have risen to fouror five times more than the rates considered safe by the WorldHealth Organization (WHO). In
and again in
, the WHOconvened consensus conferences to review scientific evidence ontechnologies used in childbirth. These conferences made a series of recommendations, including that the rate of C-sections should neverbe more than
percent of all births.
Many private hospitals inthe countries mentioned above have cesarean rates of 
per-cent. The doctors who were my mentors during the
s would havebeen horrified to know that such high rates of surgery could beallowed to happen for no medical reason in any country, becausethey knew that unnecessary surgery puts lives at risk—the oppositeof what medical care is supposed to do. Just after I was given a tour of a birthing room at a high-volumeBrazilian hospital in
, I had a chance to witness a scheduledC-section. The nervous husband of the mother-to-be and I peeredthrough the window in the door of the operating room as we stoodin the corridor outside. Trembling with fear, the mother lay on theT-shaped operating room table, her arms outstretched and tied tothe table at her wrists. A nurse quickly shaved and swabbed herbelly. There were no words of comfort given the mother throughher ordeal. It seemed clear to me that while she was terrified of having the C-section, she must have been even more scared of experiencing labor or she wouldn’t have agreed to the surgery.This hospital did have a birthing room, but I was shown the log of births that had occurred in it for the previous month, and only two
The Importance of Birth and Birth Stories 
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