“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within...”
Romans 12:2

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Hilary's Desk

Sucking eggs - natural birth babies bond better

Hilary Butler - Saturday, September 06, 2008

" Bonding stronger if birth is natural". So read the heading on page A17 of the New Zealand Herald today. The article isn't available on the website because it originally came from the Independent.

Way back, even before some readers of this column were born, the majority of labouring mothers were falling under the "spell" of the medical profession which held what looked like a 'progressive' new policy which said that women should be given the right to have their labours pain-free. Many still hold to that belief. Who wants "pain" if you can avoid it? From the 60's, there was a minority in society, the old wives' brigade, who counseled against "twilight sleep" which was a combination of morphine and scopolamine. Twilight sleep obliterated maternal memory of labour and birth. Some some women suffered a type of psychosis during labour and would struggle, scream and fight. Questions as to how the bruises they sported after birth were caused, were greeted with silence. Medical people refused to tell these mothers with amnesia just what they the mothers had done during labour. Worse, despite the fact that doctors knew "twilight sleep" had harmful physical and emotional effects on both babies, mothers and bonding, mothers were never told.

Barbiturates, such as nembutal and seconal were also used right up into the 1980's All of these drugs were phased in, and out, without explanation or apology, because what parents didn't know, couldn't hurt them. So they thought. Or could it?

Epidurals were phased in, primarily because they led to quieter births, with less work for the medical staff because mothers thrashing around in labour didn't have to be restrained. Staff also didn't have to lie.

But out of the silence of the medical profession came a small group of parents and homebirth midwives, who kicked up a stink about the medicalisation of birth. Organisation such as NAPSAC, in the USA, the home-birth movement in New Zealand and elsewhere, sprang up around the fringes, and were regularly smacked down by the medical profession.

In this country today, many women can plan for, and achieve a natural birth. But unfortunately natural births aren't often achieved for women for whom the only option is delivery in hospital. Obstetricians and doctors are seemingly worried about the fact that not enough natural births are happening in hospitals.  A letter to the New Zealand Medical Journal blames parents for not allowing them into their labours and deliveries to practice "catching" babies born normally. As the midwife said the the reply, the best way to ensure a natural delivery is to stay away from people whose mindset

Giving birth isn't just about someone swanning in to catch a baby, logging it off on an achievement sheet, and swanning out again. Birth is the "birth" of a family and one of the most important events for the establishment of that family, and requires commitment to the whole process not just logging a catch.... Muck that up and a whole lot of things get mucked up down the line; not just bonding.

The realisation of this precious truth back in the 1970's spawned hundreds of books, many of which are now out of print. Titles such as; "Special Delivery" by Rahima Baldwin; "Heart and Hands" by Elizabeth Davis; "Immaculate Deception" by Suzanne Arms; "Silent Knife" by Nancy Wainer Cohen. These were the books which reshaped my thinking from the hospital disaster that was Ian's birth, to the homebirth wonder that was David's birth.

I can see, clearly etched in my mind, the fact that what happened to me with the birth of our first son, had a two-fold response in me. On the one hand, it awoke in me the "hell hath no fury like a mother trashed" which made me try to fight so hard (yet so impotently) for Ian after birth, in a system which held all the strings. What made it so hard to fight, was that those were the days when you just "did as you were told". While the medical profession today says ludicrous things like "vaccination rates have never been higher...." back then we were the ONLY parents who chose not to vaccinate our children. EVERYONE else in those days, followed the Nike motto; "Just Do It".

The other response in me to watching the medicalization and brutality directed at our just delivered firstborn, was the ongoing helplessness I felt as watching my child's response to what had been done to him stretch out in the years that followed. There are tangible ways in which that impacts on how a parent "parent's" their children, which goes way beyond "bonding". But that's something that the medical profession hasn't studied, and doesn't particularly care about in general.

Looking at the issue in terms of the "larger" picture, bonding isn't the only thing that natural birth improves. There is a very real concept behind both natural birth and the old "lying in" concept, where mothers, and fathers could take a few weeks of relaxed time, relating to, learning the unique language of that child, and becoming a family.  

That's a concept long forgotten in the slam bam-go home philosophy behind the dollar driven medical care we have today.

And when people start talking about parents who are violent towards their children, it's time to think about birth and parenting far more deeply, because there are many socially deprived parents who don't abuse their children. What is the difference between them, and parents who provably do abuse their children?

Might one difference actually be the way the mother gives birth, and the way the medical profession controls labour, delivery, post-natal care and the depth of bonding? 

It's little wonder today, that many people feel so inadequate as parents when all around them, "experts" and "authorities" not only undermine their ability to parent, but consider that parents can't be trusted to consider all the information about anything, and make truly informed choices. Often, advice from their parents or grandparents is rubbished as being "out of date", yet it just might be that the new research showing natural birth results in better bonding, is really a variant on teaching grandmothers how to suck eggs. "We" grandparents know that. But somehow it's not a legitimate issue for us to bring up, because what medical school did we go to? It's only "right" when it's the result of a large study and published in a peer review medical journal.

Yet, it's not just teaching grandmothers how to suck eggs. Been there and done that. It's coals to Newcastle and re-inventing the wheel.

There is no point in the medical profession giving lip service to natural birth improving bonding, unless the whole of obstetrics training is turned upside down, and doctors start to respect parents ability to be parents in the first place, and giving them the real skills they need to do the job, instead of offering quick fix solutions. You only have to walk into the average doctor's surgery and look at the posters on the wall, the books, the pamphlets, or listen to conversations between parents of very young babies discussing their uncertainties, to see that everywhere a mother or father turns today, their autonomy, and ability to think for themselves is being very skillfully undermined pretty much everywhere parents turn.

It's called, "Divide and Rule." But the real question every parent needs to ask is, "Exactly why is this happening?" Unfortunately the ultimate tragedy is that most parents who go to hospital to have a baby, don't know the history behind the medicalization of motherhood, and think that what happens today is both "good", and "normal".  Nothing could be further from the truth.

P.S.  A discussion arose about the expression of "sucking eggs".  Please read this explanation below:

"To teach one's grandmother to suck eggs - To offer needless assistance; to waste one's efforts upon futile matters; especially, to offer advice to an expert. This particular expression is well over two hundred years old; it is just a variation of an older theme that was absurd enough to appeal to the popular fancy. One of the earliest of these is given in Udall's translation of 'Apophthegmes (1542) from the works of Erasmus. It reads: 'A swyne to teach Minerua, was a prouerbe, for which we sai: Englyshe to teach our dame to spyne.'" That last bit was about an expression, don't try to teach a dame to spin."

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