Thursday, September 6, 2012

BBC's Jenni Murray says 'Get real!' about birth pain

With the controversial headline, As plans to cut down on epidurals cause a furore, JENNI MURRAY says... Get real, girls! Pain is part of childbirth, Jenni's point of view will undoubtedly have its critics.

But there's a part of her story that might elicit sympathy too, which is something we talk about in our book, and that is the possible adverse effect on a child growing up with a mother who had a traumatic birth. Jenni writes of her own mother, "She never hesitated in regaling me with the horror story of my arrival and the damage it had done to her physically and emotionally."
I don't know, but I think it's possible that in the same way some women are "afraid [or] terrified" of giving birth naturally, Jenni may also have a fear of birth - i.e. the 'medicalized' one she grew up hearing about. This may make it difficult (even impossible) for her to comprehend that some women wholeheartedly embrace medical intervention - because ultrasounds, feotal heart rate monitoring and planned caesareans (for example) are a far cry from the enema, shaving, strapping down, legs in stirrups and being left alone that she describes here.

Ironically, Jenni's message about how "perfectly designed" women's bodies are for giving birth has appeared in the Daily Mail on the very same day as news of the inquest into a woman who died giving birth at home.

And it's not the home birth itself that is so tragic here - I've said before that I think if a woman instinctively wants to give birth at home, then she deserves the same respect and support as a woman who instinctively wants a caesarean birth (with an individualized consultation on the specific risk-benefit balance for each woman) - but it's the persuading that goes on in convincing women to choose a home birth (who would otherwise instinctively choose a hospital birth) that is troubling - it swings the pendulum beyond choice to an ideological push for more women to make this choice.

This is the comment I posted beneath Jenni's article:

You say birth is 'a natural function for which the female form is perfectly designed'. This is hyperbole at best and setting some women up to feel like failures at worst (their bodies are somehow 'imperfect' if medical help is needed). It's perfectly 'normal' for mothers and babies to die or end up seriously injured during the birth process; medical intervention can decrease these risks and some of us don't want to wait until the 11th hour life or death situation. It's like the language of 'normal' or 'natural' (when used in a context of being superior); does it mean women who choose or need epidurals and caesareans are in some way abnormal or unnatural? I don't think so. Unfortunately, your anecdotal experience does not reflect the wider reality of birth risks. You were lucky - your experience didn't involve (for e.g.) stillbirth, back-to-back delivery, foetal distress, shoulder dystocia, or 3rd/4th degree tear leading to lifelong incontinence, prolapse or sexual health issues.

Technological advances are all around us and if women want to opt for these in pregnancy and childbirth, it's no different to choosing many of the other reproductive choices available (e.g. contraception, IVF, amniocentesis, abortion). If you feel birth is inherently safe, you'll make a different birth plan choice to a woman who sees it as inherently risky. Both choices should be respected and supported, but like many natural birth advocates, you are intolerant to choices that don't reflect your own. As for cost, NICE guidance looks at cost to the NHS when developing its guidelines, and found that a planned CS costs £84 more than a planned natural birth when the costs of downstream urinary incontinence are factored in. It didn't look at other downstream costs of prolapse, treating birth injuries or litigation (for example), but future studies will - and the prohibitive cost argument will be on shakier ground than it already is.

1 comment:

Bundlekin said...

Great post Pauline. I was struggling to understand how someone as intelligent as Jenni who calls herself a feminist could write that article. I think it was partly that she was dumbing down for the Daily Mail, but also I think you've really hit on something about fear. A rational assessment of the risks and benefits clearly didn't come into it.