Back when I first started asking mums and mums to be questions about their experiences of Irish pregnancy and motherhood for "The Mammy Diaries," I received the following reply from a woman who had chosen to give birth at home;
"I benefited from the combined experience of my mum and my two older sisters; all three went through the hospital system themselves but encouraged me to explore natural or low intervention birth options. I started reading up before I even became pregnant and the more I read, in books and on-line, the more I understood that the odds of having a natural birth are stacked against you in a hospital, especially first time out. I recall reading the annual report from my local maternity hospital and discovering that only five percent of first time mothers give birth spontaneously without any form of intervention or instrumental delivery. Meanwhile, I was also reading birth accounts from homebirthers and I was completely won over by their enthusiasm for delivering at home. Shortly after getting a positive pregnancy test, I attended a home birth meeting and I was hooked on the idea. "
Having had both the experience of a hospital birth and a home birth myself, I knew there was a lot of truth to what she was saying, but SURELY the figures she quoted couldn't be right! Surely she'd meant 50 or even 15 percent of first time mothers (which would still be criminally low in my opinion.) Could it really be possible that 95% of first time mothers in Ireland are thought to be deficient in some way and unable to get through what is without a doubt one of the most natural experiences in life, without intervention from the medical community?
I put it to the back of my mind and continued on with the work of writing and compiling and writing some more. Then it came time to put a bit more polish on the Birth Stories section, a section which I am still having trouble with for reasons I'll get to later...
With the figure of 5% still floating around in the back of my mind, I started re-reading through the birth stories with fresh eyes and was shocked with what I found. Time and again, the same words and phrases kept popping up. "Induced," "help labour along," "gel," "sweep," "Speed up labour," "episiotomy," "epidural," "section," "forceps," "vacuum," and then at the end of each story a general variation on the theme of "Oh well, my baby was born healthy and well and that's all that matters."
But is it?
I'm not so sure.
Of the almost two hundred birth stories I received, only a handful gave birth spontaneously and vaginally with no intervention, the vast majority of those being home births, second time mothers or babies born in the MLU's. Two of them were planned hospital births, one of which ended up being an unplanned homebirth and the other in a hospital car park! I talked to my friends, surely at least one of them must have had a spontaneous vaginal birth with no intervention whatsoever?
Well actually, one of them did. The midwives didn't believe she was in labour until she headed off to the labour ward herself, hopped up on the table and popped out the baby herself.
Am I crazy in wondering if we've taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way?
I understand that there are times when interventions are called for, that things can and do go wrong in labour. I would think though, and call me naive if you will, that this number should be far lower then that of women who experience healthy, problem free pregnancies and deliveries.
Low risk births should be the norm, not the exception. The vast majority Irish of women cannot be defective.
That though, is the message that our hospitals are sending out, and that is the issue I am having a hard time dealing with.
In writing the " Mammy Diaries," I am trying to give a balanced view of what the average Irish woman's experience of pregnancy, birth and the first year of motherhood is really like.
However, by including all of these tales of interventions and things going wrong, what exactly is the image of birth that I am portraying to new mothers to be? What sort of conclusions about birth and their own body's capabilities will they draw if they start to see things like induction, c-section, membrane rupturing and instrumental birth as the norm and not the exception? What effect would this lack of confidence have on their own labour and births and would it merely become some sort of self fulfilling prophecy?
I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter...