The Slow Birth Movement

I’ve just read Gloria Lemay’s article The “Slow Birth” Movement from her Birth Blog homebase in Vancouver, BC. Lemay is a midwife who carries a lot of weight in the Pacific Northwest birth community. And this post she blogs about touches very close to home.

It touches close to home because I’m a vegan. This is related. This winter in Seattle, my partner and I, two warm-water California girls, learned how to survive in a freezing city with minimal funds for recreation: Netflix. The two of us are perennial students, and we tend to prefer multi-episode documentaries to movies or television. The favorite from this frigid season was without a doubt PBS’ 6-part documentary Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State. Try to imagine all the horror you could possibly witness in a 6-hour sitting; how many thousands of people you could watch being herded into a gas chamber; how many tens of thousands of bodies bulldozed across a verdant campus, how many thousands of small children you could see tortured in the name of “medicine.” The Nazis did not only murder Jews, but Catholics, Gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone who might be considered “unfavorable.” Now I’m an educated woman; so I was familiar with Auschwitz and the Nazi Holocaust long before this documentary. What I did not know beforehand was how much industrial engineering went into the mass-extermination of human beings. What I did not know beforehand was humankind’s ability to see a human being and legitimately not see them as a person.

The energy of Auschwitz sits with me tremendously when I think of other similar circumstances. Factory farming, for example, is a modern-day diorama of Auschwitz. I could go into details and get all crazy animal-rights on you, but I’m very sure you’re at least a little familiar with how our food gets to our tables, and I really want to focus on birth here. In the process of becoming a vegan at the beginning of this year, as anyone might understand, I experienced some cravings for a big ol bite out of a lamb’s leg or a nice juicy cheeseburger. Even under the recommendations of my doctor, I considered returning to my standard diet for “health” reasons, though my heart seemed unsure. Then I read this quote:

“Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.”
-Theodor Adorno

Way to rock if for me, Adorno! I used to have this puppy, Penny. She was a very badly-behaved Beagle, and I loved her with all my heart. She would be so thrilled to see me come and so sad to see me go. Every day. This dog knew what was up; and it would have been the end of me if anyone ever tried to hurt her. And this is such a small example of humanity. I loved that dog; but to anyone else, she was just a dog. In some other country, she’d be lunch. And that sickens me. In this country, it’s okay to eat animals because, “they’re just chickens,” or whatever. In this country, it’s okay to subject animals to ridiculous industrial factory farming because a lot of animals have to go through the system to reach our homes. In this country, it’s okay to do all of that because that’s the way we were brought up, and that’s the way our parents told us the world worked.

Unfortunately, the American industrialization of unlikely subjects has now insidiously extended into the realm of almost every home. Hospitalized maternity care is the new Auschwitz. That’s a very bold statement, and I mean what I say sincerely. Forget for this moment that you were born in a hospital and it seemed to work. Forget for this moment that “the hospital is the safest place to be,” or that even in nurse-midwifery care, a surgeon’s just a door-knock away. All of these “perks” are the gloriously shiny distractions AMA and ACOG have spent billions of dollars defending. The best part is: most of the individuals in these organizations and most of the individuals working in any hospital across the US have never seen natural birth.

This becomes an issue when women are getting what they consider to be valuable, ethical, and correct information from a source as reputable as a board-certified physician. We all want to trust these people, especially considering our lives are in their hands. But lives are not their area of expertise. Readings are. What a midwife can learn with an ear and small-scale megaphone, a physician needs to infer from machines, monitors, and medicines. And if the readings are not all pointing directly toward rapid-growth (see the industrial link here?) a woman is told she is failing to progress, and will either be sliced open (think chickens), injected with synthetic hormones (again, chickens), or prodded into unnatural positions with unnatural instruments to release the product of desire….like an egg, but really.

Stepping into that hospital voluntarily is like stepping into Auschwitz, involuntarily. Any semblance of a normal life, in which you are in control over your body and your experience, is checked at the door. If your cervix needs an hour more to dilate than your roommate’s, too bad: it’s time for the OR. That’s America. We’ve got several other pregnant women in triage waiting for your labor room, and we can’t just sit and watch you waddle around until you’re ready. We’re ready. Now.

My greatest wish is that one day industrial birth will be a thing of the past. But based upon what I’ve seen thus far, I’m afraid it will get worse before it will get better. In an article titled Maternal Mortality in the United States: A Human Rights Failure, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals point out that the system is, in fact, very flawed. In the developed world, the US has among the highest maternal mortalities. Would you believe you are, in fact, 20% more likely to die when you give birth in a hospital? Statistics aren’t facts packaged into percentages, but they do sort of knock some common misconceptions out of the water.

So to you my friends, I just want to emphasize that your wife, your sister, your mother-is more important than the system. Trust her instincts, listen to her body. She knows what she is doing and she knows what she wants. She is no chicken to be debeaked and caged.

Slow Birth, like Clean Eating may change our culture dramatically.


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