Jul
22

Male Midwife says Women should “Toughen Up”

Mother and newbornThis was the comment from an article by a UK Male Midwife on the news recently.

The headline was sufficiently intriguing that I watched almost the entire hour of news, waiting to see what angle this article would take and it actually turned out to be different than I thought it would.

Any woman who has given birth and hears a man say that birthing women should “toughen up” would be tempted to give him a good knee to his private parts and then tell him to toughen up. Well, that was my first reaction anyway, until I watched the entire article, then my view of his comments changed completely.

If you haven’t seen or read an article about this then search for Dr Denis Walsh on Google – plenty there to choose from.

The basic angle of the story was that Dr Walsh (a midwife who has a PhD, not a medical doctor) believes women today are overly reliant on pain relief during birth (particularly in the form of epidurals) and that this administration of pain relief may impair bonding between mother and child.

I must admit, it was very brave of Dr Walsh to make such a bold statement given he is a man who never has and never will experience childbirth and the associated pain – in reading some of the articles on the internet and the comments left by many mothers, the views range from the predictable outrage that a man could say such a thing about the “sacred” event that is childbirth having never experienced it himself, right through to complete agreement with his views.

And I have to say that I agree with him too.

Now I’m not a doctor or a midwife (you can read one midwifes’ perspective of epidurals here) so I can’t comment on the medical aspect of his point of view. What I can comment on though is my perspective having had two different extremes of birthing experiences.

My first birth (8 years ago) was in a private hospital, complete with obstetrician, an induced birth, gas, pethidine, epidural, ventouse extraction of my daughter, an episiotomy, initial difficulties with breastfeeding and then a cascade of bad events during her short life, culminating in my daughter passing away well before her time at only 13 1/2 months of age.

In terms of pain relief, the epidural was not completely effective in eliminating the pain and because the majority of the bottom half of me was numb, pushing was inefective and this required the ventouse (vacuum extraction). Once you start down the path of intervention, it’s a self perpetuating cascade of events that can have a negative impact on the mother and baby.

On the other side, last year I gave birth to my son, at home. There was no obstetrician, only two midwives that I saw for all of my appointments, both of whom attended the birth. There were no drugs during the labour (which lasted only 4 hours), I used a birthing pool, (although my baby wasn’t born in the pool) and the only hiccup was that the placenta was stubborn and eventually required a trip to hospital and a general anaesthetic for it’s removal. I was in hospital for just under 24 hours and that short period of time certainly reminded me why I chose to birth at home.

My little boy has now passed that anxious 13 1/2 month mark (the age my daughter died), he is still breast-feeding and growing in leaps and bounds.

In my mind, this is a great outcome.

Birthing Choices

My decision to have a home-birth for my second child initially came about because of the nauseatingly bad experiences I had with mainstream medicine every step of the way with my daughter. You could almost say it was a knee jerk reaction that I never wanted to step foot in a hospital again or place my trust in a doctor ever again after Isabella died.

The experience of losing my first child was so traumatic that the only way I could move forward to even contemplate having another child was to do everything I possibly could completely differently to the first time around. For me this meant a home-birth, with midwives as my primary care givers and the barest minimum of appointments with a general practitioner (for essential blood tests).

Because I had chosen a home-birth and midwives to be in attendance, the option of pain relief via drugs was simply not an option – I would just deal with the pain. A friend of mine had used “Hypno-birthing” during her labour and while I had intended to give this a go, I never got around to it – I figured that I was a Master NLP practitioner, I could use the tools I had from my training and manage the pain myself. Looking back now, I wish I had done the Hypno-birthing classes & will definitely be doing them next time around.

Half way through the pregnancy I was fortunate enough to see the movie documentary “The Business of Being Born” – it confirmed my distaste for the medical system and their view of birth as a medical procedure. If you have an opportunity to see this movie, I highly recommend it. While the premise of the movie wasn’t new to me, what I did find very interesting was the shock and disbelief from a lot of the members of the audience who were in their first pregnancy and were not aware of how fear based the medical system really is. This wasn’t new to me – I’d experienced it first hand.

At this particular screening of the movie in Melbourne, we were lucky enough to have respected midwife Rhea Dempsey provide a brief introduction to the movie.

She explained the complex and miraculous hormonal processes that occur during pregnancy and labour and how essential these are to the entire birth process. Here are some of the things I learnt from her talk:

  • being fearful and in a strange environment (such as a hospital) can drastically slow down labour,
  • extending labour is detrimental to both mother and baby and may lead to unwanted interventions such as the administration of pain relieving drugs and even c-section,
  • birth is increasingly being viewed as a medical procedure that needs to be managed in hospitals only,
  • pain relieving drugs actually interfere with the delicate hormonal balance present during labour which ultimately does impact on bonding between the new baby and the mother (and father),
  • women have been giving birth for centuries and it’s time for them to be encouraged to view the birthing process as miraculous and something that we do have the strength to participate in fully (without drugs),
  • all drugs administered to the mother affect the baby.

Interestingly there were comments by doctors in response to Dr Walsh that there are no studies that prove bonding is adversely impacted by administering drugs during birth. Surely the increased number of cases of depression in children and adolescents, teenage suicides, increased teenage use of drugs and binge drinking all reflects that there is some breakdown in the relationship between children and their parents (parents’ ability to influence their children positively seems to be decreasing while negative peer influence is increasing). Is there is a correlation between the increased number of caesarians & the use of pain relief and decreased bonding and this increase in parent/child relationships later in life?

Some doctors also expressed concern that Dr Walsh’s comments were “dangerous”. I don’t quite know what they mean by dangerous, but what is more dangerous is women believing that the drugs are safe. No drugs are safe. When you agree to have drugs administered, you believe that the benefits outweigh the risks as per the information provided to you by your doctor. While a doctor may be able to provide you with advice on the risks, remember that ultimately you are signing a form that releases the doctor from any blame should an adverse event happen.

So basically, the doctor provides you with information about the drug (which has been provided to them by a pharmaceutical company representative in an attempt to “sell” the doctor on how fantastic this drug is), but ultimately takes no responsibility if something goes wrong.

Now I believe that each person should have the right to choose the care that they deem is best for them, and this choice should be made with all of the information available, not just the side the doctor wants to promote.

I think this is the whole crux of the viewpoint Dr Walsh has expressed. Women and in fact the majority of our society, have come to a point where they believe that pain relieving drugs and caesarians are the norm for childbirth, because this is what doctors promote as the “safest” birthing option and they downplay the negative aspects of this type of “interventionist” medicine.

Clearly there are life threatening situations where medical intervention is necessary – but this certainly doesn’t equal the current 30% caesarian rate Australia currently has. If women really understood the repercussions of choosing such heavy intervention when it isn’t truly necessary, I believe there would be a lot more women deciding on a more natural approach to the birthing experience.

What experiences did you had during birth?

If you have older children, do you think the type of birth you had has influenced the relationship you have between you and your child?

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About Helena

Helena is a stay at home Mum to one funny, intelligent and very curious little boy. Helena & her husband are working towards creating a location independent lifestyle that will enable their family to homeschool, travel and experience the world together.

Comments

  1. Wonderful perspective on the thorny subject of pain relief in labour.
    Awful to read that you had a little one who died. I have no words sufficient to convey my sympathy. x
    .-= Midwife Muse´s last blog ..The long goodbye =-.

  2. Hey Helena..
    Great pst babe! Thought id add my 2 cents..

    I chose to have my son at the local hospital. under the care of midwives, so i didnt see any OB’s.. just midwives..
    When i got 40 weeks.. i was told they would induce me at 40 + 10 days… thats all they allow you to go over. At this time i was more than happy to be induced.. Being my son was a IVFmiracle.. i was desprate to meet him.. and i had tried EVERY Natural inducing thing POSSIBLE!!

    I was induced on a sunday arvo with the gels.. and by 12 am the next day, was being put onto the Synotonin drip to “keep things moving” .. Synotonin gets things going.. but makes u dialte slower…
    So after 12 hrs of labour.. i opted for a epidural… I was soo exhausted.. and needed a break.
    In the end ( only 2 rs after epi) i had a episiotomy and a vaccum extraction.. and my son was here..

    I dont feel scared by his birth.. i dont feel i “failed” becaue i had the epi.. i stll gave birth.. regardless of how it happened.. I bonded with my son straight away.. and to this day, is the proudest day of my life..

    In saying that.. If and when we choose to have another baby, i wont be induced,, i will choose to go into labour naturally.. even if this means i bath in clary sage for a week.. l will still have my baby at the birth clinic… and will have the option of a epi..

    My choice to have the epi wasnt to “dull the pain”.. i actually loved the whole labour process.. and i believe that if i wasnt put on the drip, i would have been able to birth Zeth myself.. with out need of the epi..
    I believe child birth is a personal thing and should be left for the woman to decide.. if birthing on your head is your thing… go for gold..
    But woman shouldnt be made to feel like a faliure becasue they choose it..

    as for the mid wife.. well.. hes intitled to his opinion.. but i think alot of woman will not see things his way!

  3. Hey Helena..
    Great pst babe! Thought id add my 2 cents..

    I chose to have my son at the local hospital. under the care of midwives, so i didnt see any OB’s.. just midwives..
    When i got 40 weeks.. i was told they would induce me at 40 + 10 days… thats all they allow you to go over. At this time i was more than happy to be induced.. Being my son was a IVFmiracle.. i was desprate to meet him.. and i had tried EVERY Natural inducing thing POSSIBLE!!

    I was induced on a sunday arvo with the gels.. and by 12 am the next day, was being put onto the Synotonin drip to “keep things moving” .. Synotonin gets things going.. but makes u dialte slower…
    So after 12 hrs of labour.. i opted for a epidural… I was soo exhausted.. and needed a break.
    In the end ( only 2 rs after epi) i had a episiotomy and a vaccum extraction.. and my son was here..

    I dont feel scared by his birth.. i dont feel i “failed” becaue i had the epi.. i stll gave birth.. regardless of how it happened.. I bonded with my son straight away.. and to this day, is the proudest day of my life..

    In saying that.. If and when we choose to have another baby, i wont be induced,, i will choose to go into labour naturally.. even if this means i bath in clary sage for a week.. l will still have my baby at the birth clinic… and will have the option of a epi..

    My choice to have the epi wasnt to “dull the pain”.. i actually loved the whole labour process.. and i believe that if i wasnt put on the drip, i would have been able to birth Zeth myself.. with out need of the epi..
    I believe child birth is a personal thing and should be left for the woman to decide.. if birthing on your head is your thing… go for gold..
    But woman shouldnt be made to feel like a faliure becasue they choose it..

    as for the mid wife.. well.. hes intitled to his opinion.. but i think alot of woman will not see things his way!

  4. Dear Helena
    My weekend has just had the best start ever, discovering you, your blog, your ideas and your courage.
    I am overwhelmed with a tremendous sense of loss for your Isabella but as you say – what a gift she gave you to have had you stop and contemplate life….And congrats on your little boy.
    I have had both my daughters (2, and almost 4 weeks) at home in water and had the most life changing experiences and transformations as a result. I know that I have given them a gift that will last a lifetime – I have taught them that birth is wonderful and to be honoured and that there is nothing to fear (which is the opposite to what I was taught/believed growing up.) And that’s not a criticism of my incredible parents – they were just doing what they knew and went to hospital, had every intervention possible, and as a result my mum will tell you she had three ‘horrific, traumatic’ experiences.
    I look forward to getting to know you more Helena and thanks for having the courage to ‘put yourself out there’ and share your light with the world.
    With love
    Emma

    • Thankyou for your kind words Emma – I haven’t written much of late on this blog because I received some troll comments early last year regarding my opinions and choices and I decided to withdraw – silly I know, because when I read your post I realised how important it is to share because you will never know the impact it will have on someone else.
      I look forward to hearing more of your adventures with your little ones too.
      Helena 🙂

  5. I was never a big fan of pain killers durring birth, It makes it last longer then it should, I took the pain and delt with it as everyone should 🙂
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