‘People do the strangest things at births,’ said one of my teachers. Very true. And not out of wanting to be eccentric, but oft en out of creativity, or even desperation. I heard two stories recently. The first was of an African mother’s belly being stood on to try and force the baby through her vagina, so that one of them, if not both, might survive. Strange, but perhaps no more shocking than the story of three episiotomies given to a mother in hospital in a desperate attempt to free a stuck baby, obviously the only thing left to do in a desperate situation.
Sometimes, even with the best intentions, teamwork, and intuitive guidance and reasoning, the perfect outcome still remains elusive. We need to accept there will always exist around birth and death, certain inexplicable mysteries and unsolvable problems beyond our control. At times this can be very frightening, and much more so if we are blamed for our lack of ability to control the process.
In a field where everyone is doing their best, we need to clear the judgement and confusion about what really constitutes negligence. Though death and disability through birth happens even in the most impeccable
Medical settings, we are led to believe that medicine can save almost any situation, if not now, then certainly in the future. Thus we tend to judge outcome on the presence or absence of modern medical help, as if there are no other valuable sources of knowledge and action. And we tend to assume the price paid for medical rescue is always worth it. Realistically, it is difficult to measure most things about birth. Always working with and judging birth only according to medical standards creates conflict between systems of care and oft en disregards the mother’s experience and circumstances.
Out of the two desperate situations presented above, the measures taken in an African village to birth a baby would be deemed much more extreme purely because it was non-medical. If neither mother nor child survived, it would be judged as barbaric, even though it may have worked before or been done with great love and caring in an isolated situation, far from the possibility of medical intervention. Conversely, if the mother or child in the medical situation had died, it would be considered a difficult birth with an unfortunate outcome. In both situations people are doing the best they can with the skills available.
Within modern cultures, ordinary ‘unqualified’ people rarely experience the opportunity to support and witness birth (or death during birth) as a natural process. Natural birth is becoming more elusive as we are encouraged to believe that medical management can successfully control, or at least improve the outcome, of all births.