There’s nothing wrong with medicalizing childbirth


Aloha from Hawaii! Above is the view from the pool where I am writing this post.

I’m here for the ACOG district conference and I’ve been reviewing my notes for my talk on Friday. I’m struck by the fact that everything I plan to talk about — homebirth and, to a lesser extent, natural childbirth — is premised on a fundamental and erroneous belief, that there is a problem that exists with childbirth and that homebirth and natural childbirth can fix it.

The problem is that childbirth has been (dare I say it) …. medicalized. Oh, the horror!!

It’s horrible because … wait a second … what’s horrible about medicalizing childbirth?

The underlying belief of natural childbirth advocates is that childbirth has some kind of pristine essence that should not be changed in any way except, possibly, in the most dire emergency. The major efforts of professional homebirth and natural childbirth advocates are forcefully directed toward “problematizing” any medicalization of childbirth and then offering homebirth and natural childbirth as the solution to this “problem.”

But childbirth is a function just like any other bodily function and we don’t consider medicalizing other bodily functions to be a problem, so why should medicalizing childbirth be considered a problem?

For example:

Women routinely and deliberately medicalize fertility by using a variety of different forms of birth control. Most women highly value the ability to regulate their own fertility and very few people are singing the praises of having 10 children as a result of “unhindered” fertility.

Both men and women routinely medicalize aging. Instead of letting their blood pressure rise “unhindered” and end up with cardiovascular disease, they routinely visit doctors and take medications to lower the nearly inevitable high blood pressure that comes with the natural stiffening of aging arteries. And no one seems to have a problem “medicalizing” eyesight by using glasses to compensate for the entirely natural deterioration of near vision that occurs as a result of aging.

Or how about something even more basic still? We routinely medicalize body odor by regular bathing, using soap, shampoo and even deodorant. No one seems to think that is a problem. either.

In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of anybody complaining about “medicalization” of any other bodily function, so why complain about medicalizing childbirth?

Why? Because homebirth and natural childbirth completely depend on creating this faux “problem” in order to save us from it. They are committed to romanticizing childbirth, ignoring history, and ignoring science, all the while pretending that they are promoting “evidence based” practice.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Natural childbirth is based on no evidence of any kind. The white men who promulgated it simply made it up to comport with their personal views about the role of women in the world (specifically that the world would be a better place if women stopped agitating for political and economic rights, and, instead, stayed home and had babies as “nature intended”).

Indeed, homebirth and natural childbirth advocates implicitly recognize that scientific evidence is not on their side by routinely deleting comments that contain real scientific evidence and banning commentors whose knowledge of science extends beyond the “alternate world of internal legitimacy” created by the “journals,” conferences and “credentials” conjured into existence by themselves.

Nature is neither benign nor perfect. We seem to be able to recognize that in every other area of human health. No one complains that middle aged people who use reading glasses are “medicalizing” the vision experience. We don’t problematize reading glasses. No one complains that the elderly medicalize the cardiovascular experience by taking steps to control their blood pressure. We don’t problematize blood pressure medications. And no one is complaining that we have medicalized the body odor experience by bathing regularly with soap and shampoo.

So the next time you encounter homebirth and natural childbirth advocates fretting about medicalized childbirth, consider that there appears to be nothing wrong with medicalizing any other bodily process. The faux “problem” of medicalized childbirth isn’t a problem at all; it is simply the way that homebirth and natural childbirth advocates justify their existence.

And consider, too, that when you recognize that there is nothing wrong with medicalizing childbirth, there is no reason to feel guilty about giving birth whatever way works best for you.