Monday, August 31, 2009

Normalizing Normal Birth, Part One

“You had a baby at home? But you’re so…”

People usually trail off at that point, leaving me unsure of what I am so…

Smart? Boring? Conservative? Liberal? Normal?

I think it’s normal. I seem so normal. But finding out I’ve had a baby at home with a midwife makes people step back and reassess. Because in our culture, normal birth is not normal. Clearly, my colored hair, average clothes and pathetically common soda habit must be some kind of ruse, a cover for my abnormal childbirth behavior. I seem so normal.

And the truth is, I am normal. I’m a pretty average woman, although I’ve been blessed with some extraordinary circumstances in my life. I have my babies the normal way, without unnecessary drugs and interventions, without surgery unless the situation becomes life-threatening. What’s so strange about that?

Except it is. We know it is. Few births happen out of hospital. In the US, close to a third of births involve major abdominal surgery, so many that many people believe cesarean birth is actually safer than normal birth, and don’t even count the “minor” surgical procedure of episiotomies that are performed with ridiculous, heedless regularity, like some sort of Western female circumcision rite. Most births occur in hospitals, are monitored, induced and anesthetized beyond the needs of normal birth, making birth in the US more dangerous than in most developed countries. That’s not normal.

So how do we bring normal birth back into cultural normalcy and make it not only accepted, but expected? How does this change happen?

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