Compare and contrast

I’ve been skimming through a pregnancy/birth book published by ACOG (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). It’s a really generic book that reads like an insurance pamphlet, which is kind of what you’d expect, but I find it interesting since it is an official communication from America’s OBs to the full spectrum of pregnant women. What messages are being conveyed in this very broad-based medium?

Well, here are two examples. On labor discomfort:

“Take a childbirth class to learn relaxation methods, ways to ease labor pain, and the options you have for pain relief. For instance, if you plan to give birth without pain relief, remind yourself that you won’t ‘fail’ if you decide you need some relief. Often, medication helps a woman relax enough to help labor along.”

On breastfeeding:

“How you feed your newborn is a personal choice. However, even if you are not sure breastfeeding (also called nursing) is right for you, think about giving it a try. You can switch to formula later, if necessary. Bottle-fed babies can be well nourished, and a combination of bottle feeding and breastfeeding works for some mothers. However, many women who aren’t sure about breastfeeding find that, once the baby arrives, they love the sense of closeness it gives them.”

Notice the difference in tone between these two paragraphs. The first is subtly discouraging to the reader who’s looking for a drug-free birth. The second is balanced (it acknowledges that breastfeeding does not work in all cases, and avoids making bottle-feeding mothers feel guilty), but clearly sends a message that breastfeeding is a more beneficial choice.

It’s great (really) that ACOG and most of the medical establishment has started cheerleading so strongly for nursing. Moms and babies needed that. When are we going to catch up on the pain relief issue?

As I’ve said before, I don’t want anyone to suffer needlessly, but I think a big part of the picture is being left out when medical care providers say (or imply, as above) that would-be natural birthers are on a foolish quest. It is not only a valid choice to birth without drugs; it is an optimal choice. Drugs have major drawbacks for mother and baby—not just physiologically, but emotionally and spiritually. And anyone who’d roll their eyes at the preceding sentence is not acknowledging the full significance of birth.

Compare the ACOG pain message with this pithy slogan from my favorite birth book, Birthing From Within:

“Labor is hard work. It hurts. And you can do it.”

So clear, and so empowering. You can do it. I say this to clients all the time, knowing that my voice is like one squeaky little mouse compared to the thundering orchestra of our culture, which delivers not only a pessimistic You can’t do it but a patronizing It’s not worth trying. That nugget from ACOG is a perfect example.

Moms-to-be, if you have a notion that you want to birth without drugs, be aware of the messages you’ve received throughout your life and those you’re getting during pregnancy—from books, friends, movies, your mother, your doctor, and whichever nurse is going to show up in your room at the hospital. Be ready to tune out the unhelpful ones. Gather as many supportive voices around you as you can. Beat the drum in your mind: YOU– CAN– DO– IT!

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