In the mid-1800s, doctors began using technology to “ease” a woman’s labor, first with ether, and then with other analgesics and then anesthetics. Medicine, at the same time, became enamored with technologies that allowed them to do things they hadn’t before. The stethoscope, for instance, was a rather ingenious invention that let a doctor examine the heart beat of a woman without touching her breasts. Over a hundred years, technology improved, and doctors became more involved in labor and birth. At first, in the United States, midwives held their own, but when doctors and hospitals realized the amount of money they could make by delivering babies in the hospital, they began an aggressive attack on midwives and began to define birth as a pathology. By the 1950s, birth was no longer seen as something normal and natural but something closer to an illness, dangerous and deadly.
Today, women fear birth perhaps more than they ever had previously. And yet, because of hand-washing, and not the various machines doctors have invented, birth is much safer than it ever has been in the past. But when’s the last time you saw an easy birth in a TV show or movie, or heard about it in the press?
If we want to greatly reduce the number of abortions in the United States, we can begin by fighting against this technological attitude toward birth. We must begin to tell stories far and wide and loudly about the wonder and miracle of birth. And we must begin to reassert the role of the midwife in the birthing process. Cross-cultural comparisons show that infant and maternal mortality rates are much lower when birth is attended by a midwife instead of a doctor for the vast majority of cases. In those rare cases when a doctor is needed, midwives are trained to recognize the danger and call in proper medical services.
As I said in yesterday’s post, the solution to the abortion problem is tied to the way we treat women. As women allowed themselves to be anesthetized during birth, not only mothers, but midwives and families in general lost autonomy. So today, when faced with a surprising and unwanted pregnancy, a young woman may not be able to view the pregnancy with any hope, and may view the birth with great fear.
I do not mean to say that all midwives are pro-life in any legislative sense, though, of course, they are pro-life in the sense that they have dedicated themselves to the delivery of healthy babies to healthy families. I do mean to say, however, that one step toward resolving the abortion crisis is to return the midwife to the dignity she held before technology reared its Janus-head and birth became pathological.