Statistics for the Utterly Confused

I usually wait for a full year to pass before doing my client stats, but a lot of doctors, nurses, doulas, childbirth educators, and clients have recently been expressing concern about the high epidural rate (reports are as high as 80%) at local hospitals. A recent article in The Vancouver Sun also reported that the cesarean rate in B.C. had climbed to almost a third of all births, far in excess of what the World Health Organization deems acceptable.

So, here's a glimpse into my own client outcomes from January 1/07 to June 7/07. Now, remember, these are not a special group (i.e. highly motivated multips under age 30 with a history of fast births). These are 30 women with an average age of 36, most (73%) having their first baby, who hired me to help them and their partners. The majority entered the process without hard and fast expectations about the birth experience. They all hoped to "do their best on the day", some wanting an epidural at the door (and not needing it), and some wanting to avoid a cesarean (and needing it). They are all capable and amazing women.

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Birthing from Above

From the desk of Jacquie's daughter

Growing up surrounded by my mum's work in childbirth, I had a slightly different introduction to the subject of reproduction than most children. Instead of reading "Where Did I Come From?" I looked through a plethora of illustrated Sheila Kitzinger and midwifery texts. I thought it was fascinating that the egg that was fertilized to make me was in my mum's ovaries when she was born, and was thus formed inside my grandmother! Wild. When she taught prenatal classes, I would come along and play with the infant-sized dolls in her teaching materials, using the plastic pelvis as a cradle. Then, as she began to do more labour support, I would act as her secretary and run into the kitchen to intercept calls before anyone else, often to hear a flustered dad drop the phone, with his wife moaning in the background -- "Mum, it's for you."

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Room 8

Was it just this week that I attended two labours in Room 8 at BC Women’s? Was it just this week that my daughter came with me for the first time to attend a birth?

Midnight on New Year’s Eve came while we were in the assessment room, during a contraction. Nurses blew horns while my client laboured. The nurses station was laid out with food. It was surreal.

Throughout the labour, my daughter held the space like women did a long time ago - knitting, crossed-legged, low to the ground - bearing witness to this sacred event.

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George, Entropy (and the Second Law of Thermodynamics)

I always say that we can only hope for the best on the day of labour - that the baby is the wonderful and unpredictable 'wildcard.' So, we must trust our body and our baby to give us strong clues about what needs to happen, then make the best choices on that particular day, with the support of those around us...

Here’s George, introduced by his mother:

“George was born Feb 16th - I had the induced labour that didn’t progress well and a cesarean - and he turned out to be 11 pounds! Remember us? These women who labour in the park, cooking turkey dinners...well, humbug. Not at all how mine went, although it was totally great in its own way.”

Here’s my memory:

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Spring 2009 - "Mommy, What did you do in the industrial revolution?"

Mommy, what did you do in the industrial revolution? Meditations on the rising cesarean rate.

Plante, L.A. Mommy, What Did You Do in the Industrial Revolution? Meditations on the Rising Cesarean Rate. The International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics. Spring 2009;2(1):140-147.

Lauren A. Plante, MD, MPH, FACOG
Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology
Thomas Jefferson University
Philadelphia PA
Email: Lauren@LaurenPlante.net

The cesarean rate in the US has been rising for decades, and in 2006 hit an all-time high of 31% (Hamilton, 2007.) This record is likely to stand for only a brief time, that is, until figures are released for 2007. Can it really be that one-third of women are unable to birth without high-level technological support? And is there an endpoint in sight? “In the next decade or so the industrial revolution in obstetrics could make Cesarean delivery consistently safer than the birth process that evolution gave us.” (Gawande, 2006, 8) Against such an argument, who could hope to stand?

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