From the Spring'07 issue of Compleat Mother:
by Jeannie Babb Taylor
"Youıre fortunate to be living in this era," says Nonna, brown eyes twinkling
above the dimples in her wrinkled cheeks.
Rachel sips at the red raspberry leaf tea, the cup clinking against the saucer
as she sets it down to respond. Her grandmother is already talking again.
"When I gave birth to your mother," she goes on, "I was not
allowed to eat or
drink."Rachelıs eyebrows shoot up. "The whole time?"
"Thatıs right. Back in those days, all babies were born in hospitals
even healthy babies. Laboring mothers werenıt allowed a single sip of
water. I was so thirsty my tongue was swollen and sticking to the roof of
my mouth. After many hours, I was given ice chips, but even that was taken away
when I was caught swallowing some of the ice to stave off the gnawing hunger."
"Thatıs horrible," Todd interjects, dropping down to perch on the Victorian
loveseat beside his wife. "Having a baby is like . . . running a
marathon. What athlete would attempt such a feat dehydrated on an empty
Nonna chuckles at his analogy. "Youıre right, of course. But you
see, laboring women were not treated like athletes. We were treated like
sick patients, as if there was something wrong with us. According to the
doctors, our Oconditionı was best treated with narcotics, opiates, and surgical
intervention. By 2005, the c-section rate went through the roof, with
nearly one out of three mothers sliced open for delivery. From the doctorsı
point of view, laboring women were all potential targets for expensive surgery.
Thatıs why they starved us."
Rachel scowls, rubbing puffy hands over the swollen full-moon belly.
labor can go on for hours < or even days," she notes.
"Especially when youıre lying down with feet in stirrups, pushing uphill,"
the old woman acknowledges.
"Thatıs absurd," Todd murmurs. "Why not let gravity work?"
Rachel shakes her head. "That position was designed to benefit doctors,
³Youıre right,² Nonna answers. "It placed us at a great psychological
disadvantage, too. It allowed medical staff to treat us as objects, paying
attention only to the Obusiness end,ı as if we had no face, no heart, and no
"Iım so glad no caregiver would think of using stirrups today," Rachel sighs,
rubbing her belly again. "Itıs a wonder women were able to push at all."
"The doctors had ways of speeding up labor artificially," Nonna answers.
the drugs sometimes caused uterine rupture, killing the baby or causing
permanent brain damage. One drug, Cytotec, was not even FDA-approved for
obstetrical use. Eventually they had to stop using it."
Rachel smiles, her face transformed. "So they went back to the natural
ways?" she guesses.
"Not at first," her grandmother answers. "At first they skipped the
contraction drugs and resorted to the knife much sooner."
Rachel looks down, distracted for a moment by the contracting of her own
womb. "Iıll go heat the rice bag," Todd offers, trotting to Nonnaıs
with the hand-made cloth pouch. Nonna watches him round the corner,
thinking how glad she is for Rachel.
At last Rachelıs attention comes back to her grandmotherıs wizened face.
"Why did the women allow it?" she asks.
Nonna sighs, holding out empty hands. "We just didnıt know better.
mothers were knocked out for birth. We thought we were making progress
by being awake. Some women realized things should be different, but it was
a constant fight. I chose a hospital that was supposed to be supportive of
natural birth. They still pulled the ice chip stunt. Before I
registered, they said they allowed Orooming inı so I would not be separated from my baby
girl. But right after birth, they whisked her away! I begged for
they kept her Ounder observationı for four hours. They also gave her
water against my wishes, and pushed to inject her with vaccines just hours
"Thatıs horrid," Rachel clucks. "Why didnıt women just stay away from
hospitals? Have their babies at home?"
"Well, in Georgia it was illegal."
Rachel laughs. "How can birthing a child break a law?"
"Oh, it was not homebirth that was prohibited, so long as we did it alone!
It was homebirth midwives they outlawed."
"So women could birth at home but only without help?"
Nonna nods. "Things were different back in 2007 when your mother was
she says. "For one thing, 8 out of 10 lawmakers were men. There had
even been a woman President. Women only earned 70 cents on the dollar.
didnıt have the kind of power you gals have!" She beams at her
granddaughter, so young and confident. "My next child your Uncle Tim
was born at home with an Oillegalı midwife."
"Wow," Rachel whispers, throwing a glance at Todd as he tucks the warm rice
bag into the small of her back, "There was a black market for midwifery?"
"Certainly. There were always women who refused to be mistreated, and
were always midwives willing to skirt the law to give excellent care. The
legal risks were high for those midwives. Once in a while, a baby dies
during birth. It happens sometimes, no matter where women give birth.
hospital, these deaths were considered a statistical eventuality. In the
early 2000s, no one was charged for hospital deaths, even when the damage
was clearly caused by uterine-rupturing drugs or overuse of pain-killers.
It was extremely rare for a baby to die in a homebirth setting < but when it
did happen the midwives were charged with manslaughter. In other cases,
overdue women were jailed for refusing to have a c-section. It was
against the law to disobey a doctorıs orders! Eventually it was the women
who turned the tide."
"Through lawsuits?" Todd guesses.
"That was part of it." Nonna nods thoughtfully. "The studies
clearly that it was doctorsı drugs and fasting that caused most of the Odanger signals" (like blood pressure drops and changes in babiesı heart
rates) that led to the c-sections. But that went unreported for twenty
years! It was not until women stood up for themselves that things changed.
Women reporters talked about the studies on the six-oıclock news. Women
journalists wrote about the prohibition of home midwifery and the barriers
to natural childbirth. Women doctors watched the signs instead of the
clock. Business women opened natural birthing centers. Women were
to office and they legalized homebirth midwifery in Georgia, and later
nationwide. Most of all, laboring women refused to let their needs be
sacrificed to hospital protocols and doctorsı schedules. We had to insist
Nonna sets down her teacup. "We insisted on dignity. We did not let
doctors push us into inductions or surgeries just to accommodate their
schedules. Women who still used hospitals refused the wheelchair and the
gown that were presented at check-in. Women refused to be starved, or to
have their veins punctured with unnecessary IVs. Mothers refused to let
doctors break their waters or insert electronic monitors in the babyıs
scalp. When we pushed our babies into the world with our own fierce power,
we refused to let them out of our sight."
Nonna smiles. "Eventually even the medical community came to recognize
birth is an act of motherhood, not an act of medical science. Today a
laboring woman is not regarded as a body on a table, as if she and the baby
needed some doctor to Odeliverı them from each other. Today women are
honored as life-bringers."
Photo credit: Lisa Pflaum Photography, Medina, Ohio
phone: 330.722.1939 email: Lisa@Lisasimages.com
Her blog can be accessed at www.lisapflaum.blogspot.com/
Jeannie Babb Taylor
Dear Mother Dear
of our newsletter
Joy, & Raspberry Leaves
-a new video compiled by Catherine and Amanda Young
of The Compleat Mother
for more information on the waterbirth video!
Click here to read:
The Farmer and the Obstetrician
here for the Home Sweet Homebirth (Video)
here for the Home
Sweet Homebirth (Video)