Brazilian author-activists talk “parto humanizado” over pie in Brooklyn

Luciana Benatti and husband Marcelo Min, who together published the lovely book Parto Com Amor (Portuguese for “Birth With Love” — she wrote the text, he took the photos) visited NYC this week and suggested we meet. I was thrilled to hear from them, two emissaries from the land of many C-sections — Brazil’s national rate just hit 52%, but in private hospitals it’s as high as 90%.

I suggested they get a taste of “artisanal Brooklyn” while they were here, so we met at a favorite pie shop. They ordered very respectable savory lunch items while I downed an entire slice of lemon chess.


Naturally, the food got us talking about “orgasmic” birth, which led to a story that suggests the universality of media gatekeepers: they had originally wanted to call the book “Birth With Pleasure,” (Prazer, I think is the word in Portuguese) but the editor balked. “Oh no, we can’t have that! Birth and pleasure? Too confusing!” mocked Benatti.

The couple are now part of a continental movement for “Parto Humanizado” — humanized childbirth.  They mark their entry into this movement in 2007, when Benatti was 36 weeks pregnant and decided to ditch her OB.  He wouldn’t reveal his C-section rate and told them, “You don’t need to concern yourselves with the birth, I’ll take care of that. You just worry about what the baby will wear.” Benatti got the name of a “humanized doctor” through a journalist friend who had written on the topic, and she had a lovely birth in the hospital. For their next baby, the doctor attended them at home.

Benatti and Min are from Sao Paulo, a “megacity” of roughly 11 million people. “I know of only four midwives, and about five humanized doctors” Benatti told me. Meanwhile, her doctor is no longer allowed to attend home births. “The physicians organization is against midwives, against water birth, against home birth,” she said. “They are so powerful. The media won’t cover this.”

Maybe I gave them some hope. I told them that ACOG is also against all those things, but they are finally acknowledging that the cesarean rate is a problem. I also told them the media can shift quite rapidly: everywhere I turn another newspaper or magazine is running a story about home water birth or doulas, whereas ten years ago editors were completely uninterested.

Benatti returned the favor with a great anecdote about the impact her book is having: a woman told her that she found Parto Com Amor at the last possible moment in her pregnancy. She was past her due date and her doctor was pressuring her to have a cesarean. Upset and unsure of what to do, the woman went to a shopping mall to calm down, walked into a bookstore, found the rose-colored book, and sat down. “She read the whole thing in one sitting,” said Benatti, “and started having contractions.” She gave birth, naturally, that afternoon.

Maternal Health Care Crisis by the Numbers

Amnesty International shines a light on U.S. maternity care

GPS for L&D?

Where in the world is the baby?Some intriguing promotional materials arrived this week for a device called LaborPro, which combines global positioning technology (GPS) with ultrasound to help childbirth care providers, er, better pinpoint the baby’s global position (?) and how much the woman’s cervix has dilated. (Is there a pleasant-sounding female voice directing the baby, “At the pelvic outlet, go straight, then twist right”?? Or does the GPS talk to the doctor?)

I asked around to see if any hospitals had been seduced into purchasing this latest high-tech (and likely inferior, if history is any guide) substitute for skilled hands and brains, and so far haven’t found one. But I did learn that the device was unveiled at this year’s ACOG conference, and the manufacturer’s web site notes that, “LaborPro automatically displays and stores all labor progression parameters, as well as FHR [fetal heart rate] and uterine contractions. This data can be used as a decision support tool, and is also archived for offline review.” In plain English, this means that the data can be used in court, which means this labor Garmin is poised to be yet another agent of defensive medicine.

Quebec’s Creepy Post-Birth Vaginal Inspection Policy

Heather Mattingsly “will not have to show her vagina to anyone to prove the 5-month-old infant is hers,” begins the Montreal Gazette’s story about one of the most creepy, abusive, nonsensical policies a new mother could imagine:  Quebec’s new requirement that women who give birth without a doctor or licensed midwife have to submit to a vaginal examination to “prove the biological link between mother and child” in order to get a birth certificate. After a barrage of calls from the media, the director of the vital records agency called Mattingsly personally and told her she could pass on the exam.

But the requirement apparently still stands for other women who give birth with unlicensed midwives at home, which some do because the provincial health system doesn’t employ enough midwives to meet demand — women who want a midwife only have a 1 in 5 chance of having one attend their birth. That’s quite a punishment/deterrence policy for going outside the system. One wonders what (or who) prompted the change. Women’s rights groups are calling it “another abuse of women’s bodies” and want the policy reversed.

Twitter Phenom “Feminist Hulk” Revealed, Had Home Birth!

Congratulations to Jessica Lawson, the brains behind Twitter superhero “Feminist Hulk.” (Sample tweet, in all CAPS, natch: “HULK APPROACH SMASHING PATRIARCHY LIKE JUDITH BUTLER APPROACH WRITING SENTENCES: AS LONG AS IT TAKES TO GET JOB DONE!”) Lawson revealed Hulk’s alterego in a Q&A  with the Ms. blog: she is a 28-year-old English Lit PhD candidate at the University of Iowa, a supporter of midwives, and a new mom!

Ms. asked: “Why did you decide to have a home birth? What were some of the challenges you faced in making that happen?”

Lawson answered:

While I value the ways that obstetrical science has made birth safer for women with high-risk pregnancies, mine was a low-risk pregnancy and I was compelled by the many studies that show the midwifery model of care is as safe as hospital birth, often with fewer interventions and post-birth complications. Unfortunately, though Certified Nurse-Midwives legally practice in all 50 states, I gave birth in one of the handful of states which still does not license Certified Professional Midwives. I am active in attempts to push midwifery licensure through our state legislature. I still chose home birth, though, and am so lucky to have labored in an environment that made me feel relaxed and safe, with a birth team that gave me tons of love and support. And for anyone who asks, “What if something goes wrong?” all I have to say is, “Something did go wrong.” I suffered a postpartum hemorrhage and lost about a quart of blood. My birth team responded with speed and skill to stop the bleeding (and they would have transferred me to a hospital without hesitation if they encountered a complication that required additional resources). I owe them my life, and I have nothing but faith in the quality of their care.

Home Births On the Rise

The Feminist Breeder with her home-born babe

It’s official: more women are planning home births attended by midwives — 20% more — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “One mother chose home birth because it was cheaper than going to a hospital. Another gave birth at home because she has multiple sclerosis and feared unnecessary medical intervention. And some choose home births after cesarean sections with their first babies,” reports the Associated Press. Physician groups are still opposed, but individual obstetricians are speaking out: “Dr. Joel Evans, the rare board-certified OB-GYN who supports home birth, said the medical establishment has become ‘resistant to change, resistant to dialogue, resistant to flexibility.’”

Update: Check out The Week‘s five theories for the trend, including, “Women are taking charge!”


Best for Babes Foundation Features PUSHED

It's You Babe!

What’s not to love about Best for Babes, fearlessly naming and shaming the “booby traps” that keep moms from breastfeeding (rather than shaming women!). “Women are being pressured to breastfeed but set up to fail” says the group. Check out their site, featuring celeb “champions for moms” like Laila Ali, Jenna Elfman, and Kelly Rutherford, and a new Q&A with yours truly about the booby trap of early elective birth.

Pregnancy-Related Heart Disease Silent Killer

courtesy Daily Beast

As we know, pregnancy-related deaths are on the rise in the U.S. for many reasons, including the rising cesarean rate, rising obesity, and more health problems in general. A new study out of California sheds light on another factor: heart disease that goes undiagnosed  and untreated: “A few days after Michelle MacDonald gave birth, she felt alarmingly short of breath—like someone was holding her head under water, then yanking it up every few seconds for her to steal a few gasps of air. But when the first-time mother complained from her hospital bed, the postpartum nurses in Fredericton, New Brunswick, were unconcerned. ‘Everyone just kind of brushed it off,’ she told The Daily Beast. ‘I think they thought I had new-mom anxiety.’” Read more at The Daily Beast.

“If Birth Matters, Midwives Matter,” says Ina May Gaskin

courtesy Guardian UK

From “Ina May Gaskin started delivering babies in 1970 while on a hippie cross-country trip known as the caravan. She had no medical training, just a master’s degree in English and a gut feeling that women deserved kinder, gentler births. When the hundreds of caravaners settled in Tennessee on what they called the Farm, Gaskin and several other women began delivering the community’s babies at home and also opened one of the first, nonhospital birthing centers in the country. Word got around when Gaskin wrote about her successes in Spiritual Midwifery, and a movement was born.

“Today, women still travel far and wide to give birth on the Farm, and Gaskin’s methods have the respect of clinicians around the world (there is even an obstetric maneuver named after her). Now 71, she is credited with reviving what was essentially a dead profession in the U.S., inspiring scores of women to enter the field and helping found the Midwives Alliance of North America. But even while midwives attend more births in the U.S. — about 7.5% in 2008 — they’re finding it increasingly hard to get practice agreements with doctors and hospitals. In her latest book, Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta (Seven Stories, April 2011), Gaskin argues that America needs midwives more than ever.” Read my interview with Gaskin in Time.

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  • Inside the Hospital with Canada’s Highest C-section rate

    courtesy Walrus

    “‘We don’t want to over-medicalize childbirth,’ Dr. Alison Michel tells me in the pastel maternity ward of the Victoria General Hospital. The forty-year-old family physician is a member of Quintessence, an all-female maternity care group known across BC’s capital as the most ‘woman centred,’ next to midwives. ‘We assume childbirth is a normal, natural, healthy thing that a woman’s body does,’ she explains, ‘so we do a lot of hands-on work with moms when they’re in active labour; things like massage and sometimes even acupressure.’ That’s the explicit goal, anyway. When I called to confirm the tour first thing in the morning, Michel had been up all night assisting with three deliveries, all via Caesarean section. In fact, she admitted the staff was a little nervous about a visit by a journalist. By the time I arrived, the local paper had broken some dispiriting news: ‘South Island Reports Highest C-section Rate.’ Just over one-third of the hospital’s births — more than at any other Canadian hospital — take place in the surgery.” Read more at The Walrus magazine.

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