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.

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