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Biology 103
2001 First Web Report
On Serendip

The Detriments of a Hospital Delivery

Katherine Fallon

When we think of a woman having a baby, we think of several humorous things: her cravings for strange foods, her weepy sentimentality, and most importantly, of the dramatic moment when her water breaks and she is a watermelon in panic, trying to find a ride to the hospital. I, myself, was almost born in the front seat of a 1976 silver Toyota around six in the morning. Within the past century, there has been tremendous importance placed on making it to the hospital. It is now being argued that it may have been better for myself and my mother if I had been born in the front seat of that tiny car. A lot of frightening statistics and personal stories about negative experiences with hospital care have recently been brought to light. The largest issue surrounding hospital deliveries is that of the frequency with which they turn to cesarean sections as an alternative to time-consuming vaginal births. In hospitals, women have a one in four chance of cesarean section (1). The lack of concern for a woman's natural birth process, along with the dangers associated with repeated cesarean sections, create a highly volatile situation in which many women have begun to voice their objections, offering midwivery and home birth as hopeful alternatives.

In her article entitled A Butcher's Dozen, Nancy Wainer, midwife and childbirth educator, makes the important claim that "hospitals are for sick people, and birth is not an illness" (2). The treatment of pregnant women has always been highly clinical and the procedure of birthing a child has become increasingly less emotional an experience as women have begun to view their pregnancy as a "condition." In fact, ninety per cent of women choosing to have their children in hospitals are administered epidurals, which have been proven to induce labor before natural contractions begin (3).

The medical staff's frustrated impatience with a woman and her natural birth process can lead women to feel guilty or dysfunctional, believing their bodies to be inadequate. Seventy per cent of women who use epidurals experience terrible side effects such as dangerously low blood pressure, fecal and urinary incontinence, paralysis of the lower extremities, allergic reactions, respiratory depression, headache, vomiting, and seizures (3). Twenty per cent of these women will experience a fever so severe that the baby must be treated for it, too (3). Women also tend to experience violent shaking after they are administered narcotics during childbirth, as their bodies' natural processes of giving birth are interrupted by foreign drugs (1) . Certain labor induction drugs, such as Cytotec, are associated with a twenty-eight fold increase in a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) mother's chances of having a rupture in her uterus. Additionally, one in five of these women will lose their babies as a result (1) . Epidurals have severe side effects on the newborns, as well. They can deprive babies of oxygen, leading to a condition known as "blue babies." They can cause jaundice, decrease a child's muscle tone and strength so that it cannot breast feed properly, and lead to learning disabilities (3). Shockingly, epidurals are linked to an increased likelihood of the child being addicted to drugs later in life (3) .

Cesarean sections have become a habit to modern hospitals. The actual process of the abdominal surgery is terribly dangerous, both to the mothers and their newborns. There is a 1.9% chance that the surgeon might cut the baby during surgery; and the number jumps to six per cent when the baby is breech [when the baby's buttocks and feet are presented first in birth]" (1). Women on whom cesareans are performed are ten times more likely to lose their uteruses because of hemorrhage. This is especially dangerous because hemorrhage is the leading cause of all maternal deaths (3) . Women who have cesarean sections are sixteen times more likely to die than women who give birth vaginally (2). Other physical risks of C-Sections are infection to the mother's bladder or kidneys, decreased bowel function (some women actually pass feces through their vaginas after especially rough cesareans), increased chances of pneumonia or other respiratory complications, and in the end cesarean sections can actually make other surgeries, such as hysterectomies or bladder repair, necessary(5).

Cesarean birth can be unhealthy for a multitude of reasons for the newborns as well. Advocates of home birthing methods argue that a woman's body knows how to give birth, and that, in effect, a woman's body knows when it is ready to give birth as well. Inducing birth by cesarean section or labor-inducing drugs is simply tampering with the natural workings of a woman's body. If a child's due date is not accurately calculated, the child could be delivered too early (Iatrogenic Prematurity) (4) . If this is the case, the health complications associated with Premies (children who are born significantly before their due dates) can be added to the risks and complications already inherent in cesarean births (5).

Perhaps the most disturbing aspects of hospital birthing are the mental side effects. A woman who is subjected to such harsh treatment and such physical stress can often times have lasting complexes about her ability to give birth. Women who give birth in hospitals often experience very cramped, spasmodic, and irregular contractions (3) . How can a woman be expected to perform faultlessly in such a stressful and sterile environment? While in the hospital, a woman may doubt her ability to carry out a natural birth, but after she is released from the hospital, these insecurities do not disappear. After a cesarean section, most women have a great deal of difficulty breast feeding, both because of their physical conditions and because of their mental detachment from the birthing process in general (1). The machinery of hospital birthing, such as IV's, epidurals, and stirrups, can hinder a mother's ability to bond and nurture her child after she has given birth. It has also been documented that women who have had cesarean sections as opposed to vaginal births are affected more drastically by postpartum depression and birth trauma, both mental side effects of the sterility and discomfort of the hospital birthing experience (1).

Leilah McCracken eloquently states at the start of her article, Rape of the Twentieth Century, that "doctors know how patients give birth, but they don't know how women give birth" (3). While hospitals are definitely well-equipped enough to carry out hundreds of deliveries a day, the mental and physical well-being of both the mother and her child are oftentimes sacrificed in the interest of practicality and efficiency. Alternatives to hospital deliveries and cesarean sections, such as midwives and doulas, tend to focus more on the beauty of a woman's ability to conceive and carry a child through to birth. Women who experience these alternatives, especially those women who have previously experienced a sterile hospital birthing, are intensely appreciative of the concentration such alternatives place on the natural aspects of childbirth. Of course, not all hospital births are painful or emotionally scarring, but the chances of having a wonderful experience in a hospital are slim in comparison to the comfort and beauty one feels while birthing in their own homes.

WWW Sources

1) Cesarean Section: The Anatomy of a Choice , by Leilah McCracken

2) A Butcher's Dozen , by Nancy Wainer

3)Rape of the Twentieth Century , by Leilah McCracken

4) Vaginal Birth After Cesarean FAQ

5)Risks of Cesarean Section




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