I have seen this fantastic analogy of the medicalisation of birth a few times now, and while I can’t track down the author, I just had to share it with you all. Hopefully I will find who it is to give credit where it’s due, but for now, enjoy this great piece work!
Birth As A Bowel Movement
Imagine if you will, that about a hundred years ago, people began having great difficulties having bowel movements (BM for short). It all came about because of some very unhealthy lifestyles. People weren’t eating correctly because they were desperately trying to be thin and beautiful. They had malnutrition and took a lot of pills and other drugs to help them become and stay thin. People were so concerned with looking good that they put their health aside to get there.
As a result of this lifestyle, many people had a terrible time having BMs. Some people even died. Something had to be done to save these folks. So instead of changing their lifestyles, people flocked to the doctors to have their problem fixed. The problem became so prevalent that people became fearful of having BMs. Everyone dreaded going to the bathroom because of all the horror stories of pain and death. This normal, natural bodily function was labeled dangerous and hazardous and needed to be monitored and controlled to save lives.
Over time, it became the ‘norm’ to go the hospital whenever someone had to have a BM so that doctors could monitor the process and intervene if they needed to. This continued through the years and is still practiced today. An onslaught of new life-saving technology and machinery was invented for us in aiding people to have a BM. It has become such a common practice to go to the hospital to have a BM that people have become uninformed. They don’t trust their own bodies to have a BM on their own. People are scared to have a BM that having one anywhere besides a hospital is considered irresponsible, dangerous and risky. Even though the old, unhealthy lifestyles, which caused the problem in the first place are no longer practiced, having BMs is no longer considered a normal event. Even the healthiest of people go to the hospital to have BMs out of fear that something might happen. The go ‘just in case’.
So, you have to have a BM and even though you are a healthy man and having a BM is a normal, natural physiological function that your body was designed to do, we go to the hospital. We grab the hospital bag and head out the door in a hurry. During the car ride you get very tense because the cramps are coming on strong and you can’t get comfortable. You try breathing through them but this only helps a little with all the stop and go traffic and bumps in the road. Not to mention that you just wish you could be at home and have privacy. Upon arrival at the hospital, you are wheeled up to a room and instructed to put on a gown with nothing else on (it has a large opening in the back which will show you rear end if you get up and walk anywhere). You are told to lie down so that a nurse can examine you. Then a strange female nurse comes in and explains that she is going to have to insert 2 fingers into your rectum to check the progress of your feces. You obviously feel humiliated because someone you don’t know has just touched a very private and personal part of you.
Then the nurse straps a monitor to your belly to measure the severity of your cramps and stick an iv in your arm. This is very distracting and makes the pain of the cramps even worse. Soon, your cramps become stronger and you are getting very uncomfortable. At this point, the nurses change shifts and new nurse comes in. She says she needs to check you again since it’s been awhile and you don’t seem to be making any progress. She inserts 2 fingers again and shakes her head from side-to-side and gives you a very disapproving look. You have not made any progress. You want to try so badly to relax so you can make progress but with the iv, the strangers, the fingers in your rectum and the negative attitudes of the staff, there are just too many distractions and you can’t. By now your cramps are very painful and it takes all you’ve got to just stay on top of them.
The hospital team decides to insert a wire up your anus to determine if, indeed, your cramps are as bad as you say they are. They again insert 2 fingers to check the dilation and fecal decent. They tell you that if you don’t make any progress in the next 30 minutes, they may have to cut the feces out. This causes you to be even more tense and you have a hard time trying to relax just knowing what may happen if you can’t push it out yourself. After another hour of laying in bed, the female doctor comes in and does yet another exam with 2 fingers because he says he wants to be sure the nurses were doing it right. He feels it is time for you to begin to push. So you are in bed, flat on your back with your feet up in stirrups trying to have a BM and pushing with all your might while the strange nurse and a doctor intently watch your anus. The feces is not coming down fast enough so the doctor decides that your anus must not be big enough for the feces to pass through so they make a large cut in your anus to make it bigger. They also need to use a vacuum extractor to help pull the feces out.
You finally manage (with the help of a large cut and vacuum) to push the feces out. You are in a lot of pain, you’re bleeding, exhausted, spent and humiliated. You feel like something in your body is broken and didn’t work correctly. This must be true since you needed all this help for a normally natural bodily function right? The nurse then pushes on your abdomen to make sure all of the feces has been expelled. This is VERY painful but thank God you were in a hospital or else something bad might have happened. Someone stitches you up and are given instructions on how to aid your healing.
So, you made it through. You’re alive and that’s what really matters right? Is it though? What about your pain? What about the humiliation? What about the violation of privacy? What about the anger you feel towards the whole damn thing because your experience could have been completely normal and uncomplicated at home?
Now, this scenario is absolutely and utterly ridiculous right? It seems absurd to go to the hospital for something that could have easily, and much less painlessly, been done at home. The same is true of birth. This scenario is exactly what happened to birth (the ’unhealthy’ habits were obviously a bit different) and many women are suffering, needlessly, as a result. I can attest to the fact that this scenario is VERY common in hospitals today – I have even experienced it with my own hospital birth.
People have been raised to fear birth and to think that it needs the medical community to make it happen. Birth interventions have become so common that people accept them, and every side effect that comes with them, as necessary for a good outcome. And most don’t believe it when someone tells them that it can be so much better if those things weren’t done routinely.
A healthy, informed woman who is knowledgeable in birth had just as slim a chance of dying in birth as someone does while having a BM. All you need to have a safe birth is to be informed and to listen to your instincts (something that is very difficult to do with people watching you – just like it is difficult to have a BM with people watching you!). Birth is safe and simple. Just like having a BM is safe and simple. I need as much assistance while birthing our children as you do while having a bowel movement!