Rhea Dempsey – The Business of Being Born II

An addendum to my earlier post on this film.

There was an interesting talk after the screening by childbirth educator, birth attendant and all-round legend Rhea Dempsey, who pointed out that in the current highly-medicalised birth industry in Australia, merely wanting to give birth “naturally” is radical. Which is pretty weird.

I think, many women think they will have a natural birth when they go into hospitals, unaware they will be encouraged to use augmentations that set them on an interventionist path that may lead to caesarean. A bit like being upsold beauty treatments when you go to a dayspa, but with far more shocking consequences.The pain in the gut when you leave with an expensive face cream you realise you don’t want at all is nothing compared to sitting on episiotomy stiches, an added bonus to the “little bit of help” from the vacuum your OB insisted you needed to deliver, because you haven’t achieved second-stage labor in 2.5 hours, after which it’s hospital policy to move things along (this is an example, not a hard-and-fast rule). And if you have ventouse, well, you must be cut.

This is not something you get told in advance. No hospital discloses all the policies that might apply to you once you are admitted. You really have to probe to get them. And it is important to remember that hospital-allied birthing centres are beholden to all those policies too, even if they seem more touchy-feely. That is why so many first-timers get transfered out of birthing centres into mainstream labor wards.

As for the reason you’d want to have a natural birth? After all the fear-inducing imagery of birth we’re fed on TV, and our worries about dealing with pain, or being out of control? Rhea put it simply.

“You wouldn’t want to miss this.”

Because if you’ve ever attended a birth you know it’s an experience like no other a woman ever has; it marks you, for good or ill. And the opportunity to be fully present and calm in birth – in amongst all that hard work! – is so good you want to shout from the rooftops.

ALL birth is a massive achievement, after the work of nurturing a child to term. But I was very happy to not be drug-affected when I finally held my children in my arms. (If you knew me in my 20s this would make you laugh because drug-affected was pretty much my favorite state of being). I hope this doesn’t sound boastful, and I don’t want to denigrate other birth choices, or make value judgements on what is outside my experience. But when Rhea said this – I just chimed. Because even my first birth (posterior and feisty, exhausting) was great.

Rhea mentioned that the problem of being “on the clock” is something she’s noticed is worsening in her practice. Australia is in a baby boom, and hospitals are stretched to the limit pretty much across the board in birthing services (which I would think would making accessing independant midwifery easier a great option to take the heat off these services, but it hasn’t happened in the current review recommendations).

So the consequence of the squeeze on services is that anecdotally, she has observed a tightening of acceptable timeframes for women to achieve “outcomes” in labor. “Failure to progress” and pressure to augment and speed labor using drugs is happening sooner. Beds need to be filled, and emptied, and filled again. I find this very scary.


3 thoughts on “Rhea Dempsey – The Business of Being Born II

  1. Adam Ford

    i get funny looks from people when i tell them our labour was great. because i’m the man and i’m not supposed to say stuff like that – or even use the phrase “our” labour – and also i think because people aren’t used to people talking about the hard work and struggle of labour as a good thing.

    but it was. it was a good thing. it was a best thing evar.

  2. milica Fraser

    Wow, yes the “clockwatching” in hospitals & iterventionist approach is scary & intimidating. In reading “The Birth Wars” I came across the idea of the industiralisation of birth.
    Mechanisation & industrialisation of birth… informed & dominated by paternal masculine approach to surgicaly assisted labour by a surgeon(obsterician).
    It’s a culturally constructed notion of what is now “normal” in birth. Going to hospital is normal, high intervention & drugs are normal, fear of pain is normal.
    I can see a growing awareness & searching amongst women, pregant ones & their careers, midwives & some OBST’s that this is NOT normal & there is a need to reconnect with the natural process of carrying a baby to term & laboring.
    We need to share our stories of courage & joy & success in the journey of being born as parents.
    All I ask for is the oppurtunity to experience the joy of carrying a new life for 9 months & into the world – deviod of the fear mongering that occurs when you suggest perhaps a hospitalised medicalised surgicalised birth/race against the clock to avoid interventions is NOT for you.
    A return to the day when EMErgency CEASareans were exactly that Emergencies. Not routinely performed on 36% to 50% of the birthing population of women (depending on hospital).
    Seek out the healthy beautiful examples of natural birth & find caregivers who care ladies.They are out there fighting the good fight against the industrialisation of birth. Championing the rights of little babies & bonding ,loving,breastfeedig connections with their elated mothers.

  3. themoralhighground Post author

    Thanks for your lovely comment milica. I couldn’t agree more. It’s a struggle to do the mental work of swimming against the tide of broad opinion that wanting a natural birth is a fundamentally selfish choice made by the latte-swilling middle-classes who want birth to be about them, not their children.

    I have no doubt that in the future much more will be understood about the unique advantages of natural birth over c-section, both physically and psychologically, for child and mother. This is not to denigrate those who have had c-sections, but I do believe that there isn’t nearly enough broadly disseminated info on the medical advantages of natural birth. I’m not really a dolphin-music new age type. I like to be able to research facts and to read studies, to weigh data. I can find some of the emotional language and stump-speeching around this issue a little frustrating, only because it can give the mainstream more reason to dismiss people concerned with the medicalisation of birth as a lunatic fringe.

    I’m still trying to work out how it can be legal for formula companies to claim their products lead to high IQs and retinal health when all the major studies say exactly the reverse!


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