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by Cathy Daub, BWI President

A few weeks ago when I was seeking donations for the silent auction at our recent Celebrating Birth event, I walked into a store. The woman at the counter was about seven months pregnant with her first baby. We started talking about her plans for giving birth. As I was leaving, I mentioned, “Just remember to keep moving in labor as much as you can.” She looked back at me with tears and a quivering voice saying, “I’m so afraid of labor.” I was only in her store for about eight minutes.

I remember that my due date for my first child fell on the date of the Boston snow storm in 1978 that shut down the entire city of Boston for three days. No traffic could move on the roads so if I went into labor, I wouldn’t be able to travel. I would have to walk a number of blocks to a hospital nearby and enter as a walk-in. To further complicate matters, my daughter was breech. In spite of all of this, I don’t remember being afraid of labor. I had confidence that I could handle whatever happened. My body ended up being wise by going into labor three weeks later.

What has changed since then? Back then, a cesarean was still considered an emergency procedure. The epidural and induction rates were much lower but the rates of episiotomy were much higher. Today episiotomy rates are much lower and epidural and induction rates are much higher. Of greater concern, however, is a changing societal belief that a cesarean is safer, easier, and more convenient than a vaginal birth. Some women opt for cesareans to avoid possible damage to their pelvic floor musculature.

Birth has become an industry that is governed more by economic, financial, and legal incentives, rather than true medical reasons. For example, what would be the reason for administering an epidural to a woman fully dilated and with the baby’s head crowning? I was with a woman in labor walking the hallways of the hospital with her. Not many women are walking the halls in labor. But then as the contractions began to become stronger, she requested an epidural and the nurses weren’t surprised – in fact they were expecting it. With many hospitals today having 90% epidural rates, the medical team may have seen few if any women laboring and birthing normally without medical procedures or obstetric drugs.

In BirthWorks we empower women by reminding them that they were born with the knowledge about how to give birth and that birth is instinctive. What is instinctive doesn’t need to be learned. Rather, we help them to have more trust and faith in their body knowledge that already knows how to give birth. This is a unique approach and one that decreases fear and increases confidence. If you want to help empower women in birth, become a part of the solution by joining our childbirth educator and/or doula training programs. Become a respected childbirth educator and/or doula in your community and help pregnant women become more confident about their ability to give birth.

I have recently been hired to teach childbirth education classes at our local hospital where there are about 5,000 births a year. Their rates of cesareans, epidurals, and inductions are very high. They currently have two childbirth preparation classes, one that is two hours in length and the other that is four hours in length. I am bringing in an eight week (16 hour) course. It is in the proposal stages now and will take some months but when I begin, I’ll let you know how it goes.