My friend Kat and I were talking about the articles circulating the Web that try to cast this, that, or the other as the Next Dangerous Thing, to the exclusion of all rational thought or well-informed conversation. The lastest doozy? Vaginal birth causes babies’ heads to bleed internally!
First off, whose brilliant idea was it to inflict an MRI on newborns not yet ten minutes old? Cause I’m here to tell you, sister, I’d rather have that babe nestled on my skin for those first ten minutes, thank you very much.
A properly prepared, vaginal birth is by far the best way to come into the world, pointy skull or not. And Kat will expound upon the many reasons WHY in other articles. You see, Kat just received her douala certification and is studying to become a midwife. I did the whole, go to the hospital as soon as the contractions start, have your water break in the rest room before you sign in, get hooked up to IV’s and walk the halls for a couple of hours, have a nice nurse tell you that after eight hours you still haven’t progressed, get the pictocin drip, get the epidural, and have a baby whose shoulders get stuck routine. Kat has birthed at home with her second after a C-section with her first.
Babies’ heads are designed to squash, to a certain extent, during birth. Medical theory has come to recognize that all human babies are born prematurely. Have you ever heard of, “Nine months in, nine months out?” Humans should have evolved as marsupials, but, having thumbs, we’ve solved that bit of trickery with tools (aka, baby-wearing). Consider that women birthing big-headed babies died, and evolution is going to find some pretty creative ways of getting around that detail, like birthing babies prematurely (before they can walk) and that ingenious fontanel, the ’soft spot’, if you will, that allows a baby’s skull bones to overlap in the birth canal (did you know, there are actually six fontanel spots?). If some picture-happy doc with more curiousity than sense (sorry, Doc, I’m not really poking at you… not too hard) hadn’t done the MRI, babies’ heads would have continued this harmless practice of squishing a little, bleeding a little, and going back to normal during the first year outside the womb. No one would have been the wiser. No one would have been able to write such a sensational headline that implies that vaginal birth is somehow more dangerous to the babe than anything else a human being will go through in the course of his or her lifetime.
Come on, people. Read the articles and do the research. If you’re not a well-informed consumer, you’re just being led around by the nose. I’ve seen that done in a couple of movies, and it looks like it hurts!
Here is Kat’s take on the issue. I’ll only say one more thing about Kat… she is a woman who has principles, and beliefs, and stands by them while loving anyone who doesn’t agree with her world-view. Kat taught me that if you give love freely, it goes out and gathers up more love to bring back home.
A fellow mom recently emailed the article, “Vaginal birth boosts risk of baby brain haemorrhage”, taken from the online edition of NewScientist. The mom thought the media’s slant on a recent study (“Intracranial Hemorrhage in Asymptomatic Neonates”) might bring some balance to my ‘extreme’ views about vaginal birth. Here we go again. It isn’t easy, being the only mom on a listserv of more then 1500 neighborhood families who constantly carries the torch for vaginal birth. It IS the safest option. The media and our culture are my greatest enemies, and every time a mom posts a story about a 70 hour labor ending with a tear the size of a grapefruit and not being able to walk properly for a year, there is a pregnant mom out there who starts to wonder if she is doing the right thing by birthing vaginally. And when the media apparently corroborates this misguided notion of the dangers of birthing babies the same way they have been birthed for thousands of years, the damage is greater.
Poor pregnant moms, ever susceptible to what the “experts say”, fret about whether to choose vaginal birth—and apparently, let their babies suffer brain hemorrhage—or opt for a cesarean and inflict probable harm. Quoting from another not so balanced article by Ben Wassermen in Foodconsumer.org on the same study: “C-section has its own problems as well. Other than probably harming (italics mine) the infants, the mothers are more likely to experience a series of physical problems including severe bleeding, blood clots and emergency hysterectomy, longer-lasting and more severe pain and infection compared to a vaginal birth”. Ouch! The cesarean, as a rescue operation, is a necessary tool in a birthing expert’s set, and does less harm then the alternative to the baby who could not be born vaginally safely (think placenta previa).
What’s a pregnant mom to do? Thankfully, in the original study, the authors note that those babies with bleeding brains were completely fine: this bleeding has been happening throughout all of history and is part of evolution. Michel Odent notes that there has always been conflict between bi-pedal and big brains. Of course there are going to be some difficulties getting the skull through those narrow hips that make walking upright possible. But the soft, shiftable skull at birth seems to have managed that evolutionary risk pretty well. There are almost 7 billion people in the world, and the vast majority of them were birthed through vaginas in less privileged conditions than ours.
Hopefully more moms read this more balanced article, “Baby brain bleeding linked to vaginal births: Study authors say surprising findings not an endorsement of C-sections”, which affirms the normalcy of the bleeding. But come on! Do we have to call it baby brain bleeding… how sensational. While the title, “Intracranial Hemorrhage in Asymptomatic (read no symptoms, totally fine babies!) Neonates” is a bit heady, it doesn’t send pregnant moms into a tizzy about birthing vaginally.