The little things matter.

While reading an old doctoral dissertation written at Stanford University by Peter F. Schlenzka, because that’s fun for me, I remembered my births.

(You can download Schlenzka’s dissertation for free here, and I highly suggest it.)

I had hospital births. Going into them, I wanted to birth with as little intervention as possible. I wanted a normal, natural birth.  I went to the wrong place to find it though. I had been told by my more natural friends that I should birth at home or at a birthing center. At that time though, I still thought that home births or birth center births were for the daring moms. Of course, I now understand that generally speaking, a hospital birth is more dangerous than a midwife assisted home birth in most cases.

Schlenzka actually concluded that the “apparent disadvantages of the obstetric approach have such large order of magnitude, that in any clinical trial it would be considered unethical to continue with the obstetric ‘treatment’.”

That’s a pretty strong conclusion.

One of his sources, out of an incredibly long list of sources, pointed to the idea that even the little things in a hospital labor may have far reaching consequences. I know it was the situation in my births, but read how it is explained:

“If obstetrics had the slightest interest in the physiology of childbirth, some routines would be reconsidered, criticized, discussed and used discerningly. Let us take as a simple example the practice of putting a drip (IV) into the arm of a laboring woman [as required for induction or augmentation of labor]. No one has ever proved that the effects of adrenalin secreted when a needle is inserted are negligible. Moreover, it is uncommon to be interested in the undesirable effects of glucose in the drip. Yet it has been discovered only very recently that glucose received in a drip can actually increase sensitivity to pain. Glucose also lowers the level of sodium chloride in the blood of both mother and baby. A low level of sodium chloride in the baby has the effect of making it breathe too fast. There is also evidence that a high level of glucose blocks the synthesis of prostaglandins, whose role is so important during childbirth.” (Odent 1986, p. 134).

I think about how I agreed to the hep lock. It made sense at the time. “Just in case,” they said. I think about how I accepted that they wanted to monitor me, and they couldn’t do that from the tub, like they promised. It made sense then. I think of all the little things, like asking me questions during a contraction. The lights. The sounds. The cervical measuring. They all made sense at the time. And they all made it too hard to stay calm.

Odent, Michel. 1986. Primal Health: A Blueprint for Our Survival. London: Century Hutchinson.


  1. Pingback: “I’d love to have my birth with a midwife, but I just don’t want any risks.” — Everything Birth's Blog on Midwifery, Attachment Parenting, Cloth Diapers and More

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