About Pain and Birth

That Was Then…

As I became involved in the birthing field, one of the nurse-midwives with whom I was acquainted introduced me to Jung’s quotation: “There is no birth of consciousness without pain.” (Alternately, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”) It struck a deep chord in me.

At the time, I was going through a painful divorce and creating a new sense of self. As a dancer, I had long since learned that the acquisition of new movement and performance skills involved a painful relationship with one’s body and mind that results in a new identity: I am a person who can do this. At that time, I also had my first pregnancy loss – painful in every definition of the word. Even ideas required painful “births” in my educational process. “Aha!” was usually preceded by muddled difficulty in disciplining my thought processes.

So, when I first saw the saying, “There is no birth of consciousness without pain,” intertwined with a drawing of a woman literally giving birth, the truth of the image seemed obvious to me. It become hard-wired into my underlying assumptions about giving birth. The process itself combines intense noxious sensations with mid brain emotional input into what neural science calls pain. For years, this realization has driven what and how I teach: Being fit and educated in body/mind are the tools of enlightenment and self-empowerment.

…And This Is Now

A little while ago I came across a NY Times article “Profiting From Pain.” While the article concerns the huge increase in the legitimate opioid business – products, sales, hospitalizations, legal expenses and workplace cost – it restarted my thinking about a topic fermenting in my brain between That Was Then And This Is Now: The sense of entitlement to a pain-free existence. The idea that pain free is better than painful. And the selling of this idea for profit.

Where does this come from? Trying to obliterate pain has led to increased addiction, death and other adverse side effects. A new topic has shown up in women’s health discussions: Increasing use and overdose from prescription pain killers by women, including during pregnancy.

Could it be that human fear of pain is being used to generate financial profit? (the opium-is-the-opiate-of-the-masses model). Perhaps once the notion of palliative care reached a certain level of acceptance for the dying within the medical community, it began to spill over into other human conditions (the slippery-slope model). Or, perhaps we don’t want transparency at all (the denial model).

In the last few days, NPR has raised the question of whether the high cesarean birth rate is tied to the payment for procedure rather than outcome model? The recovery from cesarean is more painful than the recovery from vaginal birth, has adverse side-effects for mother and baby, and was originally designed for use only for the 15% +/- of real complications that arise in normal birth. So, how is it being sold to 35% of women in the U.S,? At one point, there was a serious discussion within the medical community that if women were afraid of the pain of birth and wanted a cesarean, a care provider should do one. No discussion of why it seems painful or how to deal with pain.

The Affordable Care Act aims to improve some of the cost issues in medical care by shifting the payment incentive away from procedures and on to outcome assessment. As a result, the cesarean rate and even such seemingly innocuous procedures as fetal monitoring are coming under scrutiny. If we truly want to do a service to the mothers-to-be in the ACA transition period and beyond, I think we must discuss the question of birth and pain. 

I can think of many questions that fall under this topic…Why do we call the intense phenomenon of birth “painful”? How do our genetics, behavior, training and thought-processes affect our experience of pain? What about the health care culture – has it focused on relieving pain at the expense of what we gain from working with pain short of trauma or imminent death? How do we prepare women for working with sensation without automatically labeling it pain? Is the “empowerment” often attributed to giving birth what is learned by going through the center of the “there is no birth of consciousness without pain” experience? These questions are just a start.

In closing…

Let me address the childbirth educators and pregnancy exercise instructors. This is our present challenge. In my work, I feel the necessity to make all pain management strategies understandable to my clients. I find that most of the women I see in classes must deal first with self-discovery before they can assess their commitment to the view of birth they carry in their minds. The images of birth we lay out for them to consider need to include an understanding that you cannot escape the work of birth. Being present – mindfulness – can be scary and intense but it is the medium by which our consciousness expands. Cardiovascular fitness and strength are the source of our endurance and power.

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The 51% Factor: Pregnancy, Power & Health

Recently I came across this posting and thought it worth posting again. On one hand I see signs of continuing progress, and on another hand it seems to me there are fundamentalist influences popping up everywhere (including among U.S. evangelists) that threaten women’s right to reproductive freedom and health. There is no end to the need to be vigilant.

In the U.S. and most of the developed world, approximately 51% of the population is female. Most females give birth at some point in their lives, although, in any year, only about 2% of the population gives birth.

No one living on earth got here any other way than gestation, so there ought to be some power attached to being part of that 51%. Historically, it might be said that the power has been merely for survival…the good breeders survived long enough to produce heirs and those who lived on knew where the roots and fruit grew.

Only women can make more people with their bodies.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Women make people
  • Women’s health and fitness before pregnancy affects whether the pregnancy is healthy
  • Women’s health and fitness during pregnancy affects her lifetime health and that of her offspring
  • Maternal survival is important to offspring well-being
  • Maternal health and fitness affects maternal adaptation and thereby offspring well-being

Thus, is it not a sanguine notion that the health and survival of women is critical to the health of everyone? After all, the health of nations is associated with this slight majority of females, and the wealth of nations is associated with its health.

The good news is that people working from this understanding are making some headway around the globe. Recently, the World Health Organization noted that maternal death among pregnant and birthing women world-wide has been dramatically reduced from the 1980’s to recently. This is very good news!

Here is the interesting footnote:  Maternal death in the U.S. has risen 42% in the same period. While the absolute numbers remain small, this is a disturbing picture. What could be causing this?

Time will tell if we can figure it out and fix it. I venture to suggest some directions for consideration:

  • The elevated cesarean birth rate with its sequellae of cardiovascular and immune system disorders
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndromes
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease

Why am I hopeful, then? I see among our current educated generation of new moms and moms-to-be a willingness to exert their influence – as breeders – over the health care scene. They want less technological birth. They want support. They want more information. They want to be healthy. These are wonderful things. I salute these young women…they also make my job easier in the process.

In addition, I see among young health care practitioners an understanding of the value of these things. Among practitioners working in public health clinics there is a sense of desperation on the one hand that the poor and indigent have no capacity or will to take care of themselves. On the other hand, the first step is always education and there are a lot of people working on this issue.

Which brings me to the closing point:  How do we bring more resources and intelligence to helping women be healthy, prepare for pregnancy, have healthy babies, reduce pregnancy complications, and improve infant and maternal death rates? I, for one, will keep blogging on this issue. You, I hope, will vote for people who understand this issue. The political power and will is in our hands.

51% of us are women…some day 51% of us can set priorities

One World Birth, Video Trailer

This is a must see…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCPZrK8C2ZY&feature=player_embedded

The 51% Factor: Pregnancy, Power & Health

In the U.S. and most of the developed world, approximately 51% of the population is female. Most females give birth at some point in their lives, although, in any year, only about 2% of the population gives birth.

No one living on earth got here any other way than gestation, so there ought to be some power attached to being part of that 51%. Historically, it might be said that the power has been merely for survival…the good breeders survived long enough to produce heirs and those who lived on knew where the roots and fruit grew.

Only women can make more people with their bodies.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Women make people
  • Women’s health and fitness before pregnancy affects whether the pregnancy is healthy
  • Women’s health and fitness during pregnancy affects her lifetime health and that of her offspring
  • Maternal survival is important to offspring well-being
  • Maternal health and fitness affects maternal adaptation and thereby offspring well-being

Thus, is it not a sanguine notion that the health and survival of women is critical to the health of everyone? After all, the health of nations is associated with this slight majority of females, and the wealth of nations is associated with its health.

The good news is that people working from this understanding are making some headway around the globe. Recently, the World Health Organization noted that maternal death among pregnant and birthing women world-wide has been dramatically reduced from the 1980’s to recently. This is very good news!

Here is the interesting footnote:  Maternal death in the U.S. has risen 42% in the same period. While the absolute numbers remain small, this is a disturbing picture. What could be causing this?

Time will tell if we can figure it out and fix it. I venture to suggest some directions for consideration:

  • The elevated cesarean birth rate with its sequellae of cardiovascular and immune system disorders
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndromes
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease

Why am I hopeful, then? I see among our current educated generation of new moms and moms-to-be a willingness to exert their influence – as breeders – over the health care scene. They want less technological birth. They want support. They want more information. They want to be healthy. These are wonderful things. I salute these young women…they also make my job easier in the process.

In addition, I see among young health care practitioners an understanding of the value of these things. Among practitioners working in public health clinics there is a sense of desperation on the one hand that the poor and indigent have no capacity or will to take care of themselves. On the other hand, the first step is always education and there are a lot of people working on this issue.

Which brings me to the closing point:  How do we bring more resources and intelligence to helping women be healthy, prepare for pregnancy, have healthy babies, reduce pregnancy complications, and improve infant and maternal death rates? I, for one, will keep blogging on this issue. You, I hope, will vote for people who understand this issue. The political power and will is in our hands.

51% of us are women…some day 51% of us can set priorities

American College of Nurse Midwives updates

Two updates on the ACNM website of interest:

• the value of exercise in pregnancy

• health care reform

Check out the ACNM site!!

Rant: Health Care Reform/Pregnancy

Since Health Care Reform is a hot topic, let’s look at it from the perspective of pregnancy and birth.

What revisions would most benefit pregnant women, their offspring, families and communities?

1. Reward healthy behaviors. A system that provides reduced premiums for health care for women who exercise, eat well, do not smoke and are in a normal weight range is evidence-based.

Yes! We could provide financial incentives for being healthy during pregnancy. Why? Healthy moms have healthy babies; healthy babies cost the payer less money.

2. Review best practices. Is a 40 or 50% cesarean rate the best practice?  Accompanying the rise in cesarean births is growing information that babies born by cesarean are at increased risk for a number of immune disorders. But the business model of medicine rewards cesarean because it both pays the provider more and is defensive medical practice.

Fetal monitoring to determine if a cesarean may be necessary, is wrong 3/4 of the time. In an effort to change this, guidelines are changing for the use of monitors during labor. What is the evidence that this change of practice is beneficial? Will it lead to more or less monitoring, which may itself be an intervention that can disrupt normal labor?

3. Change the business model for health care. When we make financial incentives for care providers, base them on best practice, not on enriching the middle man. Currently the payers (insurance companies) are middle men, making money (i.e., conducting business) by charging fees. They ration payments for services in order to pay their own salaries and overhead. They do not actually do anything productive. This is why single payer, government, and health care coop options have been proposed. They eliminate most of the cumbersome middle layer.

Why does insurance pay for cesareans? Well, they will do it once. After all, the care providers have to practice defensive medicine. But, once you have a cesarean, you become a risk for the insurance company (they know what the research says about cesareans and offspring health problems) and may be denied insurance. They can no longer afford you.

Because care providers are paid fee for service and must practice defensive medicine, pregnancy and birth have become increasingly burdened with intervening procedures that do not necessarily promote a healthy pregnancy or birth process. How is this playing out? Increasingly, we see women giving birth in what they perceive as a more supportive and health-inducing setting:  their own homes. Think of it this way:  many women now believe that it is safer to stay home than go to a hospital to give birth.

Unless health care becomes about best practices and healthy outcomes – not price, size, and getting paid for passing money back and forth – the U.S. will continue to have some of the worst maternal/infant outcomes in the developed world.