We’ve got a thing with the number 21 in our family. My two oldest children were born on the 21st of the month, though their due dates were no where near there, and when I went into labor with my third child on the 20th I thought I’d be in for a long day, sure he’d wait until after midnight to arrive. But he showed us his little feisty spirit at 4:19 that afternoon, eleven days late. Two years later the twins were born, eleven days early, on the first of the month and we added that to the 20 to make 21 again. It amused us for some reason.
We’ve been waiting all week for the newest family member to make his appearance and when I woke yesterday morning, the 21st popped into my psyche and I thought it might be today. And it was. A healthy, strapping, baby boy slid into my hands this morning after a long night. Now, as I try to stay awake to write, I can’t stop thinking again about what we’ve done to childbirth in our culture and I want to run away to a place where it all makes sense. I know I should sleep before taking a stand, lest it turn to another rant, but I can’t. Last night I listened to more buzzing and beeping than I heard in all the Star Wars movies combined. Flashing lights and what seemed like sirens blaring as my daughter started to doze, and this laboring woman is forced to adjust herself to make the beeping stop, the staff more comfortable, the electronic beasts fed. What on earth has our medical culture done to humanity?
I’ve been working in a bubble for 23 years. My little community hospital has it’s share of alarms, but nothing like what I spent the night listening to. In the name of safety we terrorize our ill and vulnerable just at the point when it’s impossible to say, “I’ll take my business elsewhere.” An uncomfortable blood pressure cuff must stay attached so the nurse doesn’t have to come in every half hour? I shook my head sadly as my daughter looked up at me. I would have taken it off, but thought I’d be kicked out for breaking the staff-convenience rule. There was already a power struggle going on and I didn’t want a passive/aggressive punishment doled out because I took a stand on it. And then I thought to myself, look what you’re doing! Acquiescing to keep from having my daughter punished! What have I become? Of course, I was in foreign territory. They easily could have told me I couldn’t catch that baby, so I let it be. Choose my battles, give in, let the asses get wider as they sit at the desk, listening for the alarm before they get up to see what’s happening. I’m too tired to rant this week and really should stop.
I thought about how I encourage people to advocate for themselves in the system, and here I was, attending an event I have a lot of expertise in, and I was intimidated by the staff. How on earth can people ever advocate for themselves when they are vulnerable? Yes, one can do their homework and interview providers to find one they trust and an institution that shares their values, but when it comes down to labor, women are subjected to call schedules and the available provider may be someone they’ve never met. The shift may change and your empathetic nurse may be replaced by a control freak with insecurities she tortures women with. One never knows. And there you are, fully dilated and at the mercy of someone in love with their machines. The don’t-cross-me-or-you’ll-regret-it types. And common sense seems a thing of the past. And normal doesn’t seem to exist. And a mantra rings through my brain –– get me out of here. I wax nostalgic about settings without technology, where human contact and clinical experience reign. I just don’t know where I belong anymore.
And I think of women who have no choices. Women who must drive hours to find a facility to care for them. Those women make no demands; they can’t afford to. They have no voice because they are the most vulnerable of all. They are poor. They have few resources and those are dwindling. I wonder what it would take to offer them some common decency: ice chips, a bag to vomit in, some privacy, some tenderness. How much further would that go than a blaring alarm announcing an abnormal blood pressure that we induced? The solution eludes us and women have no choice but to accept it.
And sweet baby James emerges, and I look up at the stiff expressions and smile. I see the tight lips soften as we welcome him, hug, cheer, and cry. And they see we are not evil. And I focus on this miracle and celebrate the effort it took and the strength of women who, even when they are managing a phenomenal physical feat, consider others, and obey the rules because they have to.
It’s time women. There’s a sister nearby who needs you. Reach out.