A Woman’s Body

≡ Category: Health, What?? |2 Comments

I don’t spend a lot of time at the pediatrician’s anymore – not since my kids stopped running into slides at the playground (five stitches in the chin), falling off of front porches (broken wrist), and rolling down hills (double arm fracture with splintered bones AND poison ivy) – so I’d forgotten the kinds of conversations that mothers have while waiting for the doctor. This afternoon, I sat in the waiting room while my son had his physical and was forcibly reminded of -why- I chose a midwife to deliver three of my five children, and why I distrust the still mostly male-focused medical model.

Creative Commons License photo credit: nagobe

DSC03512Two young mothers were seated on the couch opposite me, each of them holding babies < one month old. They were discussing – as do all new mothers – their pregnancies and deliveries. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, really, but the conversation caught my ear when one said, “Well, HE wants a bunch more, and that would be okay if I could be sure that I’d have an ideal pregnancy and birth experience again.” Did you go natural? the other mother wondered. “It wasn’t what I planned, but I did. It was so easy..”

“But it isn’t always the way you expect,” the other mother said. “I almost died having this one. They had tubes down my throat and tubes in my nose and I didn’t even get to see him for hours afterward because they almost lost me…”

And yes, those things happen. And no, I don’t know details. And probably, I wouldn’t be writing this except for what the woman said a few sentences later – “I wasn’t going to have an epidural but it was like the worst pain and pressure you can imagine. It was an induction, because my doctor was going away for a few days and he might not have been around if I went into labor before he got back…”

Stop. Rewind. She was induced. Before her due date. As a matter of convenience. And I really wanted to ask her if anyone had thought to mention to her that induction carries some serious risks, both for the mother and the baby. If she knew that the adverse effects of induction include fetal distress, fetal heart rate abnormalities, failed induction and hypercontractility – a medical term meaning that labor becomes one long contraction that never quite lets go. If she knew that induction drastically increases the chances of needing an epidural, stalling delivery and needing assistance in the form of forceps delivery, and the chances of having an emergency cesarean.

When we talk about a woman’s right to choice in reproductive health, it most often conjures up Roe v. Wade and abortion, but there are other issues of reproductive health that are also routinely taken out of women’s hands – or are handed to them without the information necessary to make a real choice. Many of these issues and choices have serious repercussions for both mother and baby. Induction is one of those choices.

In many hospitals and practices, it is still routine to schedule an induction in any mother who goes 1 week or 2 weeks past due date – I know. Three of my five children were induced at the time that I was judged to be at 42 weeks gestation. No one told me any of the possible adverse reactions I might have to induction. No one suggested that labor might be more difficult, or that the calculations of my due date might be off and we might be forcing a child out of my womb before he was ready to deal with the world outside. They only told me that the procedure is routine. I’m not alone.

Nearing the end of the last trimester, exactly one week after a 40 week due date, I was told by my obstetrician that my baby was overdue, my baby was starving, weighed only five pounds, and that my placenta was aging. He also mentioned it was hospital policy to induce labor at 41 weeks gestation.

In a White Paper archived at the International Cesarean Awareness Network, Gail Dahl describes her own experience with an induced birth, and discusses the ramifications and adverse effects of premature induction. It’s must reading for any woman who is pregnant or who plans to be pregnant – and for their partners. Dahl recalls:

During the labor, I often felt as though my womb was being torn from within me, and I began to hemorrhage. It took months and months for the bleeding to stop entirely and the pain in my womb to subside. When my daughter emerged from my womb and was placed on my breast a refrain was whispered throughout the room, There is nothing wrong with this baby. As I gazed into her eyes, I began to feel the white-hot rage of betrayal. She had obvious signs of prematurity including a covering of soft down-lanugo and vernix. This was not an overdue baby, but a premature baby. Her medical records record her at barely 40 weeks. She could have easily been two or three weeks premature.

Later I realized we both experienced many side effects from an adverse reaction to the induction drug. I experienced bleeding during labor and prolonged bleeding for months after the birth, blood pressure problems, prolonged and severe postnatal depression, reduced immune function, and persistent pelvic pain. My daughter experienced reduced immune function, which contributed to eczema, asthma, allergies to foods and environmental substances, and brain seizures.

That was written in 2000, the year that the Alberta (Canada) Medical Association revised their guidelines to include informed consent guidelines for women offered induction. It was ten years after my own daughter was born with ‘a covering of soft down-lanugo and vernix’ – obviously not an overdue baby, but a premature one. This is eight years later. There are multiple studies that show no advantage to routine inductions at any gestational age, and many that point to the serious and long-lasting adverse effects. And I am willing to bet that not one medical professional had sat down with this woman and discussed those effects with her when they blithely suggested that she undergo an elective induction so that her regular obstetrician would be sure to be at the birth. And I am willing to bet that no one has told her since that it was very likely that induction that almost killed her.

I wish I could say that I talked to her about it so it wouldn’t happen again, but I honestly couldn’t find it in me to approach a stranger and suggest that her ordeal might have been avoidable, that her doctor had let his schedule put her life and her baby’s in danger. This is, unfortunately, just one more place where the rights of women are subjugated to the convenience of doctors and hospitals. It’s part of a medical (and social) paradigm that puts ‘convenience’ above women’s reproductive health at every turn. Women die because of it – and few voices are raised in protest.

We, as women, need to make conversations about all sorts of reproductive and women’s health choices part of the dialog about a woman’s right to choice – not just choice, but informed choice. These are our bodies. We have a right to know what’s being done to them.


This entry was posted on Thursday, June 19th, 2008 at 9:15 pm and is filed under Health, What??. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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