No one can deny that humanity has come a long way. We’ve made major advancements in science, technology, medicine, transport, business, a person in New York can hold a business meeting via video link with people in Tokyo, London and Milan all without leaving his office. Babies up to 22 weeks premature can not only survive but thrive! We have digital televisions with picture so clear it’s almost clearer then the real thing.
But all this advancement, all this improvement, is it for the better? We’ve become so isolated from each other in the community and even our own families, we no longer work together outside the office. Let me explain.
Birth use to be a normal, everyday occurrence that happened in the home with a skilled woman or midwife attending. The midwife was seen as a pillar in the community and she was tih women at the most important moment in their lives, the birth of their children. Breastfeeding was a mimicked skill, women learnt to feed their babies by watching their own mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends feeding their own children. When a woman birthed a baby, a community of women would surround her with support, they would bring meals and offers of help with the housework. Babysitting was shared. Cross nursing was common. Mothers didn’t need experts to tell them how to raise their children.
Then in the mid-seventeenth century something changed and women began going to hospital to birth, attended by males who did not understand the significance of birth beyond getting the baby out. It happened slowly, but more and more women stopped birthing at home and went to hospital. Now only 3% of Australian babies are born at home.
Now there are situations where a baby may need to be born in hospital, if the mother has a diagnosed condition that makes birthing risky, or if the mother goes into labour very early. However a vast majority of women have nothing medically wrong with them and it would be perfectly safe for them to birth at home.
Routinely women are told that breastfeeding will hurt, that their baby won’t get enough, that their breasts don’t work, because whether they say it or not medical professionals do not trust a woman’s body to work the way nature intended. This is why babies are routinely weighed and measured to ensure they are ‘still’ getting enough. Mothers are then given mixed messages about when to start giving their baby real food, instead of letting their baby discover it for themselves. And when breastfeeding doesn’t work out, as it doesn’t for some women, they’re handed the can of formula. Formula is cleverly marketed. Without actually saying outright that it’s just as good, subliminally formula is being spruiked as the best science has to offer. “Inspired by breastmilk,” “essential nutrients,” “gold,” “plus,” “boosts immune systems” – while pamphlets about breastfeeding talk about needing help, problems that may arise and show well to do mothers with blissfully happy babies. Inadvertently these pamphlets tell mothers that breastfeeding is difficult, while formula cans and advertising offer an attractive alternative that promises no pain for mum and the best science has to offer for baby. No wonder breastfeeding rates are so low!
Women are crying out for support, with babies, with toddlers, with pregnancy, with birth. And with the miracle of the Internet more and more women are turning to online forums and groups to replace their communities. Some of these are pretty poor, they’re all about patting each other on the back no matter what the mothers decision is. There is a chorus of “you did your best” which is really just dismissive of what the mother really needs. Other communities are support networks both online and in real life to provide practical advice and real support. One of these communities embraced me when I was on bed rest with my son, with meals, visits, a blessingway and birth support, it was amazing.
Let’s face it, how many of us live close to our family anymore? My mother and father live 1,368kms away. I have made my own community, online and in real life. I have had to open myself up to meeting people of all walks of life, some of my friends are much older then me, some are younger, most have children but some do not. I have had to accept that I cannot parent alone and will need help. Especially with a partner who often works away. I’ve learnt to accept my limits and learn to accept help.
We have certainly come along way but at what cost? We have lost our instincts as mothers, we have lost the confidence to birth without hindrance and to let our bodies feed our babies the way nature intended. Perhaps there are some things that should have been left alone.
Quick note for readers in South Australia, there is a great expo coming up, the facebook page is here. There will be fabulous speakers and stalls regarding birth, parenting and sustainability. I urge you to go along. August 7th 9am-3pm.