Fast Food Birth

I once saw a lady dress it, wrap it up, and stick it under a heat lamp. Think I’m talking about a hamburger? No. This was a nurse in the hospital nursery, “taking care of” a newborn. She wasn’t exactly rough….but she wasn’t gentle either. She certainly did not treat the baby with the same care its mother would. The poor thing was crying–crying for its mother–but was made to stay in the nursery, probably for a few hours. Is that the way you want your baby treated?

Did I witness this treatment back in the 60s or 70s? You know, the era in which women were still routinely shaved, given an enema, put under general anesthesia for the birth, and given a huge episiotomy so the baby could be dragged out by its head with forceps.

No. This was three years ago, when I toured the hospital labor ward when I was pregnant with my first baby.

It would make a nice story to say that this…..not exactly “cruel”….treatment changed my mind to have a home birth; but the truth is, I was already planning one. The trip to the hospital was just in case we had to transfer, I would know what to expect. Although my intention was to have a home birth, seeing how my precious newborn would be treated if I chose to go to a hospital cemented my determination not to go there unless absolutely necessary.

Through the years, I’ve thought of that poor baby, and that nurse, and that hospital. I feel quite certain that this treatment of newborns is not unusual. In fact, I’ve spoken to many women all over the country, or read their birth stories, who have testified of the same thing. Where is the sense in this treatment? The woman labors for hours, many times in adverse situations; she may push for even a few hours, on top of several hours of dilating contractions. Then, her labor culminates in the birth of her precious infant, and they are separated for hours with barely a cuddle and a glance.

Instead of relishing in the bonding hormones that nature so bountifully supplies, the woman is left on the bed, craning her head to catch a glimpse of her child, while strangers hold, clean, suction, weigh and measure it. Then she is given the baby, wrapped up like a burrito, for a few moments, before the baby is taken to the nursery to have the process repeated–more thoroughly because the mother is not in attendance, and cannot hear her child cry out for comfort, while the poor baby bonds with its first bed (a plastic box) or the heat lamp.

This is obviously not normal. Is it beneficial? No. Here is normal, so you see the difference. This “normal,” by the way, is acted out every day in home births across the country. Occasionally, a hospital birth may be this way–some hospitals indeed are more baby-friendly–but a trip to your local hospital’s nursery windows may be quite educational.

The mother labors with her chosen attendants–whether it is husband, mother, friend, midwife. She gives birth and reaches immediately for her baby, who is handed to her and immediately settles down onto her chest. The umbilical cord is not cut, and the baby is probably not crying. Why should the baby cry? He has everything he needs–still getting oxygen through the cord, taking small, uncertain breaths with his untried lungs; is cuddled to his mother so he has not only her heat warming his wet body, but her smell that he is so familiar with. Perhaps a blanket is put over them so that he is kept snug and warm, but he gets the advantage of that skin-to-skin contact, instead of being roughly wiped with a hospital blanket that has been cleaned with harsh chemicals. The mother, in the ecstacy of birth hormones (most akin to post-orgasmic hormones, but even stronger), drinks in the sight of her precious child, while his eyes search for hers, and then he stares at her with a penetrating gaze. Ah, love! Then the baby begins to root, and finds the nipple and begins suckling. Perhaps after a few hours, someone thinks to disturb them, but no one dares to interrupt that first important meeting. You might think that after all the hours of labor the mother would be tired; but typically the post-birth hormones give her a mental “high” that keeps her awake and alert for hours, drinking in her newborn.

But in the hospital, the nurses take the baby for these precious first hours. The mom is left with an empty uterus, empty arms, and empty heart. She is told to rest, but finds it impossible. The baby must be bathed and warmed in the nursery she is told. So instead of being warmed in his mother’s arms, pressed to his mother’s heart–that familiar heartbeat he has heard for the last nine months, smelling his mother’s smell–that familiar smell he has smelled the last nine months, and nursing from his mother’s breast which is comforting to him above all else–instead of that, he is left crying, helpless and alone, under a bright heat lamp, with no one even attending him, or seeming to hear his cry. The nurses have heard too many babies cry to care particularly about your baby. They have their job to do, and must “observe” instead of cuddle this precious bundle of tears.


2 Responses

  1. This is beautifully put! Indeed babies belong in their mother’s arms after birth… not a box.
    BTW, there are still hospitals where they routinely shave mothers. There is a mom in my class who went on the hospital tour, found that out and is now planning a home birth!

  2. […] light on the subject, or just something that I think bears repeating. So, here is my first post, Fast Food Birth. I remember writing this while we were having a discussion in the Independent Childbirth Educators […]

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