Two years ago I gave birth to an 8-pound, 7-ounce little girl in a calm and gentle water birth at a free-standing birthing center. It was one of the proudest moments of my life and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. I’m currently pregnant with my second child (due in June) and am planning another water birth — only this time at home. Obviously I’m a big fan of water birth, so when I saw that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had put out a statement about their stance on water birth this past week I was eager to read it.
Long story short, ACOG and the AAP say that while there have been benefits associated with laboring in the tub (like decreased pain or shorter duration of labor), they feel that actually having your baby born in the water should be considered risky and “experimental.”
OK, I get it guys. Water birth does have some possible risks (even though ACOG notes these are rare) and you guys like to err on the side of caution. It’s fine. But now everyone is abuzz and talking about how “unsafe” water birth is, and it’s getting a little bit ridiculous. This segment on Good Morning America was particularly irritating — as they repeatedly hypothesized that the “water birth trend” is a result of all the celebrity moms who are doing it and that it’s a way for moms to fulfill their “mermaid fantasies.” Seriously? Where do they even get this stuff?
But my personal frustrations aside, I can’t help but ask myself as I see all the water birth coverage swirling around the internet … “Why is everyone talking about ‘how risky’ water birth is when we should really be talking more about how risky all medical interventions (i.e. epidurals and c-sections I’m looking at you!) can be?”
Now before everyone jumps on me in the comment section, I want to say that in no way do I judge women who have their babies in a hospital setting with medical interventions. Birth is hard work and it’s unpredictable. Sometimes babies and mamas truly do need these medical interventions. An epidural may be just the thing that an exhausted mama needs to get through the rest of her labor. But how many women actually know what the risks of that epidural might be? My guess is that many aren’t fully informed. Sometimes the side effects won’t be noticeable, but it doesn’t mean that it’s 100 percent safe — no medical procedure is completely safe.
And while I am thankful that C-sections exist, the fact remains that they are a form of major surgery and are overused in this country. According to the CDC, 32.8 percent of women had cesareans in 2012, which is a very high percentage. The World Health Organization previously stated that it’s worldwide recommendation for C-sections was 10-15% and though they have since retracted that statement saying that an optimum rate is unknown, they also acknowledge that “both very low and very high rates of caesarean section can be dangerous…users of this handbook might want to continue to use a range of 5-15% or set their own standards”. Some women truly do need C-sections, but there are far too many C-sections being carried out as an elective process or something their OB may have pushed on them out of convenience. And please let’s not forget that C-sections carry some serious risks that many women are oblivious to.
I’m not saying that women should go into water birth blindly or that more studies on it shouldn’t be done. What I am saying is that all of the hoopla surrounding ACOG/AAP’s latest statement is distracting from some of the other more serious birth issues we should be addressing as well.
I truly believe that the reason more women are seeking water births is because they are looking for a different experience and trying to change our ideas of how birth needs to be (i.e. medicalized and painful). It can take a lot to create change, and I fully expect doctors to be resistant. Water birth takes some of the control out of their hands and trusts that a woman’s body (in most cases) knows how to deliver a baby. This is not something that most physicians are used to and definitely not the approach we take with medical care in this country where there is a perpetuated idea that medicalized birth is better. I just don’t agree. I think there is a balance to be struck where both women and doctors can feel respected, but I don’t believe we’ve found it yet.
Here’s to finding a balance together and making birth better for all.
Lauren Hartmann is the founder of The Little Things We Do, a blog about life and adventures in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram or catch up on all of her posts here on Babble.