The birth of a child is a magical thing and humanity has long imbued this biological event with near-mythical properties. Religions have been built on the concept of birth and rebirth; a mother’s relationship with her child, before and after its birth, has been the basis for powerful moral teachings and a strong symbol of human emotion.
In the past, childbirth was often a family affair or, if no one in the family had yet learnt how to help with delivery, a village one. Midwives helped mothers through what is an inherently dangerous process and many mothers’ and children’s lives were lost in childbirth. The lack of emergency medical assistance, poor hygiene and poor post-natal care were often to blame. Both mother and child often faced many hardships before the infant’s first birthday. Malnourishment and disease took their toll, resulting in a high infant mortality rate, even if the birth went smoothly.
To combat losing children so often, parents often had several more. At that time, children, particularly boys, were considered an asset to the family – a source of free labour, someone to carry on the family line and help take care of parents when they reached old age which, at some periods in history, could be as young as 35. Being pregnant more often meant that mothers-to-be were exposed to even further risk.
The dawn of the industrial age saw a massive leap forward in science and technology. Suddenly, people had access to much better medical options than they had before. Over the years, medical science continued to improve – surgical and pharmaceutical treatments were now available for diseases and injuries that would kill thousands in the past. Something as simple as a tooth abscess could easily be life-threatening but new developments meant that more people could survive more incidents of illness.
The realm of obstetrics, gynecology and midwifery also underwent huge improvements. Mothers and babies were surviving longer and longer odds. Pre-natal testing came about. Pre-natal vitamins supported both during that crucial in vivo period. At the time of the birth itself, mothers now had an unprecedented range of options.
Those options however have created a perfect storm of sorts, leading to big questions on the efficacy and indeed the necessity of invasive and often costly treatment. In America, where healthcare can send low-income individuals into spiraling debt, those questions come through loud and clear. For a natural event that has literally been occurring for hundreds of generations, is the high-tech interference really the best option? If a mother and her unborn child are deemed healthy, is it necessary to numb, incise, or suture, when the process will often continue in its own way? Why have home births fallen out of favour, particularly in view of the fact that other developed nations have a strong percentage of successful home births? In this post-modern age, has childbirth too become a money-spinner, a way for those making medical treatment drugs and equipment and those administering it to add further figures to their profits?