I’ve heard it again. “If men had babies….” Joyce McFadden’s blog entry “From Doulas to Doctors” explains well the emotional disruption of being ignored in your own birth process. She says, and the brackets are also hers, “[If men gave birth] I think there would be more transparency in the process, and that patients would be treated with a modicum of respect, and as intelligent, functioning human beings with the right to participate in their own care.”

Her blog gives an accurate portrayal of what too many women experience in a setting where surgery is becoming, not second nature, but is replacing “first” nature.

The only thing is, is that her conclusion is off. Women doctors are not inherently more respectful of women patients, not OB patients. Each male or female doctor makes the decision for themselves whether to extend themselves beyond their technical performance and reach out to the heart of the patient. In other words, are they living as a healer or a technician?

I was a doula for a woman who picked a prestigious all-female OB group. She told me in her pregnancy how reassuring it was to have women caring for her. Women, who understood what it was to be in her position, pregnant and wanting compassion and celebration for this miracle of bringing life.

Her labor went fast. In fact, so fast that the doctor and I came into the room while the mom was crowning in 2nd stage. So fast, that I began to coach (a term and a style I don’t normally use, but it fit at this moment) as I crossed the room to help the mom cope with the feeling of stretching skin around her baby’s eager head.

“”It’s ok, its your baby’s head coming.” I didn’t want to direct the birth, but I also didn’t want her to push her baby out hard into the air unattended, because the doctor was still gloving up. So as not to put myself in the place of the baby catcher, I said, “Your doctor is going to tell you how to pant so the baby’s head comes out smoothly.” I was trying to get that word “pant” in there.

But to my surprise, and the mother’s, her doctor wheeled around and shouted, “I’m the doctor here, and I am cutting an episiotomy.” I’m sure her far sighted vision was able to see across the room (and around the back of her head) that the crowning baby was stuck or the yielding perineum of her patient was going to burst or something noble motivated this woman doctor.
She swept across the room and deftly grabbed her favored implement and quickly cut the mother open even as the baby was emerging.

I can go on to describe numerous similar descriptions of women who cut without reason, who use the vacuum on actively birth women, who threaten the mothers with the death of their child if they don’t submit to induction. And this last by nurse-midwives.

On the other hand, I’ve been a doula to women who have the nurse-midwife group in town that includes one male midwife. Early in their care, mothers sometimes say, I don’t want the male midwife, I want a woman at my birth. Usually at some point in their pregnancy they end up seeing John. A big smile comes over their face. Several have said they almost prefer John to the other midwives they’ve seen.

You see in each case, we chose to be present with who we are with, or we don’t. Its not the gender, its the power a person supposes they have over another person. The illusion of power disconnects you from humanity.

If a doctor or midwife doesn’t acknowledge informed consent, or acknowledge the voice of the woman at all, they have no motive to connect with her. Their sentiment may be for the relationships with the nurses. They are chatty because they are exercising their power among nursing staff who have to work in the OR and listen to the doctors. They smile, of course, like paid admiration. The nurses want to get along with their co-workers, including the docs, so its not wrong to establish working relationships. It is wrong to desecrate the sanctity of a mother’s birth.

Is this disconnect the price of technology and the cost of high paid technicians? Do we allow them this power because they save lives? Do we sacrifice the quality of life for nearly all new mothers so that we can save the lives of a few? And if so, then why are we losing more babies than countries with less technology? We aren’t getting the rewards of our sacrifice.

I rapidly go to the larger problem. If it is seen as gender, it may be because, as a society, and too often as individual women, we have given the male gender the power to disconnect from us. Put a woman in that place of power and we see the same pattern of disconnect.
The pattern is there. We have to transcend the pattern, not the gender. The gender is besides the point.

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