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Saturday, January 14, 2012

On birth suites and breastfeeding: what a busy week!

I've been slacking - I'm supposed to be writing posts about thyroid awareness, but considering the busy week the entertainment industry's been having, I couldn't help but get distracted!

Beyonce's Birth Suite
First, Beyonce had her baby. Woo. I know, I'm like the 400th person to write a blog post about it, and really, it doesn't matter to me whether she had a natural birth or a cesarean. Well, in some ways it matters, yes - but not in the way some people think it does. Without rehashing too much of what everyone else has said, I do think how a woman gives birth matters: in the sense that surgical births are completely downplayed and approached with almost a blasé attitude, to the point where vaginal births - normal ones, anyway - are almost considered "old-fashioned." If she got the birth she wanted, then great - either way. When the entire world thought she had a cesarean at 37 weeks for breech, though, I wondered aloud, "What if this is the best information she had at the time? Many of us, including myself, have been there."

Photo: TMZ
Anyway, once photos of her birth suite were leaked, it got me thinking: why does someone have to be of "celebrity" or important status to have a comfortable, homey-looking place like this? Why do the rest of us get relegated to a double room with a complaining, loud roommate and plastic furniture?

I thought back to my own births. I gave birth to three children in two hospitals. My first was a cesarean, I was ill-informed, scared, and alone. My husband wasn't allowed to stay overnight with me, despite the fact there was a very empty bed next to mine the entire time I was there. Nurses ignored my repeated requests for pain medication, despite the obvious fact that something was wrong, and it was just a miserable experience overall. When my baby was born, he was quickly shown to me and then taken out in the hallway to be weighed and measured - which my husband witnessed - as I lay on the operating table, hearing his first cries. I thought to myself, I've just given birth, but this is so freaking surreal. I want to hold my child. When my husband cried tears of joy, they actually asked him if he was going to be okay, like something was wrong with him. Seriously?!

When it was time to get up and move around for the first time, I was in such pain I felt like my body was being seared in half. The nurse was unsympathetic. They actually told me to go get my own breakfast. I was confused, half-drugged with drugs that only half-worked, wondering where I was supposed to go to get it. Someone felt sorry for me and brought me a turkey sandwich. I thought this was odd, considering when I had my VBAC two years later (the birth I could have done cartwheels after) they brought me all my meals. What? 

For many women, just to have an unmedicated birth, they have to practically fight tooth and nail for it. Many are laughed at when they walk into the doctor's office with a birth plan. Many don't want anything all that special, except to maybe keep vaginal exams to a minimum, dim the lights and let them push in a position that feels comfortable to them, instead of to the doctor. In other words, they want their personal space respected as much as humanly possible, instead of be made to feel like a human science experiment, especially when it isn't necessary.

It's sad that we can't afford more laboring women the comforts of home within the "safe" confines of a hospital setting, since most people think hospitals are the best, safest place to give birth. Fine. Birthing centers seem to offer the best of both worlds, if you can find one. I know my city doesn't have any, that's for sure.

I think only within the last four or five years did my hospital convert their maternity rooms to private. In fact, there are those that can be reserved - as if you're a celebrity - but of course there's so few of them that they often get taken first. Birthing tubs and jacuzzis? Only four, available first-come, first-serve. I was denied access to them with my second birth because I was having a VBAC. Whatever. Apparently waterproof dopplers hadn't yet been invented in 2006. *eyeroll*

(Although they do mention CPMs, how they can lower infection and cesarean rates, fewer complications and healthier outcomes, based on WHO recommendations. So I'll give them that.)

Although hospitals go through expensive remodeling projects and blab endlessly about having expensive equipment to 'ensure you the best outcome,' it seems like they pour all their money into technology - which hasn't been shown to improve outcomes - and ignore some of the basics, like getting rid of that damned plastic furniture.

Seeing Beyonce's birth suite photos just reminds you of how in the Dark Ages many hospitals are when it comes to serving laboring women. And consider this - roughly only five percent are considered "Mother-baby friendly."

Sesame Street and breastfeeding in public
Like it hasn't already been done before, some think that breastfeeding should be "brought back" to The Street. I don't say that in a sarcastic tone - but mainly to say to all the haters, "It's already been done before. Twice. I don't remember hearing a lot of hoopla over it then or since, until now. One viewer remembers in retrospect:
Buffy breastfed Dakota in one episode; a former Canadian politician recently commented that "I remember seeing that and thinking about how proud she made aboriginal women because nursing is a part of our culture. During those days it was kind of a hidden thing, so to see Buffy doing it on Sesame Street was really something."
I've been embroiled in a heated, rather idiotic debate on Facebook over the last few days with some people who think it's wrong. I have repeated myself at least three or four times: "It's already been done before, twice, and no one raised a stink about it then." Someone complained, "Our tax dollars at work!" I corrected him and said, "Actually, the US government subsidizes half of the infant formula consumed in this country." No response. I don't think anyone actually bothers to read any of the comments before issuing their own thoughtful gem. What a bunch of idiots.

Some argued that that kind of thing "should be taught at home," and compared it with bodily fluids and functions (as usual) - even going so far as to say, "What next? Abortions? Conception?" I mean, come on. The reason these people don't see many women nursing in public anymore is because numbskulls like them have effectively driven women to either choose formula because they don't want to run the risk of their baby getting hungry in public, or they are currently feeding their child in a disgusting toilet stall somewhere.

And how can you teach something at home when that behavior, for whatever reason, isn't modeled at home? That's just the way it is, unfortunately. Kids are less likely to learn about something they're never going to see.

Many of the people who complained have probably never seen a woman nurse in public, or if they did, they didn't realize it. When they hear the word "breast" they immediately think "full frontal nudity," pasties and dancing around like you're a stripper.

I pointed out that, until formula started heavily being marketed to mothers, women nursing in public, tops open, was not unusual. As the formula industry moved into hospitals at an alarming rate, the sexual revolution gave way to an attitude that changed our ideas about what breasts were for, and, I think, the porn industry found new and more convenient outlets to reinforce those ideas. Before, public, open breastfeeding was normal and seen every day, and sex was not. Suddenly, those roles were reversed: sex was brought out into the spotlight, de-shamed, and breastfeeding was relegated to the back closet as old-fashioned and "dirty." Now people argue that if you're a breastfeeding mother, you should just "stay at home." But if you want to flash cleavage at all times for no reason, well - that's okay, I guess.

Where's Maria when you need her?

More reading:
You're my baby (bottled-fed version) - Sesame Street
Does breastfeeding belong on Sesame Street? - San Francisco Gate


Tom and Juli said...

Heck I would even be happy if my hospital would at least update their gowns. Ekkk! They are so old, faded, missing snaps and ties, and gross. What's up with all the tv shows where the woman is wearing a cute, freshly pressed pink one? I want that!

I cannot believe how absurd people get about the breastfeeding thing. When can we normalize it? When can nursing mothers come out of hiding and join the rest of society? Or am I only allowed in public with a power suit and push-up bra under a low cut shirt exposing all my cleavage?

Here is my thoughts on the NIP debate for anyone interested in my opinion. :)

Christine said...

Wow - I can't even imagine a hospital or the OB nurses being so horrible! I've only had one birth so far (in the hospital), but it was great. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I chose to have a midwife and doula with me who were totally cool with my birth plan. But the room itself was great too - comfy, spacious, hardwood floor, a couch...and private! I didn't even realize they could be double rooms. That sounds awful.

One thing to add to the breastfeeding part. I seem to remember as a child seeing a breastfeeding woman sitting in a park as part of a Mr. Rogers episode....I don't know if that has any relevance to anything. But it's the kind of thing I would be surprised to see included in any modern children's shows.