Tag Archives: babies

Were the Christmas miracle mother and baby “saved” from epidural?

Ah the miracle of medicine, look how much you’ve done for women and babies. Birthing in the Western World is no longer fraught with danger, thanks to your hand.

Or is it?

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The oh-so convenient Christmas miracle story splashed internationally across mass media headlines of a Coloradan woman and her baby dying through childbirth and then “inexplicably” being revived held readers spellbound. It was the perfect gift for editors – as a front page, it sold papers.

But media did not report the facts – they just told a good story.

In birth, medicine has moved beyond monitoring women and fixing stuff that goes wrong to getting in there and making birth a “medical procedure.” Whether a woman is likely to birth successfully without intervention or not is not considered when offering everything from epidurals to c-sections to “patients” who are armed with the gift of choice, but not the gift of a full education about the side-effects each of these interventions carry.

Do they know that as soon as you introduce one intervention, the likelihood of more being required is exponentially higher? Epidurals lead, often, to more intervention. Why? Because blind freddy can tell that if you can’t feel your body, if you muck around with its ability to do the work it was naturally trying to do, then it’s going to be more likely to repay you in kind. Epidurals are not headache tablets for birthing. Too many women believe they are. Too many women give their birthing up to medicine with no reasonable or rational cause. They’re missing out on the most powerful experience of their lives – and often recovering from major abdominal surgery. Society is also paying through the nose for these unnecessary surgeries. Over 30% of American women now have c-sections. Before long it will be the “normal” way to birth.

Media did not question the fact that Tracy and Mike Hermanstorfer were being “prepped for childbirth” in a medicalized setting with pitocin delivered and an epidural being inserted, and that apparently coincidentally Tracy’s heart stopped after the epidural. (There is real research into the side-effects of epidurals… this link to the American Pregnancy Association states more than 50% of American women have epidurals – but if you read to the end, the very real possibility of cascades of intervention and medical trauma directly related to the epidural, including severely lowering heart rates of both mother and baby are basically outlined. And that’s if they put it in correctly.)

Henci Goer reported on this story yesterday, for Lamaze International. She outlines the details of potential medical responsibility in the trauma endured by this family. Additionally, in ABC News’s video interview with the doctor and Hermanstorfers, the cascade of intervention is described – but the reporting does absolutely nothing to question further about those interventions.

Traditional media are failing us in reporting on birth. We are so accepting of medicalised birth that media do not question medical responsibility in this family’s trauma. Instead, it celebrates the “Christmas miracle” that sells its papers – and the UK’s Daily Mail even went so far as to credit the doctor for bringing back lifeless Tracy. Again, the business model gets in the way of good journalism. Find the quickest story that sells the paper and pulls a heartstring, not the story that takes research and investigation.

I know many religious people have already adopted this story, calling it God’s hand at work. Others will say “thank goodness she was in a hospital (where our human-made gods are) – what would have happened if she were at home?”

What indeed.

Airlines don’t understand mums and marketing

There’s something magical about arriving at the airport with all your luggage and just two of your kids for the upcoming 28 hours of travel between countries, and reaching the check-in counter to find out every bag comes in just under the 23kg weight limit. Score.

And there’s something even more special about being handed your boarding passes and passports, turning around and seeing the 11yr old has just decked the 9yr old, and he is laying on the floor groaning loudly, holding one leg to an audience of passengers who are surely thinking ‘Oh My God, I hope they’re not sitting next to us.’

5 minutes in, 27 hours, 55 minutes to go.

How to make a flight a dreaded experience

We flew back to the US yesterday on United Airlines. Apart from the following treasured moments, we arrived safely:

a. Wholly inedible ‘food’ which really was probably the worst I’ve ever had on the long haul part, and food that’s more expensive than eating at Spago for the domestic route. (And far less tasty. Yes, I’ve eaten at Spago. Once. It was wonderful. I’m classy. I am. Stop laughing.)

b. Lack of in-seat entertainment which is very entertaining for my spoilt kids who were expecting personal movies and tv, yet had to watch tv shows like Desperate Housewives on the screens in the aisles instead. (I do remember my own childhood flights to the UK when there was just one movie for the whole flight, and the headphones never worked. I tried telling them that but they didn’t care and then they got more annoyed. They did manage very well in the end. But I digress).

c. Being checked into three seats on the US domestic part of the journey which were single seats in equidistant, very distant seats which I find very difficult to believe was accidental because we checked into the domestic flight, getting boarding passes an entire day before (see earlier part about children punching each other). There is no way there weren’t three seats together when I checked in. Mind you, I was easily trumped by a poor woman with five kids under five, who had all been seated all over the plane. That’s just completely stupid. I was momentarily tempted to tell the attendant not to bother reseating the kids, but just to reseat this other mother and myself somewhere and bring us a bottle of bubbly.

d. The lack of real assistance for a woman with four children travelling alone, whose 3yr old would NOT stop screaming for about 3 hours in the last quarter of the long haul flight. She was forced to stay in her seat with that kid because she couldn’t leave the others. I knew that. I’ve got lots of kids and have usually travelled alone with them. One kid will cry, or take a particular liking to the novelty of the plane’s bathroom and insist they have to go constantly, or need something from the one bag in the overhead bin. It’s a drama. Something simple could have made her journey easier. Such as a flight attendant saying, “what can I do to help?” instead of ignoring her.

Sidebar: I’ll never forget the Qantas flight Jed and I took while I was still nursing Charlie, about 6 years ago. The dinner came, and there was no way I could cut it up – my arm was indisposed with nursing child. I said to leave it with Jed and I’d get to it later. The Qantas attendant decided that was okay and she’d do it if I preferred, but how about if she cut the dinner up, and just left the dinner and a fork (rather than the whole tray), and then I could manage it while it was still hot? She was awesome. I remember that still. Six years later. I even remember what the flight attendant looked like. That’s good branding.

Market your flights to mums

This is a trip that costs about $US1000 a seat return – minimum. There are a couple of hundred people on the plane, who’ve all paid at least that amount. This is not a bus. People are tired, stressed and emotional. Being an attendant on these flights is hard work. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a flight attendant go beyond the most basic of service effort and everyone’s flight would have been better if that kid had stopped screaming.

On our trip over another woman was left standing in the queue with her three kids. The flight had been delayed. It was 2am. The smallest kid was asleep. She had carry-on luggage. She was really struggling. And the attendants all ignored her.

Yes, I helped her as I could, and Charlie even offered too. If an 9yr old gets it, why don’t the airlines?

When we finally boarded that flight, the ground staff said the standard “how are you?” I said “good, and you?” His reply was “tired.”

Well stuff you.

My reply? “At least you’re getting paid.” I should have added ‘and don’t have to sit on the plane for the next 16 hours with kids, and haven’t just had a 3 hours flight to get here, and then waited 9 hours for this delayed one.’

Sheesh. I wonder who’s more precious? My kids completely expecting video on demand in their seats, or these airline staff who seem to think we owe them something more than the price of a ticket.

Instead of focusing on leg room, loyalty programs and discount prices, it would be great to see an airline focus on really going beyond the call of duty to make your flight the best you’ve ever had. If an airline marketed to mothers, they’d see these women are the decision makers, who travel with their families (more ticket sales), and to be honest, it’s the simple things like offering a pair of hands when needed that will make a mother like you more.

Or maybe that’s just too hard. Too much to ask.

Breastfeeding in America

Recently many Twitterers (and their associates) contributed to my survey on American women’s attitudes to breastfeeding and its representation in the media. I promised to share the outcomes of my research and the survey, which this post seeks to do. For those interested, the entire paper (30 pages plus 15 page complete survey result appendix) is available by emailing me or asking on Twitter and I’ll get it to you straight away. If you’d like to see the summary of survey responses, this link takes you to the final Survey Monkey summary.

American Breastfeeding Rates

America has a dismal breastfeeding rate. The World Health Organization and the US’s own CDC recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, and then breastfed with additional food until they are two years old and beyond. The American Government then worked with the CDC in 2000 to develop the Healthy People 2010 initiative. It includes breastfeeding goals which fall short of the WHO and CDC’s own recommendations – that rates of breastfeeding be targeted to 75% initiating breastfeeding at birth, with 50% at six months and just 25% at one year.

Each year since 2000, American media has been fed press release diatribe on how successfully this plan is being implemented. And mainstream media have unquestioningly spurted it back at the general public. Headlines like “Breastfeeding rate soars” (USA Today 2002) and Reuters 2007 story headlined “US breastfeeding rates rise to record high” disguise the real issue – that even after 8 years of a government promotion to increase breastfeeding in America, 25% of women never even try. In 2005 only 11% of American women exclusively breastfed for 6 months (as opposed to the WHO recommendation of 100%) and in 2007 a quarter of women who initiate breastfeeding at birth have introduced formula within the first week of their child’s life.

So what’s the problem?

Media loves boorolling-stone-janet-jackson-coverbs – as long as they’re shown in a sexual way. We’re all familiar with advertising and other images of breasts. For example, this 1993 cover image of Janet Jackson on Rolling Stone won critical acclaim. The story focuses on Jackson and her embracing of her sexuality. The focal point is her breasts.

But a full 13 years later, BabyTalk magazine’s cover created outrage. No less than 700 complaints were sent to the editor over a cover promoting breastfeeding. So getting it straight, a magazine committed to mothering and babies, getting flak over a cover which promoted – mothering and babies.

babytalk_cover_2006-08

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my paper I explain how I believe this has occurred. The movement of women into the public sphere has seen them embrace their femininity in a new way. There’s a whole “look, I’m in the boardroom and I have breasts” ferocity which has been associated with feminism. Women don’t like being confronted with images which remind them of the roles their mothers had. Feminism’s abject failure through the 1980s and 1990s was its devaluation and disempowerment of the importance of nursing.

Yes, I argue that the feminist movement has contributed to a sociey where even women more readily accept images of breasts that celebrate them on a sexual rather than a mothering level. This is reflected in media too. TV programs such as Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and Ally McBeal feature women who embrace their sexuality and power as successful. Women who hold traditional mothering roles are less successful, frustrated, angry or just plain stupid.

And then to have the audacity to bring those breasts, feeding infants, into the general public? No wonder women in general lead the call for ‘discretion’ and ‘hooter hiders’.

The survey

I hoped to get about 30 responses. The survey went viral and in three days I received 128 responses. More than a third of respondents added extra information to each of the basic four questions asked. Women have strong views. In my paper I relate this passion to religiosity. The religion of breastfeeding meets all the academic standards of definition. No longer is breastfeeding normal, usual practice. And I find that distressing.

While 95% of respondents did not believe media has any influence over their own ideas about breastfeeding, more than half believe media should show it more often. Clearly, women believe media has an influence over someone (if not themselves). One key response was along the lines of “media doesn’t influence my ideas about breastfeeding because it’s not shown in media.” My assertion is that this absence has just as much influence as if it were shown.

Moving forward

So what does this mean for feminists who embraced the bottle as their key to freedom from the ugliness and backward past? It means that the general public can look at American women and say “hey, are you women so stupid that you need to be told to breastfeed? And after eight years, you still aren’t getting the message?” It means that heck, if you’re an educated woman you need to recognise everything about you that’s powerful, not just breaking through the glass ceiling.

 

If media showed breastfeeding as part of normal life on television and other media. If it made it present and normal – not a focus of a storyline, but just part of the everyday life of families with babies on tv, then could we begin to see this overtly sexual obsession with breasts change? Could we begin to see women being more accepting of their breasts as being a special part of a relationship with their child, not just as part of the relationship with their sexuality? If, in a similar way to Hollywood reducing smoking in movies, we began to insert breastfeeding into them… what would happen? And what about the international impact this could have? Hollywood movies are seen worldwide.

Certainly our only hope can be to improve on dismal American breastfeeding rates – and who knows where it could end.

Breastfed is best fed. The End.

Yes, I breastfed all four of my children.

Yes, I did for at least three years for every one of them.

And no, I make no apologies for it.

If you’re uncomfortable with my headline, then as the Queen of Spain says, #suckit. (Yes, I do finally get that.)

I’ve spouted for a long time that breast fed is best fed. I think it’s a great line and it describes my feelings well. All four of my kids deserved the best, and still do. I have sacrificed a lot for my kids.

After walking the talk for 18 years on natural birthing and breastfeeding, I am very familiar with the reasons why people don’t do one or both of the above.

Some are valid reasons – and I recognise that. But the World Health Organisation’s statistics are not possibly wrong. How can Western Nations suddenly need vast numbers of c-sections and women worldwide continue to *choose* to formula feed over breastfeeding for reasons that are non-medical?

Doesn’t your child deserve the best?