Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Brave New Birth

This is one of those DANG, she beat me to it posts, but she did it so well I can hardly begrudge her. I had been plotting a post comparing recent birth innovations I liked . . . and ones I most definitely don't like. A few years ago, when I first read "Pushed" by Jennifer Block, I was horrified to read about the a new technology she said was actually under development, which would track dilation by way of sensors placed on a woman's cervix, adding yet another branch to the tangle of wires hooked up to virtually every woman who labors in a hospital (external fetal monitors, IVs, epidurals, catheters, pulse oximeters, blood pressure cuffs, and if you're extra-lucky, maybe an intrauterine pressure gauge and an internal monitor - the last of which is a nice way of saying an electrode screwed into your baby's scalp).

All the better to distance ourselves even more from unpredictable, messy contact with a woman in labor. We already monitor her contractions from a screen at the nurses' station, but what a burden it's been to have to check her cervix ourselves. Now we can view both from a comfortable, remote distance! (By the way, yes, I do think that internal exams can be way overdone, but that's another issue; the point to me is the augmented loss of actual human contact.)

I had a hard time believing that such a product could ever exist - it seemed as chauvinistically, fancifully implausible as the Blonsky device mentioned in the same book. But then . . . it came true. The Birth Track. Stand and Deliver inveighed powerfully upon it, and Hathor made satirical light of it, but still, it came to be. I don't know how many hospitals and doctors are currently using it, and I'm a little afraid to find out, but if anyone has that info, I'd still like to know . . . I think.

Then, mere days ago, labor & delivery nurse-turned-blogger-extraordinaire Nursing Birth made it known, with her usual aplomb, that a competing, almost identical device had actually been developed. The Labor Pro, video demo here, currently trying to make it into the US. Her post here is a must-read: The WORST Idea Since Routine Continuous Fetal Monitoring for Low Risk Mothers. Her every point completely covers my own thoughts on this, though this is my absolute favorite part:
I’m telling you right now, I will UP AND QUIT my job and never look back if either LaborPro or BirthTrack EVER appears in even just one, JUST ONE of my hospital’s labor rooms. QUIT ON THE SPOT! And I will make a Hollywood exit too! A HUGE scene!!! Hooting and hollering! You just wait!! LOL! As if our moms aren’t already strapped down enough with the often unnecessary and sometimes downright harmful technology we already have. This is just TOO MUCH TO BEAR!
I commented there that we need to start spreading the word about this insanity, and let it be known that women are not going to stand for this, so here I am, doing my part. Most of you reading this no doubt completely grok why this is so crazy-making, but in case you're not sure what the fuss is all about, please read the links above. (I would go through it all here myself, but honestly, it would be redundant, as Nursing Birth and Stand and Deliver have done it all already.)

As for my originally planned post on innovations I like and innovations I don't, well, the latter has been well-covered above. Of the former, I think the Contraction Master site is pretty innocuous and potentially handy, since it's something you can use on your own right at home. I could see myself doing this for some period of time, maybe moving my laptop around with me as I changed position, or having a partner or doula click the timer at my cue, instead of writing each of the start times on a piece of paper (which has been lovingly saved for a scrapbook someday) and trying to guess at the duration. This is available in the online version linked above or as as an iPhone app.

Speaking of, I also think some of the iPhone apps for birth - in the right hands - could be helpful. Check these 5 out. I like the "OB" Patient Tracker the most. Obviously, it doesn't have to be used by an OB - it was a midwifery student on MDC who first pointed this out to me, actually; her preceptor was using it. (See above re: right hands.) The DueDateCalc seems fine, if just a tricked out version of the simple due date wheels everyone has been using since the dawn of, well, at least the 70's. And the Weight Converter, well, being severely math-challenged, I could see myself using this. At least while in school. (Yeah, I know, I should really learn to do it in my head, it's good for me, but still.) Nothing spooky about using it. The Bishop's Score calculator is more problematic. Not the calculator itself - again, it could be used appropriately, but click here and look at the conclusion that is drawn for the example on the right. Now excuse me while I retrieve my eyeballs that are rolling across the floor. Overall, though, I could totally see making use of one or two of these, especially the patient tracker, once I had a lively enough clientele.

Also in the category of technology that is actually helping birth: YouTube videos. Think about what a huge impact that has had already, and how it continues to be a vital resource for championing natural birth. It used to be that if you wanted to see something resembling normal, low-intervention vaginal birth, you had to know someone who had a relatively obscure and coveted VHS tape - and I don't know what they did before the advent of video, short of a disturbing film they showed us in 8th grade health ed. And now, the whole smorgasbord of birth is available right there: home births, birth center births, hospital births, twins, water births, unassisted births, you name it. Women who are curious about what "natural" means, and looks like, can connect with example after example after example. It's really remarkable, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the women who are willing to share their most intimate triumphs with us this way.

Which leads me to what's possibly the best technological boost to empowered normal birth of all, the one that connects you and I right here and now: the internet. From message boards to websites like ICAN and My Best Birth spreading the word to the whole birthing blog community, just to name a few of many stellar examples, where would birth be today without it?

I fear it might look a lot more like the picture above.


  1. Bishops Score 9 = VERY favorable? Hmmm.

    I too am appalled at these new technologies. It is really horrific to think of attaching more things to birthing moms. Clipping things to her cervix? Uggh.

    Contraction Master is good. I want an iPhone just to get that app.

  2. VERY favorable . . . "for induction". I just love how much that reveals about their mindset and the assumptions therein. Not "very favorable" to go ahead and keep preparing and progressing normally towards labor as your body is *ahem* OBVIOUSLY ALREADY DOING, but favorable for induction.

    And if you click on the link for the Labor Pro, I love how they keep referring to the electrodes as "non-invasive". HUH? I think clips on your cervix and screws in your baby's skull are the very DEFINITION of invasive. What world are they living in??

  3. Ugh, even more emphasis on the utterly unscientific "due date"? Guarantee it's based, like the wheels, on Naegle's flawed theory.

    Must force...I mean encourage hubby to get his butt in gear on the programming. Or maybe I should just do it myself.

  4. Oh, the awful 8th grade health class video...I remember seeing a woman's crotch and it was all orange and I didn't know why and I was wondering, "yikes, does pregnancy make your crotch turn orange?!" and she was saying not so nice things to her husband and declaring that she would never do this again. Yeah, great way to leave a positive image about birth, right?

    It wasn't until I started researching birth as a graduate student that I figured out why her crotch was orange. Betadine.

    I used contraction master during my last labor. I was on the laptop anyway for a lot of it (great way to distract myself as much as possible) and used it on and off for fun.