Part I: Skin-to-Skin, Mama-to-Mama
When you can successfully charge a person money to hold their own baby, you have really made it in the world of business.
You have probably heard about the couple who found a $39 charge for skin-to-skin time in the operating room on their bill. It’s an evil genius model, but it’s the smoke, not the fire.
It’s not about the money. I’m not upset about the money. If you need to add $39 extra to pay for the nurse-waiting-around time, that’s OK.
People should be paid for their work. Working for pregnant and laboring people is not easy. We are glad there are those caring, respectful souls who are willing to expose their lives to the intense and the profound every day.
The problem is not that institutions offering a service are charging money. The problem is that the standard of care for birth does not include holding your own baby. Vaginal or cesarean birth, so often you have to order the special snowflake package, purchase the luxury add-ons, or make yourself annoying, merely to hold your own baby when you want to do so.
If it’s $39-worth of service, fine. No problem. Increase the cost of a birth $39 and give every woman the opportunity to hold her baby. That’s physiologically safest, anyway.
Raylene Phillips MD, IBCLC, FAAP reports:
“Being skin to skin with mother stabilizes the newborn’s respiration and oxygenation, increases glucose levels (reducing hypoglycemia), warms the infant (maintaining optimal temperature), reduces stress hormones, regulates blood pressure, decreases crying and increases the quiet alert state.”
You see we now know (or should I say: re-know, this time with science!) that skin-to-skin time is physiological gold. Babies are warmed best by their mothers. They get inoculated with the good bacteria, produce the good hormones, and transition to life outside the womb best with lots of loving touch and familiar smells and sounds. It’s evidence-based care.
Whisking them off to the warmer for a battery of tests and procedures is easier on the staff and helps things move along faster. Perhaps the staff also breathes easier when they can see the baby uninhibited this way. It’s good for business. But it’s not good for babies.
In socializing and medicalizing birth, we’ve gained scores of knowledge and medicines and life-saving machinery. This didn’t do anything for the fear. It seems only to have increased it. Fear that something could happen, that your baby is not well, or that you don’t know what you’re doing. Fear is one of only a very few things that could convince a person to give up the baby.
She’s better off on the warmer…
I want them to make sure he’s OK…
They know better than I do, I’ve never had a baby before…
People will think I am a b**** if I make a fuss of it…
Cesarean parents are especially subject to bewilderment and deer-in-the-headlights syndrome. There’s an aura around the operating room that is equal parts scientific respect, wonder, and prime-time hospital drama. Asking for changes in surgery procedure seems almost ridiculous—or dangerous.
But as we saw above, it’s dangerous not to.
Part II: The Money & The Machine
There are scores of us with cesarean births who didn’t have the option to even hold our babies and would have gladly paid ten times that amount. And there are even more of us who couldn’t afford to pay it even if it was less.
Wait a minute. Does insurance cover the cost of holding your own child?
Socialized, medicalized birth can milk you for every penny, as it simultaneously squeezes out your control of the event.
You gave birth to a child.
You leave, leaking blood and milk and love.
The money leaks, too.
We’ve socialized birth to such an extent that we’ve convinced ourselves that the silliest thing about being charged $39 to hold our own babies is the convoluted and ridiculous nature of health care systems and insurance companies. Skin-to-skin time…$39. Seems pretty steep for the privilege of using my own skin…
In reality, the silliest thing about it is that it’s come to this.
Imagine if you tried to take the newborn cub off a freshly delivered mama bear. A opossum even.
It would not go well for you.
And it’s not going well for us.
We have among the best, most sophisticated medical services systems in the world. We also have way-too-high maternal and infant mortality rates, not to mention incidence of birth trauma. Something doesn’t add up.
And I know what it is.
The problem stems from the lack of evidence-based care, especially the low respect for the physiological necessity of natural oxytocin in the birthing dyad.
Socialized people (women, especially) don’t want to cause trouble or make people feel bad. There’s been too much pressure to be a good girl, a good patient.
If, in the process of birth, we encounter a sign that reads: Insert $10 to hold your baby when it is born, we will put $20 bills in by the fistful, like feeding the meter when you’re late for an interview. Assuming we had the resources, we all would.
But that’s a dangerous slope.
Because what do we have to feed the machine to preserve our bodily autonomy? What does it cost to preserve the right to keep our own children after they emerge from our wombs?
You may be rolling your eyes, thinking that I am over-reacting and alarmist. I am sounding the alarm because there is cause to sound the alarm.
Socialized couples (all of us) find it easier to just feed the machines they meet along the way. And sometimes that’s all you can do. Especially in labor, you can’t fight every single thing. But most of those machines weren’t set up with you, your birth, or your baby in mind.
Behaving badly is the only way we’re going to get anything changed here. You can do it. Defy the social constructs that say you’re a patient. Learn the cheat codes that make the machine stop beeping. Jump over the machine. Tell the machine to stuff it.
Hold your baby and don’t ever let go.
Image credits: Nelson Kwok and DFID-UK via Flickr/CC