Recently I read a disturbing fact in The Washington Post about Charlie Sheen's current "Violent Torpedo of Truth" tour: nearly 3,700 people paid $124.25 to go see him perform in Washington, D.C. People might ask themselves what this says about our culture, as many journalists and bloggers have done, but I have a more specific question: what world we live in when more people are interested in watching Charlie Sheen unravel than expressing concern over a serious issue: mothers dying in childbirth?
You see, I recently attended the safe motherhood rally in Washington, D.C., where only 100 people turned out to hear Ina May Gaskin, the mother of midwifery, talk for free about the urgent need in the United States to create a better system to record maternal deaths. This rally came on the heels of an important study last year by Amnesty International on this same issue.
Unlike our "winning" Charlie Sheen, childbirth today is clearly losing. Over one in three mothers is having cesarean sections, a statistic that is 15 to 20 percent above the World Health Organization's recommended percentage for industrialized countries. While lately there seems to be a growing movement among new mothers to take back their birth experiences, and even to take it into their homes, most mothers give birth in hospitals numbed-out and cursing.
As a playwright who wrote a play about childbirth in America today and the tragedy that an unusual number of low-risk mothers suddenly turns high-risk due to an explosion in interventions and in-patient labor and delivery care, I have heard thousands of birth stories. Again and again, the typical birth story for an American mother goes something like this: mom walks into a hospital with no preparation beyond decorating the baby room, takes whatever drugs they are giving and curses her way to the finish line, literally and metaphorically. For some mothers this is a traumatic experience, and they do it differently the next time. But for many mothers, this style of giving birth is preferable.
Do I sound judgmental? I am. I want more for women, for the babies brought into the world, and for our culture. While I have no attachment to where mothers give birth, I am attached to mothers being invested in having empowered birth experiences -- not a drug-free birth, which may not be possible or preferable for every pregnant mother, but I want to see pregnant mothers and their support systems embrace the power that is available to them when giving birth. It's time for pregnant mothers to grab their power when they give birth.
Ultimately, childbirth is not going to change until this mentality changes. Our culture, and especially pregnant mothers, needs to stop buying tickets that promote fear. Women's bodies are better than that.
As Ina May Gaskin says, "Your body is not a lemon."
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