Whew. This topic actually gets me more riled up than talking about animal rights, or any other thing. I get so angry at the state of prenatal, labor and delivery care in North America.
I live in Canada, so it's not exactly the same here, and we've actually made great strides in recent years to incorporate more natural methods and choices for women giving birth, but we aren't anywhere near where I would like us to be.
There are so many cascading interventions that occur in hospital births it's sickening. I think one of the biggest problems is that many if not most doctors treat birth as a medical emergency, rather than as a natural event. There is a schedule and if a mom is not progessing according to their textbook standard of one cm an hour, they will start the process of intervening with the natural process, usually in the form of pitocin (oxytocin in Canada) to increase the strength and frequency of contractions. These artificially induced contractions are much longer and stronger than the natural ones, and often it's too much for mom to take pain wise, so she opts for an epidural, when she probably could have handled natural contractions using breathing, rhythm and relaxation. Epidurals are fraught with complications, and increase the rate of c sections considerably.
The induced contractions are also often too hard for the baby to take as well, which can lead to fetal distress, and then a c-section.
Labor isn't a linear process. It sometimes starts and stops in the beginning stages, and dilating from 1-5 or 6 cms normally takes at least twice as long as dilating from 6-10. In the first few, the cervix also has to thin and efface before it can open. Women often head to the hospital too early, where they wind up in a strange and stressful environment, with strangers poking and prodding them. This stress can either make labor far more painful (it hurts way more when you are tense, relaxation is key!) or it can retard or even stop progress altogether. Cervixes can actually close up when stress hormones from fear and anxiety flood a woman's body (old evolutionary tactic to avoid giving birth in unsafe situations).
When things stop or slow down (or don't progress according to a chart, the interventions happen!)
Women deserve to be treated respectfully during labor and delivery and I wish more women were able to give birth with all the emotional and physical support they need. I'm a Doula, and I've been trained to provide education and support to a woman and her partner during the process. I am natural and home birth advocate, but don't get me wrong- I am very grateful for hospitals, OBGYNS and all the magic they have. They save lives and when we need them, boy, are they fantastic. But I do think birth is a natural event and most of the time, especially in low risk situations, the interventions are just not necessary.
Doctors are trained to do all they can. It's also their legal responsibility for the most part. They prepare for and anticipate the worst, just in case. Over intervening seems safer to them, especially in these days of crazy malpractice lawsuits. I've seen a doctor quoted as saying "A normal birth can only be diagnosed in hindsight." To them, birth is a medical emergency, fraught with peril. Not something that normally goes well. But I don't blame the individuals. This is a systemic problem, one that might finally be shifting. (Alberta health care now covers midwifery!!! Free midwives and homebirths for anyone who manages to get ahold of a midwife!! Unfortunately, supply currently outstrips demand).
There is a promising future for birth here in Canada though. Hope things are changing slowly in the states as well.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavanto
'May everyone everywhere be happy
May the whole world be joyous'