Lucy, Desi and the Birth Industry

5.14.07: A bit of history


This is my first official blog post for so I thought I'd talk a bit about history. Before the 1940's women traditionally delivered babies at home attended by a family physician, midwife or experienced "birther." Pain management ranged from a knife under the bed (to cut the pain) to a swig of whiskey and the occasional belt of morphine or laudanum. By the next decade, the pendulum swung hard and most births happened in hospitals. Your grandmothers tell tales about being alone, "knocked out, strapped down, and bossed around." This was not a great time in women's history for family centered birthing. Think Desi Arnaz in the waiting room; in full "Voodoo" face makeup while Lucy was off-screen having Lil Ricky. She didn'’t even have Ethyl by her side.

By late 1960's, women (and men) were pretty pissed off about hospital treatment, so they invented the Lamaze movement. This backlash against oppression was a call for more control over what can only be considered the ultimate women's issue. Some women returned to home deliveries (though the numbers were incredibly low) but a bigger percentage started breathing, panting, relaxing, visualizing and training for birth with the focus of Olympic athletes. Couples incorporated childbirth classes into their last trimester, learning to surmount the mysteries of birth. They started making crazy demands like: Dad gets to be in the delivery room if he wants to. Mom gets to breastfeed. Babies get to stay with their mothers. Whoa! These wild birth-anarchists created a revolution in the birth industry.

Hello! Wake-up call. By the 80'’s most hospitals realized that making birthing women happy was prudent business. They're likely to bring their families to the emergency room or visit pediatricians, dermatologists, and other physicians associated with the hospital where they delivered their baby if they had a positive experience. If they didn't like the delivery service —they'd take their business elsewhere.

This was a huge success, but women wanted more. Imagine! They wanted to deliver in comfortable, private, homelike rooms, with their own bathrooms, music and a bed for their partner. They wanted their family (yes, even their children) present, less medical intervention and to play a big part in decisions made about their labor and delivery. So, we invented the Family Maternity Center with labor/delivery/recovery/postpartum suites. We opened up visiting hours and policies to accommodate those unpredictable babies born during off-peak hours. But wait, there's more. If the panting and breathing weren'’t cutting it, we wanted better pain management options than a bullet between our teeth or a total knock out. So, we got 24-hour anesthesia coverage in most maternity units to provide epidurals on demand. We wanted more breastfeeding support so we demanded lactation consultants.

That leads us to today. What do we want in the new millennium now that we've got beautifully appointed birthing suites, birthing balls, Jacuzzis, DVD players, stereos, open visiting policies and excellent anesthesia options?

The answer lies in the comments and concerns so many women express when they call me for advice. "The most important thing is that I don'’t have a c-section."

"Really? That'’s the MOST important thing?" I counter.

"Well, no, of course, the most important thing is a healthy baby."

Exactly. We're doing really well in the birth industry in turning out healthy babies. Neonatal mortality rates are low. Yet, women are legitimately unsatisfied with the state of the c-section. With the current c-section rate riding around 30%—that'’s just too high for comfort, especially considering how hard it is these days to get a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC). And yet, when the poop'’s really hitting the fan, and you need to get that baby out quickly&mdash:the c-section is the best thing out there. There's undoubtedly lots ammunition in the anti-c-section camps that is entirely valid. But when a placenta is prematurely sheering off the uterine wall and the baby's heart rate is plummeting, a c-section will save that baby's life. When mom's been pushing for 4 hours and her baby's just plain stuck, she's almost always grateful the c-section is another option.

There's a lot of discussion about this subject and thank goodness for that. We've come a long way baby but still have a ways to go until we're providing the very best labor and delivery experience possible. Regardless of how long our species has been having babies, we still have lots of growing and learning ahead of us. Be assured though that we all have the same goals: The most important thing is a healthy delivery for mom, baby and family.

So I close this first blog with a question for you readers: What can we do for you? How can we make it better?

Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.