Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Lamaze Method.

I spent my Saturday this week in an unusual way. M. convinced me to come to a Lamaze Class with her. She gave me the choice of doing it in a series of successive Friday nights, or attending asingle all-day session. Given those options, getting it all over at once seemed like the least painful way to achieve the desired result. Unfortunately, the way the schedule worked out, we couldn't take the class with the instructor that M. preferred. I didn't think it would make all that much of a difference, but in retrospect I think it might have been better if we had gone with the 'known quantity'. Even though I can't imagine that the information presented would differ significantly depending upon the teacher, I can see how the presentation style can affect what one takes away from the experience. In my time I have sat through enough excruciatingly dull sessions, and I should have probably known better.

Anyway, the Lamaze technique was developed by a French obstetrician named Dr. Ferdinand Lamaze in the 1940's. Apparently he had been influenced by Soviet techniques for natural childbirth. Conscious breathing, the incorporation of unconventional positions, relaxation methods, and something called a "birthing ball" are used to make the process less painful without resorting to a lot of drug interventions. Thus they discourage women from requesting the administration of an epidural anesthesia for pain relief. Proponents of Lamaze assert that women have a natural innate wisdom when it comes to birthing, and that their program is centered on increasing maternal confidence in the individual woman's ability to negotiate what is a fundamentally 'natural' (or alternatively God-given) act.

The big emphasis in the Lamaze Method is on something called "normal birthing". This is a term implemented to make a distinction between vaginal deliveries and Cesarean Sections. It was certainly clear that our instructor today was adamantly opposed to c-section procedures, except in cases of medical emergency. To reinforce her point she assigned roles to everyone in the group, and had us stand around foolishly- all to demonstrate the large number of medical professionals that are involved in each Cesarean birth. Her obvious point was that the practice is wasteful, uncomfortable, and unnecessary. She claimed that every year over 800,000 women choose this 'elective' surgery. The problem is that a lot of people disagree about what constitutes a 'medical emergency', and just what each choice entails.

I can understand the basic philosophy behind the Lamaze Method. It does make sense that, since humans have been procreating for hundreds of thousands of years, the act of giving birth has evolved to something approaching perfection. However there have been scientific advancements in the last 100 years that have reduced the incidence of birth defects and infant mortality. Why should we spurn medical technology simply because midwifery is an ancient practice? I would argue for a more measured approach that incorporates a healthy respect for the engineering of both nature and humanity. Don't get me wrong... I absolutely believe that there is much in Western medicine (especially in our profit-driven system) that is suspect and/or unnecessary. However I think it makes a lot of sense to adopt a robust skepticism, and apply it equally to both holistic and institutional medical practices. An exhaustively-informed decision is often the best course.

Ultimately I have to admit my profound ignorance in these matters. I am certainly no source of expertise on child delivery. But I did take away some impressions from the class today. Despite the lack of any dynamism on the part of the instructor, I did find the session reasonably informative (even if I concluded that it could have been considerably shortened in length). I was impressed by the active role the Lamaze method attributes to the father of the expected child. There is a lot that a dad can do to make the birthing environment more comfortable and supportive for his mate. In fact, with the emphasis placed on the role of birth "coach", I started to wonder if there are any Lamaze classes for single moms. Every woman present in the room today brought along a partner.

The other peculiarities that M. and I noticed were the numerous references to God and the Bible that the teacher worked into her presentation. At one point she actually cited divine authority as an objection to 'elective C- Sections'. From further research I gather that this approach isn't necessarily indicative of the orientations of Lamaze Method proponents worldwide. Internet sources suggest that 'nature' is often substituted for 'God' when referring to the ancient wisdom of birthing. But if religious faith is somehow inherent in the philosophy, it serves only to alienate atheists and agnostics. I'm not sure that such appeals to spirituality in medicine are an effective way to inspire confidence in modern expectant mothers. The more cynical among us may react against procedures employed in life-and-death situations that are justified by mere 'peasant superstitions'.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Dagrims said...

We took Lamaze classes before Kyle was born. It was sponsored by the hospital, and there weren't any religious overtones that I remember. I do remember the video of an actual birth that we had the pleasure of watching.

The breathing techniques wound up being of some value to Kristin, and I agree that it did allow me to be more active and supportive during the entire process. She did get an epidural as soon as she was able to, however, and certainly didn't regret that in the least.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

It's funny... the more I read about the history of the Lamaze Method, the more ironic the references to God and the Bible seem. In point of fact, Lamaze suffered widespread criticism when he introduced his ideas, and much of it came from Christians.

For one thing it was associated with Wiccan practices, and condemned for giving women so much control in the process of delivery. Additionally, since Lamaze was influenced by birthing in the Soviet Union, his new concepts were branded as godless- just like the "Evil Empire".

Finally... on a fundamental level, many Christians had a problem with an approach that sought to minimize the pains of birthing a child. The Bible says that women experience suffering when giving birth due to "Eve's curse", and so some Christian thinkers decided that an attempt to alleviate that suffering was contrary to God's will.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous jefg said...

Much like my feelings on abortion, while I may have a viewpoint, I will always defer to the woman (and women) on matters that affect choices about their body. There are important decisions I make alone (such as whether to hit a lob wedge or a bump-and-run onto a green), and others I feel less ownership in, and certainly less qualified to make.

Back in the days when you were born (I'm assuming you're younger than I am), I wasn't offered a Lamaze class. In fact, husbands weren't allowed to be in the birthing room. I had no problem with that.

8:58 AM  

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