The film “Life’s Greatest Miracle” is a prelude to the other film being explored in this paper, “The Business of Being Born.” The first video is a detailed description of the physiological process that occurs whenever a baby is conceived; the second one covers the options available to parents regarding the outcome of a pregnancy and their interface with the medical system in the United States. This paper will cover facts and various issues pertaining to the subject of conception, pregnancy and delivery options in the United States, and will make comparisons with pertinent statistics from other nations.
In “Life’s Greatest Miracle”, many familiar areas are covered which were well-known to me; the process of fertilization in which sperm and egg combine to form an embryo, implantation in the uterus and subsequent pregnancy are the basics covered in sex education courses throughout one’s education. This material is obtained in many venues such as biology class, birth control and safe sex methods films that are often shown in school, and in brochures that parents frequently show to their children during the awkward talk about procreation that is part of family life. In addition, as “Life’s Greatest Miracle” states, the urge to procreate is a fundamental drive for all life forms. Nevertheless, this video contains some remarkable facts including: 365,000 babies per second are born daily; all of one’s descendents have the same exact DNA, but with some mutations which insure that we are not simply a species comprised of exact replicas of each other; while males develop sperm during puberty, females carry their eggs from the point being an embryo onward; that each ejaculation contains 300 million sperm; and that 50% of all fertilized eggs fail to result in conception.
An especially surprising and interesting portion of the film involves the incredibly tremendous battle undertaken by sperm in a valiant effort to reach eggs. There are significant barriers to success, including chemicals in the vagina that are hostile to the reception of sperm, the tendency of sperm that are irregular or dysfunctional to be “killed off” in the process of traveling, the very thick barriers comprised of mucus at the cervix, making it almost incredible that any pregnancies actually occur given these obstacles. Another interesting fact was the description of the monthly event in which an egg is pulled into the uterus, awaiting sperm for fertilization.
In the film “The Business of Being Born,” there were some extremely shocking statistics regarding pregnancy, infant mortality rates, and home birth rates in the United States. According to the film, while 70% of live births globally occur at home, in the United States, the rate is a mere 8%. This represents a significant change that occurred during the 20th century. In 1900, 95% of US births occurred at home; in 1938, 50% took place in the home; and by 1955, only 1% of all live births occurred at home, as reported in the video. Another startling fact is the cost of an infant delivery in the United States as compared to other countries: the cost ranges from approximately $500 in the Netherlands to just under $9000 in the United States, with the nearest country being Australia, where the average cost of a live birth is $4500 (Goodman.)
Problems with our medical system are discussed in detail in “The Business of Being Born,” but are not covered in “Life’s Greatest Miracle”. The most obvious problem with our system is the for-profit motive underlying all services, with its relevance to pregnancy being an emphasis on hospital deliveries rather than home births, utilizing drugs and other medical interventions that are designed to speed up labor and bring as many women into the delivery room and get them out as quickly as possible to make room for the next woman. Medical decisions are made for financial reasons for the most part. The film describes the attitude of the medical professionals as “Women don’t know how to birth.” Therefore, they are essentially at the mercy of doctors to make medical decisions without really participating in their own deliveries. The most extreme example of artificial, extraneous procedures are when women schedule their labors to be induced, described in the film as arranging for “designer births”, or C-sections plus tummy tucks at the same time.
Despite the fact that the United States spends more on childbirth than any other nation in the world–$80 billion annually– the fact is that this country ranks 41st globally for women at risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications (Haggard.) Hospitals in the United States derive half of their income from maternity care so that they have a huge investment in attracting pregnant women to deliver at their sites. At hospitals, doctors are in charge of the deliveries when according to the film, most doctors have never even observed a natural childbirth, hence are more likely to try to induce labor and shorten its length. This results in more drugs to speed up the contractions, causing the delivering woman to be less of a conscious participant in her own childbirth process. For example, administering ptosis causes contractions that will speed up the delivery, and an epidural will dull the pain as well is the experience of delivering one’s own baby. Essentially, it is believed that the more technologies used during childbirth, the more dangerous the process can become.
There is much evidence to indicate that giving birth in a hospital in the United States is a more threatening situation than giving birth at home. For example, the country ranks 29th in the world for its infant mortality rate, the number of infants who die during their first year per 1000 live births (Beier.) Regarding maternal mortality rates, those mothers who die within six weeks of childbirth, the United States ranks 14th among developed nations. The tendency to medicalize deliveries can be demonstrated by the very high rate of C-sections performed in the United States. The World Health Organization has recommended that only 15% of all pregnancies would ideally result in C-sections; in the United States, the rate reached 32% in 2007 (Grady.)
A significant solution to the expense and complications of giving birth at a hospital in the United States, according to “The Business of Being Born,” is to increase the number of home deliveries. In the hospital, a delivery takes place with a woman lying on her back which narrows the pelvis and frequently necessitates the use of forceps to guide the baby out of the birth canal. A home birth allows a woman to give birth in the squatting position, often in a bathtub while submerged in soothing warm water and without medications used unless absolutely necessary. In that way, women become much more aware of every step of the process, with vertical births being less risky and more natural. In the film, a statement is made that “nothing compares with the privilege of giving life.” Giving birth at home is considered to be a beautiful and life altering experience rather than the often traumatic, difficult and detached experience of giving birth in a hospital. The film emphasizes the empowering quality of home birthing. Engaging in that process allows a woman to make the decisions about what she needs and when, always with a backup plan to transfer to a hospital if an urgent matter is presented which requires a more traditional constellation of care.
There are alternatives to delivering a baby in a hospital, as well as using a midwife or doula for home delivery. There are birthing centers, which specialize in maternity care without the sterile environment of a hospital maternity ward, but which are staffed by knowledgeable health care professionals who practice both traditional and alternative forms of medicine including labor and delivery. For example, as stated, delivering the baby while in the squatting position in a warm bathtub, much like the home delivery, is an alternative. In any event, anyone with a high risk pregnancy is most likely destined to deliver in a traditional hospital setting, hopefully being assisted by a compassionate physician who is extremely familiar with the birth process, and who is able to make it a personal, individualized and memorable experience.