Birthing options explored

Monday, May 2, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:45 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

For Jane Bush, a pre-medical student at the University of Washington, the Future of Birth Conference was about more than lectures and networking. It was an opportunity to be inspired.

As a birth assistant or doula, she came to the Columbia conference hoping to find some direction in her life.

The conference, which ends today, aimed to bring birth advocates from many disciplines together to discuss women’s options in delivery, from natural home births to medicated hospital births.

Doctors and mothers shared their experiences in birth, the benefits and risks of drug intervention, and the midwifery model, which emphasizes support and alternatives to medication. Speakers included Michel Odent, an internationally known obstetrician and author of 12 books on birth, and Ina May Gaskin, founder and director of the Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee and author of "Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth,” as well as area doctors.

After hearing a lecture on integrative medicine, Bush said she wants to become a family doctor and use this approach.

“In my experience as a doula, I see a lot of things doctors do that I would never want to do,” Bush said. “I would like to integrate the spiritual connective care of the midwifery model with the doulas and resources that are beneficial from the medical model.”

Of the more than 200 people at the conference, many were advocates of natural birthing, while others supported medical intervention.

One of the more controversial topics discussed was the future of birth technology, with an emphasis on ultrasound. Dr. Mark Grant, who tests for high-risk pregnancies by using ultrasound at the Center for Maternal-Fetal Care in Columbia, said his job is to prevent premature births, a leading problem in the United States.

“Really, where information is going to get better for the future is not a change in ultrasound technology, but a change in computer technology,” Grant said. “That image is manipulated to yield better information and better knowledge of what to do with the image we obtain.”

Grant said he is unaware of any negative effects of ultrasound on babies. However, some people may not want to use it because it can be perceived as inconsistent with the natural process.

Another topic of debate is the use of medications during pregnancy. Obstetricians Heidi Rinehart and her husband, Rudy Fedrizzi, liken a drug intervention during pregnancy to a person running a marathon who is picked up by a car and dropped off at the finish line.

“The culture of medicine is about the diagnosis and treatment of a disease,” Rinehart said. “People who have medicated births have the pain. The euphoria and ecstasy of birth gets disrupted, so when they recollect later what that experience was about, it was about pain.”

She and her husband attended the conference to share their birth stories and influence others to think about birth options. Regardless of a doctor’s view on birth, Fedrizzi said, the conference is a good reminder that their work is meaningful and he was impressed to see doctors participate in sessions that may stretch their medical beliefs.

“You are doing something greater,” he said. “You are really honoring humanity and most caregivers, even those you don’t agree with, in some way, do what they do because they are trying to make the world a better place.”

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