A couple of years ago, I was sitting in my garden on a summer’s evening with an obstetrician friend. We had just opened a bottle of wine and were settling in for a long chat.
“So,” said my friend. “I have a question for you. What do you know about placental birth as a home birth midwife that I don’t know as an obstetrician?”
Ooooh. That WAS a good question, and I allowed myself a few sips of wine while I pondered it. But I knew the answer within a minute or so.
“What I know that you might not,” I told her, “is that the textbook explanations of why women sometimes bleed after birth and why placentas sometimes take longer to get born are incomplete.”
“It’s not always about physical causes,” I said, “like lack of tone. I’ve seen women bleed and I’ve seen placentas take longer to be born as a result of emotional and social issues. The technocratic viewpoint doesn’t account for that.”
I went on to tell her a few stories to illustrate my point.
I told her about a woman who I sat with in the hospital bathroom for hours while she processed the trauma of her previous birth before finally letting her placenta go.
Then I described Judy Edmunds’ story of the woman who bled when her birth supporters all left the room after the birth of her baby (because they were hungry for soup) without realising that she still needed their support until the placenta was born. Her midwife had to hurriedly call them back.
I shared the story of the woman who needed the cayenne pepper treatment … which in this case had nothing to do with any therapeutic value of the pepper itself, but with the space that cleared for her to birth her placenta when her mother-in-law disappeared off in the car on a midwife-recommended mission to go and get organic cayenne pepper from the health food store on the other side of town. In rush hour.
Evidence is important, but it isn’t enough. We need to learn from stories as well as science. It’s also important that we don’t just take the science at face value and that we’re able to make our own assessment of the value of the results.
Want to stay up to date and get regular updates on birth-related research and thinking sent free to your inbox?