Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Psycho-Technology of Pregnancy and Labor

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Psycho-Technology of Pregnancy and Labor

Article excerpt

Couples and their friends who desire a more personal birth experience than a hospital normally allows often cast obstetrical nurses and doctors in the role of insensitive professionals. Nurses and doctors tend to feel resentful when confronted by women with a shopping list of demands, yet their professional roles do not allow them to show their annoyance. What do they do with these feelings?

Often, because one cannot predict how many women will be in labor at any one time, a situation in which too few nurses are treating too many patients will develop. Under such circumstances, they may have their hands full just making sure nobody dies and, much as they would like to, are unable to meet the emotional needs of the laboring woman. Thus the medical staff is frequently assigned the part of "heavies" in accounts of birthing practices.

Speaking from firsthand experience as a clinician, I know that under the insistent demands of a busy work week I sometimes tend to act more like a fireman rushing from one fire to the next than a physician who stops long enough to really see and hear his patient.

I think all health professionals should get sick once every two years and be hospitalized at least once every decade to appreciate fully better what it is like to be a patient. Though I say this tongue in cheek, I do believe that all of us need to be reminded occasionally that patients are people and that their emotions will affect all their bodily functions.

This article is concerned with two themes: the hospitalization of birth and the increasing use of and reliance on technological devices as diagnostic tools during pregnancy and labor. It will explore the physiological and psychological effects of these procedures on the pregnant woman, her unborn or newborn baby, and the hospital staff.

The Hospitalization of Birth

During the last 100 years, birthing has moved from the home into the hospital. The home is the domain of the family; the hospital is run by doctors and nurses. Doctors and nurses are trained to treat sick people, and hospitals admit only very sick people for treatment, surgery and special investigations. Consequently, anyone who occupies a hospital bed will likely be regarded by the staff as an ill patient. In this simple way, without anyone giving it much thought and with the best of intentions by health professionals, the natural process of birth has been transformed into a major disease. What are the consequences of this hospitalization of birth for the pregnant woman?

1. She finds herself in an unfamiliar place where she has to obey peculiar rules enforced by strangers.

2. Because staff members are experts and she is not, the pregnant woman is made to feel as if others know more about her body than she does.

3. Staff members often behave as if her body has become theirs to do with as they please. They give her drugs to swallow, stick needles into her, take blood from her veins and urine from her bladder, measure her blood pressure, subject her to x-rays and so on.

4. On admission, the pregnant woman receives a name tag with a number. Then she is asked to disrobe and change into a hospital gown that leaves her totally exposed from the back when she is not lying down. Confined to her room, she has a never-ending stream of nurses, interns, and residents examining her. Her sense of individuality and self-esteem are gradually eroded.

This process is uncannily similar to what happens to people entering a prison. Both systems deprive their inmates of liberty and dignity, and they both aim to achieve compliance with the rules and regulations of the institution. This is not the place to examine what effect this system has on prisoners. What it does to the pregnant woman, however, is very bad indeed. For one thing, it increases her anxiety. Anxiety will interfere with the birth process by decreasing the efficiency of contractions and increasing muscular tension. …

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