If we consider a scenario in which the grid were to go down or, for whatever reason, modern medicine were not available, pregnancy and childbirth would still happen. We would, however, have more dead babies and dead mothers.
Let me apologize up front for the very depressing statistics that I am going to share with you today. One of the best things modern civilization has done is decrease the mortality of mothers and babies.
Also, if you are reading this blog with your children, you may wish to read this post yourself ahead of time.
Once I read an historic novel in which a husband told his wife that she knew nothing about war and battle scars.
She replied that, while he had gone to war once, she had borne six healthy and two dead children and therefore had faced death squarely in the face (and won) eight times, and that her battle scars were etched all over her belly, thighs and breasts.
We don’t think of it that way anymore, do we? When we wish a pregnant woman good luck with her birth, we are hoping that it is relatively easy, the baby has no major health issues and her recovery is quick.
We don’t pray that she and the baby survive because, generally, that’s just not an issue anymore.
I wonder sometimes, when people are preparing for disaster scenarios, do they realize that it must include a world in which pregnancy will mean death for some women, a world in which we are thrilled to tears when we hear that a mother and child made it through that war alive, a world in which every family has lost someone in childbirth.
The whole baby-making umbrella consists of a few things.
Menstruation, contraceptives and birth control (two different things!), pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal care.
Let me start this by saying that I am NOT a doctor, midwife or any medical expert. I am a mother of six healthy children, I’ve had hospital births, midwife-attended homebirths and an unattended free birth, and I have had six first trimester miscarriages.
Those preparing for disaster situations should keep in mind that a poor, lean diet means that women will have fewer periods and will be generally less fertile.
This is not always a bad thing since this is the exact situation in which we are less likely to want unexpected babies.
One thing to note, though, is that, when looking at a long-term survival situation, we are unlikely to have (at least reliable sources of) Midol, Tylenol and the various pills that young women use to regulate pain and swelling.
In case you’re wondering if that’s important, I have an 1897 book in which mothers are cautioned against the common practice of letting their menstruating young daughters sip on brandy to ease the discomfort.
I can say from experience that regularly drinking red raspberry leaf tea will ease menstrual cramps and swelling.
When I drank it daily, I found that my pain was far milder. The problem is that it tastes awful. When I complained to one of my midwives that I hated the taste, she said, “Everyone does because it tastes awful. But you need to drink it.”
Contraception and Birth Control
Even if every baby is needed, there are some times when women will simply not want to be pregnant.
Anyone actually think you’ll be able to get your regular supply of oral contraceptives?
What about latex condoms?
Would you like to realize that your IUD needs to come out and no doctors can be found?
Other than abstinence and sterilization before disaster strikes, the most reliable method will likely be Natural Family Planning.
Of course, there are activities that are non-procreative by nature, and I’m not going to get into those.
I imagine that condoms and oral contraceptives will still be available in most survival scenarios, if you have the money and the clout to get them, but I doubt that will be most of us.
I’m not going to get into Natural Family Planning here – I’ve already written about that. I have felt, for a long time, that every woman should be aware of what her body is up to. Our bodies tell us when we’re ovulating, for example. The signs are there – learn to read them. Be aware, though, that it’s not a perfect system because of “user error”.
Oh, remember that part about fewer periods? Well, they won’t necessarily be regular and that makes it very difficult to figure out exactly when ovulation occurs. And there’s always the harsh fact that rape makes NFP a moot point. I’ve never heard of a rapist who was considerate enough to come back during a non-fertile week.
Just a bit of sobering information. In Canada in 1921, out of every 100,000 live births:
- 470 mothers died
- 3430 babies were stillborn
- 4300 infants died in their first month
- 10200 babies died before their first birthday
– from Statistics Canada
Sit there with those numbers for a moment.
Translated to today’s population, that would mean more than 155,000 mothers dying in childbirth each year and almost six MILLION babies either dead at birth or dead before their first year.
Today, a pregnant woman can reasonably expect that she and her baby will survive childbirth.
Today, out of 100,000 live births, about 6 mothers and about 5 babies will die.
About 500 children out of every 100,000 live births will die before their first birthday. That’s about 164,000 infants across Canada throughout the year and about 1600 women.
It’s rare enough these days that we are stunned when we hear about maternal or infant deaths.
I’ve read that an obstetrician can retire after a lifetime practice without ever seeing a maternal death. If we experience a complete breakdown in society, a lot more women and children will die during pregnancy, birth and post-partum.
Midwifery and home-birthing are becoming more acceptable again, although they’re still rare. However, we always know that we have a back-up when we choose to home-birth. The hospital, with its equipment, anesthetic and specialist doctors, is always there. Midwives ensure that the phone is beside them when they attend births. My two younger sons were both planned homebirths that turned into emergency hospital transfers.
In a world where a rapid ambulance cannot bring a labouring woman, or a newborn, quickly to a modern hospital, there will be more deaths.
Only about 16% of home-births involve an emergency transfer to the hospital.
What are the things which improved that terrifying infant and maternal mortality rate? Blood transfusions for hemorrhage, safe anesthetic, antibiotics and c-sections. And let’s not forget – pre-natal care.
It’s a simple fact – women who do not receive pre-natal care (from a doctor or midwife) and who give birth without a trained attendant are at a MUCH higher risk of herself or her child dying before/during/after childbirth.
Like all things, that doesn’t mean that freebirthing definitely means you or your child will die. It means that your risk is dramatically increased.
I should note that we chose to have our last child at home without a trained attendant – something many call freebirthing.
Our doctor knew what we were planning and gave us a tube of cream for the baby’s eyes.
My husband is a Medical First Responder, and had taken special training in emergency childbirth.
We knew we could have the ambulance here in twenty minutes if necessary, and other Medical First Responders in my husband’s brigade knew that I was in labour.
The birth was picture perfect and our only issue was convincing the government to issue a certificate of live birth!
In our modern world, many women are up and resuming normal activities within a day of birth.
With modern medicine backing us, we can have that luxury. And a luxury it is!
I have to say, though, the more children I have, the more I’m inclined toward the old ways. There was a purpose to lying-in, beyond the fact that it’s the only time a mother of multiple children will get to laze in bed!
Many of these traditions prohibit bathing for the first month to prevent water-borne illnesses for themselves and their babies. This can be important if the water quality is not good.
New mothers were required to stay indoors, away from everyone. Again, if antibiotics are not readily available, it can be wise to keep the immediate family separate from almost everyone for a month. Newborns are very delicate little people and so are postpartum women.
In addition, the new mother generally ate foods that were high in protein, iron and fluid.
The new mother’s job was to sleep, eat (in bed!) and nurse her baby.
All of my midwives have recommended the same thing – for at least 24 hours, the new mother should sleep next to her diapered but unclothed baby, wearing only panties, eating, drinking water, nursing, and getting up only to go to the bathroom. It’s the best way to ensure an abundant milk supply.
Let me say this – if 17% of babies were dying because of infections or because their overtired mothers (their only source of milk!) was too tired or undernourished to provide sufficient milk, I think many of us would support postpartum confinement!
Here are a few things that we take for granted but which have changed things dramatically for women:
- hospitals and adequate staff
- medical supplies like sterile gloves
- pain medication (from Tylenol to nitrous oxide to epidurals)
- C-section surgery
- infant formula
- prenatal vitamins
- infant incubators
Take a moment and assess your disaster preparations. Do you have systems set in place to deal with the incredible loss of life that would happen if we had to return to pregnancy and childbirth the way our great-grandmother experienced it?